War pinches wallet for isle reservist
Charles Neumann is among 28 percent of citizen soldiers who must sacrifice income
When Hawaii Army National Guard 1st Lt. Charles "Keola" Neumann was mobilized to fight in Iraq in 2004, he was forced to give up a $105,000-a-year job as well as several lucrative side jobs.
Unlike many citizen soldiers, who might have made money while on active duty in Iraq or Afghanistan during the past year, Neumann has suffered a financial setback during the year-long combat duty in Iraq with the 29th Brigade Combat Team.
"I lost my private practice as a mental therapist making from $105,000 to $110,000 a year," said Neumann, who has been in the Hawaii Army National Guard since 1991.
Neumann acknowledged that many of his fellow reservists might have made money when they were called to active duty, but he was not one of them. Neumann, 33, estimates that his Iraq combat tour cost him $65,000 in pay and business receipts.
As a platoon leader of 30 medics in the 29th Brigade's Headquarters and Headquarters Company, Neumann earned $6,000 a month, less than he earns as a therapist.
Neumann also operated a Bubbie's ice cream franchise in Kapolei -- which he decided to sell when his unit was federalized in August 2004. His wife, Michele, tried to operate the franchise while he was in Iraq, but was unable to do that as well as raise their 2-year-old daughter.
Neumann tried to sell the franchise, but that deal soured. Now he is trying to recoup the $80,000 that is owed to him.
There also is money that he says his partners in his Fumanchu Clothing Co. owe him after he sold them his shares.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that a Rand National Defense Research Institute study found that 72 percent of the troops surveyed made more on war duty in 2002 or 2003 than they did before they were mobilized. More than half made at least $10,000 or more.
But the Rand study did say that about 28 percent of the reservists, like Neumann, lost money.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie announced support yesterday for a federal plan called Helmets to Hardhats, which provides federal funds to provide training in the construction trades to active-duty military and National Guard and reservists who are leaving the military.
Abercrombie said the program works with companies like Fluor Federal Services, the contractor for the multimillion-dollar Ford Island housing master plan redevelopment.
Abercrombie told the Star-Bulletin that Fluor plans to spend $200,000 on this retraining program.
In a news release, Alan Mockler, Fluor's project director in Hawaii, said, "The Helmets to Hardhats program -- along with Fluor's aloha stabilization agreement which allows both union and non-union labor to work on our project -- will reinforce the full use of the local labor force."
William "Buzz" Hong, executive director of the Hawaii Building & Construction Trades Council, added in the same news release, "Helmets to Hardhats will provide Hawaii's heroes with options when they return home."
Abercrombie acknowledged that federal law requires employers to rehire returning National Guard soldiers and reservists.
"By law they are supposed to have their jobs when they come back," Abercrombie said, "but their jobs may not be there."
Abercrombie said the job training program is meant to address the worker shortage in Hawaii's construction industry. He said the state had the lowest unemployment rate in the nation last year: 2.8 percent, down from 3.3 percent a year earlier.
The jobs program already has helped 20,000 servicemen and women find new careers on the mainland in the three years since its inception, he added.
The Hawaii Democrat added, "It would be deeply troubling if they (returning reservists) find themselves struggling to make ends meet while workers are brought in from the mainland to build military facilities right here in their own back yards."