After two stressful months in August and September 2014, retired U.S. Army Reservist Capt. Teresa Dobie, received good news when she met Michigan Volunteer Defense Force member, Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Jones, a volunteer retirement services specialist working with the Michigan National Guard. In 2013, Dobie, who knew her sight was failing, lost her job as a medical billing specialist. She applied for disability, tapped into her 401K, but a year later, still had no income. Her financial situation was getting desperate, so she contacted her area Community Action Center in September. When they learned she was a veteran with more than 25 years of military service in the Michigan National Guard and Army Reserve, they referred her to Jones, who has made it his habit to drop off information about the Michigan National Guard Family Program office and new Service Member, Veteran, and Family Assistance Center in Lansing.
Although not paid for his service with the Michigan Volunteer Defense Force, Jones has an office at the MING Family Programs Office and works alongside other volunteers and fulltime Michigan National Guard Family Programs and SVFAC employees. The Volunteer Defense Force and MING members have one thing in common; they are passionate about helping veterans from all service components.
Michigan National Guard Family Program director, Chief Warrant Officer 3 Jessica Ulrey, was assigned to her current position in October 2013. According to Ulrey, she realized upon taking the job that the services they had available to veterans and service members were “a best kept secret” and began proactively advertising the many veterans and service member’s benefits available in Lansing. Since taking the helm, her staff has formed the Service Member Veteran and Family Assistance Center, which opened in December 2013.
“We saw that the ID card operation drew people in, but when they got here, they were talking about problems that they had, be it retired pay or survivor benefits, so we began to bring them back to talk with staff since we had all the subject matter experts working here already,” said Ulrey.
In April 2014, the Michigan Army National Guard retirement services came to work under the Family Programs office “umbrella.” Formerly, the retirement’s branch worked under the Army Standard Installation and Division Personnel Reporting System in a different building at the Joint Forces Headquarters in Lansing. Although accessible, the MING leadership realized they could better service members if the retirement services worked alongside the MING Family Programs staff.
Ulrey and her staff oversee a number of operations, to include retirement services, and are currently focused on two areas within the retirement services operation. The first is to ensure members of the National Guard and Reserve know the benefits they are eligible for before they retire. For this mission, the Family Program Office began quarterly retirement planning seminars for any reserve component service members and their families. The seminars assist service members transition from military to civilian status and also keep the family member in the loop, since a time of transition such as retiring from the military can be stressful. Future briefings are scheduled at Camp Grayling, May 2, 2015, and at the Ishpeming Armory, Aug. 8, 2015.
The other prioritized mission is equally important and perhaps more challenging. A problem became known when her office began exporting names of Michigan National Guard members who had retired since 2001 (when all records went electronic). The roster included more than 40 members who had 20 or more years of military service, but had never applied for their retirement benefits. A few of these members had thousands of dollars owed to them. Although the responsibility is ultimately on the member to apply for benefits, the MING Family Programs office and retirement section is working diligently to track down these former members.
“There are people in the state of Michigan who are eligible to draw retired pay—and we can’t find them,” said Ulrey. “They are eligible for back pay. If anybody knows of somebody who is age 60, retired from the Guard, have them contact our office.”
When Dobie left the Army Reserve, she never had a retirement ceremony, and when she met up with Chief Warrant Officer Jones, not only did he help her with her retirement paperwork, which afforded her back pay; he also presented her with a “Retired Military” pin and a U.S. flag. Prior to her Army Reserve service, Dobie began her military career in the Michigan Army Guard, April 28, 1975, the day the Vietnam War ended. She enlisted into the Women’s Army Corps with the 46th Military Police officer under the Civilian Acquired Skills program due to her job as a Jackson, Mich., police officer.
Reconnecting with the military prompted many memories for Dobie. In 1975, women in the military wore different uniforms from the men and wore the goddess Athena as the brass on their uniform. Their physical fitness uniform included a skirt and shorts that they starched and ironed. The year she joined the MING, was the first year women were allowed on Camp Grayling. Later, Dobie commissioned as an officer through the Michigan Military Academy at Fort Custer, Mich., and was the only woman in her class. It was apparent that after so many years, Dobie enjoyed going down the military reminisce lane with Jones.
“You really made me feel good today, I haven’t been called Capt. Dobie for 14 years!” she said.
For additional information or assistance with reserve military retirement questions, survivor benefits plan, or other retirement options, contact a Michigan National Guard retirement services specialist at 517-481-9873 or you may email questions to or online.
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Story by Master Sgt. Denice Rankin, Joint Forces Headquarters, Michigan National Guard Public Affairs