WASHINGTON, DC (March 14, 2013) – Just before Panther Racing owner John Barnes testified during a Congressional hearing in front of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Veterans Affairs yesterday, he played a short video that highlighted what the team has done with its “Operation: Hire Our Guard” program to fight unemployment amongst National Guard soldiers.

When the video finished, the first word heard from members of the Committee on Veterans Affairs was profound:


Barnes, who has spearheaded Panther’s partnership with the National Guard since 2008, was invited to testify during the hearing entitled, “Lowering the Rate of Unemployment for the National Guard and Reserve – Are We Making Progress?” While the team’s partnership with the Guard is focused on recruiting and retention, Barnes worked to raise more than $1.1 million dollars in private funding to expand “Operation: Hire Our Guard” to new heights last year.

The special interaction Panther has with the National Guard and its soldiers has always left members of the team feeling compelled to do anything they can to help. Early in the relationship, it became evident that unemployment was a pressing issue for soldiers as they returned home from overseas conflict. Panther worked with ESGR as early as 2009 to host employers at the track, and the program has expanded each year since.

For the 2012 season, Barnes led the team to partnerships with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (Hiring Our Heroes program) and the White House (First Lady Michelle Obama’s Joining Forces program) to fuel “Operation: Hire Our Guard”. The program's goals are straighforward: Engange employers to educate them on both the unemployment crisis and the benefits of hiring Veterans, and then make the local connections they need to get in touch with local soldiers.

In addition to conducting the program at all domestic IndyCar races, in the last year alone Panther was able to reach the employers in Idaho, Colorado, New York, Kentucky and elsewhere.

Posted below is Barnes' testimony during the hearing.

John Barnes, Oral Testimony:
Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to be here today to discuss the partnership between the National Guard and Panther Racing—and our collaborative effort to address Veterans unemployment.  I am John Barnes, managing partner and CEO of Panther Racing, a championship-winning race team in the IndyCar Series.

The Panther team asks each day what can we do to help the National Guard? I will never forget my experience after arriving at the Brooke Army Hospital in 2008 and meeting a wounded warrior who was wearing a black and yellow smiley tee shirt with the words “Got Burns”. When I’m having a bad day, I think of that soldier. He never complained about his injury.  In a silent way his courage that day made a huge statement:  “Life goes on. Don’t complain. Finish the mission. Move on.”  

The privilege of visiting Brooke and other hospitals and meeting our Nation’s heroes and seeing their courage and determination is unlike anything I have experienced in my lifetime.  Long rehabilitations can be lonely. Our support can give them hope.

We looked at our assets and asked what can we do to help the National Guard meet its objectives.  We assist with troop morale by providing race tickets and credentials, food and recognition to thousands of National Guard soldiers and their families each year at races.  Our Infield Training Unit is used by the states to educate our soldiers regarding employment and other pertinent issues relative to life in the Guard.

Years ago, at an Indy race in Kentucky I learned from a soldier who had been in the impact zone of several IED explosions about the prevalence of Traumatic Brain Injury. He had been taken off line and shared stories about his comrads who were suffering from TBI.  I asked him what was the level of the G-force impact from these blasts and I was surprised to learn that these impact are not recorded.

Like the military, auto racing  deals with serious head injuries.   We utilize a state-of-the-art ear-sensor technology to measure the G-force impact to a driver’s head in the event of an accident. These sensors record specific detail on the impact to the driver, which has been instrumental in on-site treatment, in long-term care, and the development of better equipment to protect our drivers.

Wanting to do our part, Panther Racing gave the ear sensor technology used in IndyCar to the Army. After some modifications, it is now repurposed as the Integrated Blast Effects Sensor Suite (I-BESS) and over 4,000 have been deployed in Afghanistan—protecting out troops.

The data collected helps engineers improve vehicles and equipment to protect our soldiers and helps our neurosurgeons treat the patients.   Today, we are discussing designs of the seats used in IndyCar, which could potentially help helicopter pilots who have high rates of spinal injuries.

So why is this important?  Because we see the many assets in the Panther tool box as the Guard’s assets. These synergies  have provided us the foundation to build a successful unemployment program.

We joined partnerships with ESGR, the Chamber of Commerce, and each respective state’s National Guard Leadership and Employment Outreach Coordinator. 

Our effort entails engaging local business leaders at races and in non-race states with severe unemployment to have them experience Panther’s Operation: Hire Our Guard program.  We do not use federal dollars in our employment effort, but raised $1.1M in private capital.

When business leaders have a “bucket list” day while experiencing the Panther program, we know they are leaving with a greater understanding of the Guard.  Those business leaders, who will be a supportive employer, will advocate policies and practices that support our Veterans.  A Guardsman with a good job at a company that respects and supports his/her service is a National Guardsman our nation retains for a long time.

So, we try to be a “Pied Piper” of sorts, taking the most effective parts of many existing programs and combining them with the high profile racing to craft the perfect environment  where high-level employers are set shoulder to shoulder with National Guardsmen and hear first hand their stories and learn about their attributes and value to our communities, states, and the nation.

We have learned that this engagement is no different than simple human psychology.  In life, people do not gravitate to things they do not know. The decision makers we meet highly respect the military but are intimidated in how to engage it.

Panther’s use of sports to promote Guard unemployment and build the bridge from the unknown to the known really works.  Now, we must encourage others to do it. 

Every major sporting event in our country should have something similar.  By combining the star power of sporting events with the emotional impact of “Hometown Heroes” stories and the respect employers have for military leaders, these can be unique, effective forums for finding jobs and growing the base of “Guard Friendly Employers.”

Picture a Guard hiring fair on the sidelines of the Super Bowl.    Imagine a NBA, NFL or LPGA day fantasy camp where you learn from notable stars and coaches in the morning and then for lunch and the afternoon learn about the Guard and unemployment.  This is what we do—and it has succeeded.

Finally, the issue goes much deeper than unemployment, as we’ve learned how the lack of a job can adversely affect these soldiers in many other ways.  We will not be successful for all those who have service in Iraq and Afghanistan unless we ensure those who have been affected by PTS also have their “opportunity.”  We engage and educate potential employers, and especially Human Resources professionals, about PTS.   Greater awareness, education, and training tailored to debunking myths about PTS are needed with leadership from the Departments of Defense, Labor, and Veterans Affairs and others in the mental health community.

Medal of Honor recipient Drew Dix is taking a leading role in combatting suicide and he helps us engage the potential employer regarding PTS.  Typically, if a HR office has a choice between two candidates for employment --a soldier affected by PTS and an unaffected civilian-- they normally chose the candidate with less risk versus more reward. We help employers better understand and address the effects of PTS in a very straightforward manner. 

We need to turn this tide regarding PTS if we are going to truly give every member of the Guard a chance at economic opportunities and personal fulfillment.

Mr. Chairman, it is an honor to be here today.

We feel a special calling to help ensure those who have served in uniform have the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families. We know we bring significant assets to the effort, and we want to use them most efficiently.

I invite each of you to visit Panther Racing and experience what we do, and, more importantly, to discover new ways that our public-private partnerships can do even more to honor our Guardsmen with meaningful jobs and careers. 

Thank you for this opportunity, and I welcome your questions and comments.