DoD Recognizes Employers Who Support Guard, Reserves
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 22, 2004 With nearly 180,000 reserve-component members on active duty, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called on employers of National Guard and Reserve members to continue their support.
Company executives, defense department and military leaders,
along with ESGR staff gather for a group photo at the conclusion of the
Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards ceremony at the Ronald
Reagan Building Sept. 21. Fifteen companies were recognized during the event
for their support of National Guard and Reserve service members. Photo by Sgt.
1st Class Doug Sample, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Those forces "have responded and done everything the country has asked," he said.
Wolfowitz was the keynote speaker at a Sept. 21 dinner at which this year's Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards were presented. The awards program recognizes employers that have made significant contributions to support Guard and Reserve members.
With representatives from some of the nation's largest employers seated before him, Wolfowitz said it is a "great tribute to our country that we attract such men and women to volunteer their services to our nation." He added that "it's also a tribute to the good sense of their civilian employers to recognize them as the kind of individuals they want working for their companies."
But now that those employees have been called up, their employers must set aside their own interests to help support reservists and National Guardsmen on their payrolls, Wolfowitz said.
The event was sponsored by the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department organization mostly staffed by volunteers. ESGR's mission is to gain and maintain active employer support for the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.
During his speech, the deputy defense secretary reminded the audience of the sacrifices that "citizen soldiers" have made, noting that Guardsmen and Reservists have been crucial to the force structure in Afghanistan and Iraq, while also keeping the peace in Bosnia and providing logistical support in Kosovo.
He said those missions, along with military efforts elsewhere, have placed great stress on Guard and Reserve forces. "We've had to ask people to work for longer periods, in larger numbers, and often in the face of grave hardship and danger." But, he added, "the forces have responded and done everything the country has asked them to do."
To dramatize that point, Wolfowitz called upon Army Staff Sgt. Joe Bowser of Lexington, Ky., who was seated in the audience, his crutches nearby. Bowser, an Army reservist who works for the U.S. Postal Service, responded to the nation's call by volunteering to return to reserve duty after the country was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001.
Shortly thereafter, the father of four children deployed to Iraq. And on April 19, while providing lookout for another soldier, he was hit by an enemy rocket, causing severe injuries and the loss of his right foot.
"The only complaint that he has been known to make to anyone is his regret that he isn't back with his unit," Wolfowitz said. "He wants to know when he can get back," he continued as the audience broke into applause.
Wolfowitz used the story of Bowser and others to emphasize the importance of employer support for Guard and Reserve members. "It is heroes like them and others that need the support of their employers," he said.
Wolfowitz acknowledged that many of the companies being recognized during the event have already gone the extra mile to support Guard and Reserve members, extending medical benefits, making up salary differences, and establishing support mechanisms for family members of deployed servicemembers.
The Home Depot, the Atlanta based building warehouse and one of the companies recognized, set up a program to give hiring preference to injured servicemembers looking for jobs at the company.
"All of you have gone the extra mile to support our citizen soldiers," he said. "And in a nation with employers like that, the companies we are honoring tonight really stand out.
"These companies have shown a willingness to bear financial hardship, to cope with organizational disruptions, and they have done so, according to one company manager, because it's the right thing to do," Wolfowitz continued. "Each of these companies deserves our thanks."
Before Wolfowitz's appearance, a somber moment in the evening's events came as the names of every Guardsman and reservist killed in the war on terror scrolled over a backdrop of an American flag that was projected on two large screens. The sound of "Taps" played in the background.
During his speech, the deputy secretary let it be known that those killed in the war had not died in vain. He credited the military with doing a "fantastic job" in the three years since the attacks of Sept. 11.
"They have destroyed terrorist-based cells, killed or captured hundreds of terrorist and their leaders, disrupted untold numbers of plots against us and our friends, and in the process they've liberated 50 million people from oppression," he said, again drawing applause from the audience.
He also pointed out that the past seven conflicts the U.S. military has been involved in were to liberate Muslim people and to "free them from tyranny, aggression, or war-induced famine."
"Whether it was in Kuwait, whether it was Operation Provide Comfort after the end of Desert Storm, Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, then in Afghanistan, then in Iraq -- in every one of those cases it was Muslim people (American servicemembers) were rescuing," he said.
"This is war not against Muslims this is a war as much for Muslims as any other decent people in the world," he emphasized.
The deputy defense secretary told the audience that many Iraqis are stepping forward to help their country, and he described the dedication of an Iraqi woman working as a translator for the multinational force.
Citing an article written by combat correspondent Cpl. Veronika R. Tuskowski of the 1st Marine Division, Wolfowitz explained that the translator had lost everything, but continues to help the multinational force despite being in grave danger.
"Her children were taken from her more than six months ago," he said. "Her husband beat her. Her brother held a gun to her head and threatened her life. Her own father put a contract out on her. But she said, 'You soldiers and Marines come from America to help my country. I must help you help my people. I see these soldiers who lose their lives for Iraqis. They come into our country and die for us. We must appreciate these guys. I appreciate the Army and the Marines. I love them.'"
Wolfowitz echoed the sentiment. "I can't say enough about the professionalism, the courage, and the patriotism of our soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen, who do so much for other people while making this country safe and secure," he said.
Besides Home Depot, companies recognized for their support of the Guard and Reserve this year were:
American Express, New York City; Bank One Corp., Chicago; Colt Safety Fire and Rescue, St. Louis; Adolph Coors, Golden, Colo.; General Electric, Fairfield, Conn.; Harley-Davidson, Milwaukee; the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, Monterey Park, Calif.; Northrop Grumman Corp., Los Angeles; Fisk Corp./One Source Building Technologies, Houston; Saints Memorial Medical Center, Lowell, Mass.; Sprint Corp., Overland Park, Kan.; The State of Minnesota, St. Paul; Strategic Solutions Inc., Walnut Creek, Calif.; and Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Bentonville, Ark., which co-sponsored the event.