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Five Companies Receive DoD's 'Freedom Award'

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13, 2001 – The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award was presented Nov. 9 to five firms in recognition of the contributions and sacrifices they've made -- and are making -- as employers of National Guard and Reserve members.

David Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, presented the awards during a breakfast hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. More than 12,000 companies were considered for the annual award, the highest military honor given to civilian companies.

Award recipients this year are Southwest Airlines; Boeing; Electronic Data Systems; BAE Systems; and the City of Bedford, Va.

The companies were honored later in the day at a White House ceremony where President Bush signed a proclamation announcing Nov. 12-18 as National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week 2001.

Before the signing, Bush pointed out that nearly 53,000 National Guard and Reserve members have been called up to help fight terrorism since Sept. 11. He said they're guarding energy plants, meeting the military's intelligence, medical and supply needs, and securing the nation's airports.

"We're fighting a war on many fronts," Bush told the gathering in the White House East Room. "It's a diplomatic war, it's a financial war. The military is performing brilliantly in Afghanistan. And we could not win the war without the help of the Guard and the reservists.

"And they, in turn, could not do their vital work without the support of their employers," the president noted. "Many employers are putting the national interests above their own self interest, including the five recipients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award."

Bush said employers' support includes providing full pay and benefits and job security to employees who are called to active service.

"Employers do these things because they recognize that their workers are fighting to keep America free," he said. "They also know that America's military forces are the best trained in the world. And when you hire a member of the Guard or Reserve, you bring that training to your workplace. Since Sept. 11, more than 1,000 state and local Chambers of Commerce have signed statements of support for employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve."

The secretary of defense established the award in 1996. Employers are nominated for the award by their state Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve Committee, based on input from guardsmen and reservists. This year's winners were cited in part, as follows:

o The North Central Region award was presented to Electronic Data Systems of Plano, Texas. Among other things, EDS makes up the difference pay if an employee's company exceeds military pay. EDS also hosted video teleconferences for the 49th Infantry Division while the unit was deployed to Bosnia.

o The Northeast Region award went to BAE Systems of Rockville, Md., in recognition of a variety of support. It makes up the difference between the civilian and military salaries of its 75 Guard and Reserve member-employees and also provides medical, dental, life and 401k coverage for the duration of the service member's active duty commitment for up to 60 days.

o The Western Region award was presented to the Boeing Co. of Seattle for support that includes an unusual network that provides a means for all employees to get information on the Guard and Reserve. With a charter, elected officers and monthly meetings, the network membership represents all of Boeing's companies and the senior staff. Boeing also established a committee including senior executives to oversee policy changes and initiatives that will support the military careers of its employees. Boeing has more than 3,000 Guard and Reserve members on its payroll in Washington alone.

o The South Central Region award went to Southwest Airlines of Dallas in recognition of years of support including the creation of Operation Freedom Bird, a four-day trip for veterans from Phoenix, Ariz., to Washington to see the sights in the nation's capital.

Southwest contributes money and manpower to active duty, reserve component and veteran personnel for various projects, such as providing a New Mexico Air National Guard pilot with airline tickets when his employer, another airline, declined to assist him in his travel needs for a second opinion in connection with an illness. The airline is a partner with the New Mexico Guard and Reserve units in raising funds for various charities.

The airline established "Guard and Reserve Airline Symposium" in January 1999 to discuss challenges facing reserve component pilots. Southwest brought the industry together to discuss and resolve issues with its symposium. Southwest also continues civilian pay for its employees while they serve on active duty.

o The Southeast Region award went to the City of Bedford, Va., in recognition of its partnership with the Virginia Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee. The city was particularly cited for its support of Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division (Light).

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