Culture of Troop Support Earns Top Award for Texas Capital
By Sara Moore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2008 The Defense Department is recognizing the city of Austin, Texas, as being one of the most supportive employers of reserve-component servicemembers in the nation.
Austin is one of 15 employers selected to receive the 2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The city earned the award through its many support activities for employees who serve in the National Guard or reserve.
The city has policies in place that provide differential pay to activated employees for up to 15 months as well as 15 days of paid military leave annually for military training. The city trains all leaders and supervisors on the legal requirements to support employees in the National Guard and Reserve, and recently created a position that is dedicated to ensuring servicemembers are processed back into the employment sector upon return from deployment.
While employees are activated or deployed, supervisors and co-workers stay in touch with them, and the city hosts “send off” and “welcome home” ceremonies. Supervisors also help the families of deployed employees with home and vehicle maintenance and other projects.
In 2007, the city contracted with several organizations to provide families services such as psychological and emotional counseling, assistance with finance management, and referrals to support groups and the city’s employee assistance program.
Lek Mateo, a Public Works Department supervisor for Austin and first sergeant in the Texas Army National Guard, nominated the city for the Freedom Award because of the exceptional support he and other employees have received, he said. Mateo was deployed to Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and said during his deployment his co-workers sent his unit care packages and school supplies for the Iraqi children, and his supervisors assured him his job would be waiting for him when he got back.
“I can't say enough about the city of Austin other than this is a wonderful city to work for, and I am thankful for having great bosses and co-workers who really support me and allow me to perform my military duties,” he said.
Mateo praised the city for giving employees ample time to attend military training and for recruiting military veterans from nearby installations. The city held an event during Veterans Day to recognize all the veterans in the city work force and asked them to participate in a parade to recognize their service, he said.
“The city is a fantastic organization to work for in that they openly support their employees that serve in the National Guard or reserves and also recognize the employees that are veterans,” he said. “Without our family and employer support, we as citizen-soldiers could not do our military duties.”
The city of Austin will receive the Freedom Award along with 14 other companies in a ceremony Sept. 18 at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here. The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional support from the employer community.