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Secretary of Defense Speech

Presentation of the Freedom Award for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

As Delivered by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Pentagon Auditorium, September 26, 2014

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Tony [Orlando], thank you, very much.  You can dance, sing, whatever the hell you want to do here.  This is like a show, really, it’s Vegas in the eastern part of the United States.

Tony, I know what you’ve meant to our men and women in uniform over the years and we are grateful for that.  You have been there over many, many years, when it wasn’t always a popular thing, so we are grateful for that.  

To Lieutenant Colonel Smith and all of you who do so much for our troops and their families, thank you.  Whether you’re in the civilian world, part of the employers that we represent with our recognition here this morning, I thank you on behalf of our country.  I saw the President here this week, and he asked me to also convey his gratitude, his best wishes, and his thanks for what you do for our country.

This is, as Tony noted, an important day of recognition.  I understand that, you understand that, but many companies, individuals, and leaders do a little more than just doing their part.   And that’s what this recognition is all about, to note those who go beyond just doing enough—they do more, and we appreciate it.

The willingness of American citizens to leave their homes, and their jobs, and their families when called upon to help defend our country has always been a very defining tradition of this country. 

But they would not be able to do it, as we all know, without the support, and the help, and the encouragement of their employers and their communities back home. 

Today we have the opportunity to thank those who help make this selfless service – for our men and women who serve our country – make it possible.  Over the past year, the Defense Department received almost 3,000 employer nominations from Guardsmen and Reservists from around the country.  The fifteen we honor today represent the very best in employer support to our Guardsmen and Reservists.

Some of today’s honorees are large companies like AT&T, which has given its deployed Guardsmen and Reservists cell phones and iPads so that they can keep in touch with their families.  AT&T also recently announced that they are doubling their goal to hire 10,000 veterans and their family members, which benefits Guardsmen and Reservists because many of them are veterans leaving active duty.  Other large companies like Capital One and PNC Bank actively encourage their civilian employees to support activated Guardsmen and Reservists, and their families. 

Today we are also honoring small businesses.  For them, having an employee leave for multiple weeks a year to serve their country can be a significant burden.  Yet these organizations celebrate their Guardsmen and Reservists for their sacrifices and what they do for their country, and make sure they know how much they are valued.  For J.G. Management Systems, a firm with only 85 employees, that meant stepping up to pay for an employee’s wife and three children to meet him in Italy during his mid-deployment leave.  For the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, it meant making sure a Guardsman’s spouse had the health insurance she needed, and sending Easter baskets to his children.  

These fifteen employers are diverse in size, in focus, and in responsibilities, but what they share in common with all of us is a commitment to doing everything possible to ensure that their people succeed – in both the military and in their civilian careers…because no one in the Guard or Reserve should ever have to choose between them. 

More employers should follow the example of Zions National Bank, whose President and CEO personally contacts every employee who gets called up for active duty – he does that to make sure they know of the bank’s continued absolute commitment to them and their families.  Zions also has a Military Relations Manager who tracks deployed employees and initiates an employment reintegration process three months before the employee return.   

What all of today’s honorees recognize is that our Guardsmen and Reservists – like all military personnel – have unique qualifications and proven leadership experience… the same qualities that drive American companies to hire more veterans each year.   Not only because they value service, but also because it’s good business. 

As we salute these fifteen companies and organizations, we also recognize all of the Guardsmen and the Reservists and their families that they support.  Our Guardsmen and Reservists are skilled professionals who make an extraordinary contribution to the mission – from Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, to institutions here at home.  We encourage more employers to recognize this reality, and follow the leadership of today’s employer honorees.

On behalf of the Department of Defense, congratulations to all of you, and thank you.  We appreciate everything you do for our National Guardsmen, our Reservists, and their families – and I know they appreciate what you do.  You make our country stronger, you make our country better. Thank you all very much.

Thank you.