United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

2011 ESGR Employer Support Freedom Awards

Sept. 19, 2011

The Department of Defense has announced the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recipients.

The Freedom Award is the highest recognition given to employers for their support of their employees who also serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

About ESGR and the Freedom Award

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve. ESGR is a Department of Defense agency established in 1972 whose mission is to develop and promote employer support for Guard and Reserve service by advocating relevant initiatives, recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of applicable laws, and resolving conflict between employers and service members. Since 1996, only 130 companies have been presented with the prestigious Freedom Award. For more information, please visit www.FreedomAward.mil.

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Winners of the Freedom Award

3M

"Everyone at 3M is supportive of military employees, from the top leaders who championed the Military Support Network, down to supervisors and coworkers providing personal support to help service members and their families throughout deployments." More Hide Story
Army Maj. Carl Fassbender
Army Maj. Carl Fassbender, assigned to the Minnesota National Guard, nominated his employer, 3M, for the overwhelming support the company provides service members and their families. The company provides support through its Military Support Network, an internal employee resource group created by an employee in 2009 to honor her son who was killed in action in Afghanistan. "Everyone at 3M is supportive of military employees, from the top leaders who championed the Military Support Network, down to supervisors and coworkers providing personal support to help service members and their families throughout deployments," Fassbender said. The MSN supports 3M military employees and their families who have been called to serve or are affected by deployments. For more than a century, 3M leaders have embraced a core set of values, which include making contributions to company, community and country. In fact, 3M’s CEO and president personally requested to be the executive sponsor when MSN was founded. The network has raised awareness about those serving our country to strengthen connections between deployed 3M employees and their peers at work in the office, and has established guidance and training programs to ease transitions and foster community throughout the deployment cycle. The company’s commitment to those who serve has gone beyond the walls of 3M as well. 3M has helped two other companies establish internal military support programs, and is one of only 14 companies designated by the Minnesota governor as a “Yellow Ribbon Company.”

Ameren Corp.

“I salute my employer, Ameren, and its employees, who truly stand behind supporting their Guard and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, and continue to recognize those who have previously served our great country.” More Hide Story
Air Force Lt. Col. Bruno R. Stopka
Air Force Lt. Col. Bruno R. Stopka, assigned to the Missouri Air National Guard, one of four employees who nominated the company for a Freedom Award, said the encouragement and financial support he received has made all the difference in his career. During his three overseas deployments since 9/11, Stopka’s company stood by him and other military employees, providing differential pay and full health benefits. “I salute my employer, Ameren, and its employees, who truly stand behind supporting their Guard and reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, and continue to recognize those who have previously served our great country.” A Fortune 500 company, Ameren is the holding company for utility companies in Illinois and Missouri serving 2.4 million electric customers and nearly one million natural gas customers. The company has a long history of military support dating to 1919 when the American Legion was first established in St. Louis at the utility’s headquarters building. Across all regional divisions, nearly 600 of Ameren’s approximately 9,300 employees have served in the military, with six percent hired in the last year. Ameren partners with the Missouri governor’s “Show-Me Heroes Program” to hire veterans and established a military recruitment Web page. Ameren sends care packages to deployed employees and their family members, and offers reintegration resources. The company certified several of its apprenticeship programs so veterans and service members can access their GI Bill apprenticeship and on-the-job training funds. In addition, Ameren has pledged up to $1 million in energy credits to deployed military families in Missouri.

Burt County Sheriff’s Office

“I cannot put into words what support I have from my boss and the Burt County Sheriff’s Office... I cannot express the gratitude and thanks I have for my employer.” More Hide Story
Navy Chief Petty Officer First Class Jamie Keatts
From care packages to shoveling snow at his home while he was deployed, the Burt County Neb., Sheriff’s Office has provided exemplary support to Navy Chief Petty Officer First Class Jamie Keatts, U.S. Navy Reserve who also is a sheriff’s deputy. That’s why he nominated the office for a 2011 Freedom Award. Burt County, located in northeastern Nebraska, covers 493 square miles with the county seat residing in Tekamah. The Burt County Sheriff’s Office supports 3,170 households, with a total population of 6,881. The office is led by Sheriff Robert Pickell and is comprised of 10 employees with just five deputies, including Keatts. “I take so much pride in working for Sheriff Pickell, simply because he takes pride in me and what I do,” said Keatts. “Sheriff Pickell is an amazing boss, person and friend.” Keatts said the daily emails and continuous care packages he received from BCSO while deployed kept him feeling as if he had never left home. BCSO also supported him by checking on his home, keeping the yard presentable and shoveling snow to make sure the house did not appear empty. Pickell adjusted Keatts’ schedule to ensure he did not lose pay as a result of his military service, and personally covered Keatts’ shifts while he was away for drill weekends. Before Keatts left for Afghanistan, and upon return, BCSO threw parties to show their appreciation of his service. “I cannot put into words what support I have from my boss and the Burt County Sheriff’s Office,” said Keatts. “I cannot express the gratitude and thanks I have for my employer.”

CSX Transportation

"I have been on military leave from CSX Transportation since three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001... Every time I was selected to serve in a higher position, CSX was extremely supportive. They congratulated me, encouraged me to continue to serve, and assured me my job would be waiting when I returned." More Hide Story
U.S. Army National Guard Command Sergeant Major John Gipe, in nominating CSX Transportation, declared if there were ever an employer who deserved a “Lifetime Freedom Award,” CSX Transportation would be it. The company has supported Gipe, a locomotive engineer, through the nearly 10 years he has been activated, well beyond the five years of job protection required by the federal law. "I have been on military leave from CSX Transportation since three weeks after Sept. 11, 2001,” Gipe said. “Every time I was selected to serve in a higher position, CSX was extremely supportive. They congratulated me, encouraged me to continue to serve, and assured me my job would be waiting when I returned." CSX, headquartered in Jacksonville, Fla., is a leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation in North America. A recipient of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award in 1998, CSX is the first employer to receive the award twice, garnering three nominations in 2011. Gipe said CSX’s strong support of the military also is evidenced by its participation in 245 veteran and military job fairs last year, major contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project’s “Warrior at Work” program, and employment of a workforce with 22 percent veterans or currently serving members of the Guard and reserve. The company also champions the CSX Military Affinity Group which facilitates programs to support both military employees and their families.

Electrical Contractors Inc.

"[Electrical Contractors owner J.J. Williams] has gone out of his way to support me and my family. He serves as an example to other employees who continually find ways to help and support me. “Mr. Williams didn’t have to do any of these generous things, but he is a patriot and he understands what a sacrifice it is to serve in the military." More Hide Story
Army Staff Sgt. Devin Brisbois
Army Staff Sgt. Devin Brisbois, a reservist, said the family-owned Electrical Contractors Inc. has provided exceptional support to him and his family, including buying them a new refrigerator while he was deployed. Based in Omaha, Neb., Electrical Contractors owner J.J. Williams “has gone out of his way to support me and my family. He serves as an example to other employees who continually find ways to help and support me,” Brisbois said. During Brisbois’ deployment, his wife told him their refrigerator had stopped working. When his boss heard about it, he ordered a new refrigerator, had it delivered to their home and covered the cost. Other deployment support included the company providing lawn care, snow removal and maintenance for the home, and providing babysitting services for the couple’s three children so Brisbois’ wife could attend her evening college class. When Brisbois’ friends and family decided to thank him for his service by secretly restoring the 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee he never had time to work on, Brisbois’ boss made a considerable donation towards the project and helped arrange the surprise unveiling. “Mr. Williams didn’t have to do any of these generous things, but he is a patriot and he understands what a sacrifice it is to serve in the military,” said Brisbois. “I cannot thank him enough for what he has done for me and my family.”

Ford Motor Company

“Simply put, Ford Motor Company has made it possible for hundreds of Reserve and National Guard employees to serve the Nation in support of not only Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, but other missions throughout the world vital to national security, global stability and humanitarian assistance.” More Hide Story
Navy Lt. j.g. Todd Brook
Navy Lt. j.g. Todd Brook, a reservist nominated the Ford Motor Co. for a Freedom Award because of the company’s support in word and deed for its Guard and reserve employees. Brook said Ford, based in Dearborn, Mich., supported him and his military mission by sending 30 boxes of coloring books and stuffed animals for the Iraqi children he met on patrols. These packages joined the 800 care packages, weighing over 11 tons that Ford has sent to its deployed employees, and sons and daughters of employees, since 2006. More than 230 Ford employees have deployed 9/11, with many employees deploying multiple times. The Ford Veterans Network Group cares for service members’ families, inviting them to company events and offering any assistance they may need while their loved ones are away. Brooks says he nominated Ford because the company and its employees understand the necessity of the citizen soldier and the difficulties their loved ones face as a result of their commitment. “Simply put, Ford Motor Company has made it possible for hundreds of Reserve and National Guard employees to serve the Nation in support of not only Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, but other missions throughout the world vital to national security, global stability and humanitarian assistance,” Brook said. “Serving our country would not have been possible, had it not been for the unwavering support of co-workers and the many exemplary leaders who believe in nothing but absolute support for the troops.”

Hanson Professional Services Inc.

"They took care of my family when I was gone... My boss would check in on them. I just didn't have to worry. I wish all members of the Guard and reserve could say that about their employers." More Hide Story
Army Maj. Craig Holan
Army Maj. Craig Holan, assigned to the Illinois Army National Guard, nominated Hanson Professional Services Inc. for a Freedom Award because the company helped his military unit repair a bridge in Iraq. The bridge was damaged by improvised explosive devices, and Hanson provided pro-bono engineering assistance and helped design an overhead cover structure for the unit. Hanson is an employee-owned company headquartered in Springfield, Ill., specializes in engineering, architecture, planning and a range of allied services. Named a Freedom Award finalist in 2010, 10 percent of Hanson’s employees have served in the armed forces. Company executives regularly review policies to identify ways Hanson can better support service members and have assisted in efforts to help secure funding for two Illinois Guard initiatives. Hanson’s supportive policies even encouraged one employee to join the Guard and another to return to Guard duty. Holan said that during his deployment, one of the company’s senior vice presidents and his wife took Holan’s wife and young daughters on a shopping trip to pick out care package supplies using money collected by co-workers. The company also provided much-needed emotional support to Holan’s family through monthly gift baskets and regular phone calls. "They took care of my family when I was gone,” Holan said. “My boss would check in on them. I just didn't have to worry. I wish all members of the Guard and reserve could say that about their employers."

Integrity Applications Incorporated

“As a member of the United States Air Force Reserve, I am proud to serve, and as an employee of IAI, I could not be more proud to be part of a team so respectful of the cause of freedom, and so dedicated to those who serve.” More Hide Story
Air Force Lt. Col. Darryl W. Brayman
Air Force Lt. Col. Darryl W. Brayman said Integrity Applications Inc.’s unique policies and support have enabled him to continue his career as a reservist and serve his country. “IAI’s unique policies directly influenced my decision to delay my retirement from the Reserve, to remain until my mandatory retirement date,” said Brayman. “As a member of the United States Air Force Reserve, I am proud to serve, and as an employee of IAI, I could not be more proud to be part of a team so respectful of the cause of freedom, and so dedicated to those who serve.” IAI is a veteran-owned business based in Chantilly, Va., is an engineering services and software development company that primarily supports the intelligence community and other civil, defense and intelligence customers with a focus on government space and intelligence surveillance reconnaissance systems activities. The business actively seeks to hire veterans and current Guard and reserve service members. Forty-four percent of the company’s employees are veterans, including four of the six members of the board of directors. IAI offers flexible work schedules to help reserve component members meet their drilling and military schooling obligations. The company also provides support to families of deployed service members. In one instance, IAI provided assistance to an employee whose deployed spouse suffered a combat injury. Company employees also contribute to many organizations benefiting service members and their families, including the Fisher House, Operation Paperback, Toys for Tots and the Air Force Association.

Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department

“Not only did I receive numerous care packages from other deputies and co-workers during my two year deployment, I was also sent numerous department newsletters with each packet to ensure that I remain connected." More Hide Story
Navy Cmdr. Arthur Castiglia
Navy Cmdr. Arthur Castiglia, a reservist, nominated the Orange County, Calif., Sheriff’s Department for the award because the department not only supported him with care packages, but made sure he stayed connected with what was happening in the agency. “Not only did I receive numerous care packages from other deputies and co-workers during my two year deployment, I was also sent numerous department newsletters with each packet to ensure that I remain connected,” Castiglia said. The Orange County Sheriff’s Department began as an elected sheriff and small group of men enforcing the law on horseback, and today is a respected department employing more than 3,600 personnel serving the citizens of Orange County, California. Since 9/11, 118 Guard and reserve members employed by the OCSD have been called to active service and have received supplemental pay to maintain their county salary while serving with the Guard and Reserve. The OCSD maintains a blog highlighting the dual careers of its Guard and Reserve Staff. Upon return from a deployment, Castiglia says the department allows service members to retain positions on highly competitive specialty details which are not always extended at other agencies. "I am on the SWAT team, and I know I have a place back on the team when I return. I'm fortunate that patriotism and support of its military personnel are part of the culture at OCSD," he said. His nomination was one of four OCSD received this year, with the other nominations submitted by service members in the Army National Guard and U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.

Qwest Communications, now CenturyLink, Inc.

“When I was deployed, my direct supervisor called and emailed me and my wife multiple times, offering his support and sending care packages." More Hide Story
Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew W. McGuire
Qwest received nine nominations from its Guard and reserve employees who were thankful for the personalized support they received from the company, which included Qwest’s CEO recognizing military employees through company-wide emails that acknowledged and thanked them for their service to the nation. “When I was deployed, my direct supervisor called and emailed me and my wife multiple times, offering his support and sending care packages,” said nominator Army Sgt. 1st Class Matthew W. McGuire, of the National Guard, who is now back at work in Dublin, Ohio. “I nominated Qwest because of its support for service member employees.” Qwest Communications of Denver, acquired by CenturyLink, Inc., of Monroe, Louisiana this past March, was nominated for the Freedom Award the past five years and named a semi-finalist in 2006 and 2010. Qwest employees donated 800 hours to assemble more than 500 care packages for their deployed colleagues. One U.S. Marine employed by Qwest said he received nine boxes weighing a total of 500 pounds that he shared with his entire unit. Qwest also donated 500 calling cards to family members at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Qwest’s “People Care Team,” an ombudsman team for Guardsmen, reservists, supervisors, families, and Qwest Vets, distributed Veterans Affairs Department benefits information to service members within the company. Qwest recruited Guard and reserve members using job fairs and transition assistance programs and became active in the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces program.

St. John’s Lutheran Church

"Many churches send care packages, but St. John’s Lutheran Church wrapped me up and sent me as the care package.” More Hide Story
Army Lt. Col. Colonel David Gunderson
St. John’s Lutheran Church Senior Pastor and Army Lt. Col. Colonel David Gunderson nominated his church because of the generous support he received while deployed to Afghanistan. St. John’s Lutheran Church is a parish of 1,250 in Yankton, a community of 13,500 in southeastern South Dakota. St. John’s provided the support in spite of the fact that churches are exempt from following the federal law that protects service members’ jobs. Gunderson offered to resign before deploying, but St. John parishioners refused, instead offering to continue his pay and benefits. When he declined the pay, St. John’s used the money to support his military mission in Afghanistan by sending dozens of hymnals to equip the military chapel. St. John’s also sent so many care packages to their pastor, he was able to make these available to all service members in the Soldier Care Room, send additional care packages to personnel in remote areas, and provide clothing items to Afghan children. “Many churches send care packages, but St. John’s Lutheran Church wrapped me up and sent me as the care package,” said Gunderson. St. John’s also opened its doors, without regard to faith, to allow family grief counseling to occur at the church, instead of a local armory, when a local deployed unit experienced a series of losses. The congregation supported his wife by mowing the lawn, repairing the couple’s heating system, and providing food. “Pastor Dave,” as Gunderson is known, was able to focus on his mission in Kabul, Afghanistan, knowing his family was well taken care of at home.

North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union

“I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege to be part of these two organizations that while appearing to be very different, in reality, have similar missions of servitude, defined by integrity, professional excellence and a spirit of service before self.” More Hide Story
Air Force Master Sgt. Jamie Applequist
Nominator Air Force Master Sgt. Jamie Applequist, a reservist, said he was proud of the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union for its support of Guard and reserve employes. “I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege to be part of these two organizations that while appearing to be very different, in reality, have similar missions of servitude, defined by integrity, professional excellence and a spirit of service before self,” he said. The credit union is a not-for-profit financial cooperative serving employees of agencies and public school systems in the state of North Carolina, and their immediate family members. SECU ensures no-surcharge ATM access for North Carolina National Guard and reserve members, and in 2010 held the largest national “Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve” signing at its Annual Managers’ Meeting. SECU’s “People Helping People” philosophy is continually demonstrated in the actions of employees, with an SECU branch manager even helping to care for the children of a deployed soldier who was a single mother. The philosophy also is evident in the additional support SECU members provide to military families. Through their foundation, SECU members partnered with the North Carolina National Guard Association Educational Foundation to fund annual scholarships, purchase a customized trailer to benefit the “Operation Kids on Guard” program, and help with zero percent construction financing for transitional housing to serve homeless veterans. Additionally in 2010, SECU members and staff teamed up to fill and deliver 5,000 gift boxes to deployed soldiers.

The Principal Financial Group

“The company and my supervisor looked after my family, essentially becoming additional parent figures to my kids – attending my kids’ games, arranging child care, taking my boys to college games. Their kind actions really gave me peace of mind during my deployment, knowing my family was being taken care of." More Hide Story
Army Maj. Kerry Studer
The Principal Financial Group is a retirement and global asset management company that actively recruits military members and has a corporate-wide Statement of Support Program integrated into 45 facilities across the country. Headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa, the company been previously named one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work For.” The company’s “Share and Care” Committee, a group of employees committed to raising funds for persons or organizations in need, adopts different causes and organizations to support across the country. The committee adopted the deployed unit of nominator Army Maj. Kerry Studer, a reservist, by purchasing 300 sets of PT uniforms, 600 t-shirts, and mailing numerous care packages. “The Principal Financial Group not only supports Guard and reserve members, but our families too. They really went way above what I anticipated – providing for my entire unit was unbelievable,” said Studer, national account lending director for The Principal Financial Group. “The company and my supervisor looked after my family, essentially becoming additional parent figures to my kids – attending my kids’ games, arranging child care, taking my boys to college games,” he said. “Their kind actions really gave me peace of mind during my deployment, knowing my family was being taken care of.” Studer says his supervisor and family even took vacation time so they could meet him when he returned from deployment.

Town of Gilbert, Ariz.

"I wanted to recognize the Town of Gilbert Fire Department for the constant support given to my family and me while I fulfill my military obligation. When I notified the fire department I was preparing to deploy for the third time, their first words were, ‘How can we help your family while you are away?’" More Hide Story
Army Sgt. 1st Class Leo Hess
Army Sgt. 1st Class Leo Hess, a reservist, nominated the Town of Gilbert, Ariz., for its constant support to his family while he fulfills his military obligation. Gilbert, in Maricopa County, Arizona, is just southeast of Phoenix within the metropolitan area. "I wanted to recognize the Town of Gilbert Fire Department for the constant support given to my family and me while I fulfill my military obligation. When I notified the fire department I was preparing to deploy for the third time, their first words were, ‘How can we help your family while you are away?’" The Town of Gilbert provides service members with care packages and news from home, hosts annual events to honor veterans and maintains a spouse support group for families of deployed employees. Multiple service members provided input for Hess’s nomination. One of these deployed service members had a water pipe break and fire department employees responded quickly to fix it free of charge. The spouse of one deployed member said, “If it’s fixing a broken water pipe or offering to help with a broken washer, they’re there for me. I received phone calls just checking in to see if I needed anything.” The Town of Gilbert has a history of strong military support initiatives, and currently partners with Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces to ensure they’re postured to recruit and hire service members.

Wells Fargo & Co.

“While I was mobilized during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wells Fargo maintained personal contact with me throughout my deployment including personal letters and emails from my supervisors... Upon my return to work, Wells Fargo welcomed me back as though I had never left.” More Hide Story
Army Capt. Magallanes
With eight total nominations, this year’s primary nomination came from Army Capt. Magallanes, assigned to the California Army National Guard, who nominated Wells Fargo & Co. for extraordinary support of his military service. “While I was mobilized during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wells Fargo maintained personal contact with me throughout my deployment including personal letters and emails from my supervisors,” he said. “Upon my return to work, Wells Fargo welcomed me back as though I had never left.” Wells Fargo supports its Guard and reserve employees with numerous services and compensation policies that exceed legal requirements. The Wells Fargo 24/7 Employee Assistance Consulting Program includes post-traumatic stress disorder counseling. The company also has an active Veterans’ Team Member Network comprised of more than 900 Wells Fargo employees whose mission is to support and educate all Wells Fargo team members about the value of the military veteran, promote greater veteran awareness and increase support for veterans. The Veterans’ Team Network Group and many local groups across the company hold package drives, volunteer in local military communities, and organize military send offs and welcome home events. In 2010, Wells Fargo launched the Annual Veterans and Disabled Team Member Outreach Program, where HR professionals conduct career counseling and development conversations with veterans and disabled employees across the company. Wells Fargo & Company also participates in military job fairs and through involvement with ESGR and DoL-VETS, provides seminars for local businesses.

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