United States Department of Defense United States Department of Defense

The Freedom Award 2013 - Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

The Department of Defense has honored the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recipients. The Freedom Award is the highest recognition given to employers for support of their employees who also serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

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About the Freedom Award

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.

The award was created to publicly recognize employers who provide exceptional support to their Guard and Reserve employees. It is the highest in a series of employer recognition awards given by the Department of Defense.

Almost one-half of the U.S. military is comprised of the Guard and Reserve. The Department of Defense shares these citizen warriors with their civilian employers, many of whom provide significant support to their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve. This award recognizes employers who provide the most outstanding support for their Guard and Reserve employees and is presented annually by the Secretary of Defense.

For more information, please visit www.FreedomAward.mil.

Freedom Award Winners

Albuquerque Fire Department

"The fire department and city have always made sure that I have been paid and that my benefits remain in place while I am away. The fire chief keeps crews updated about deployed members and he stays in contact with us. He always makes himself available to my family, should an emergency arise."

Navy Chief Petty Officer Erik Rasmussen, U.S. Navy Reserve
The Albuquerque Fire Department, headquartered in Albuquerque, N.M., employs nearly 700 uniformed personnel, who are committed to the safety of more than 552,804 residents in a jurisdiction of more than 182 square miles. Navy Reserve Chief Petty Officer Erik Rasmussen nominated the fire department for the Freedom Award, explaining that the fire chief regularly checks with families of deployed Guard and Reservists to address any ongoing needs. Through its Deployed Military Support Program, service members find employment support, leave, payroll and benefits, and receive care packages from fellow firefighters. The mayor and the Albuquerque fire chief honored returning service members from Afghanistan during a “Heroes of the Week" ceremony. During the event, service members were welcomed home at the airport by flag-waving fire trucks and also recognized at a special reception. The City of Albuquerque also values military service in the workforce: qualified Guardsmen, Reservists and veteran applicants are guaranteed personal interviews. The city also grants generous paid military leave and differential pay to its employees when they are called to service. Reservists, including Rasmussen, appreciate this commitment to employee support. “The fire department and city have always made sure that I have been paid and that my benefits remain in place while I am away," he said. “The fire chief keeps crews updated about deployed members and he stays in contact with us. He always makes himself available to my family, should an emergency arise."

Bank of America

"Supporting the U.S. military has been a focus of Bank of America for more than 90 years, including our efforts to recruit and retain military service members and veterans, our contributions to military-focused charitable organizations, and our differentiated banking services for military service members."

Army Col. William Harris, U.S. Army Reserve
Based in Charlotte, N.C., Bank of America is one of the world's largest financial institutions, serving individuals, businesses and large corporations with a full range of banking, investment, asset management and other financial and risk management products and services. Army Reserve Col. William Harris nominated the bank for the Freedom Award. The bank created the Military Support and Assistance Group, a resource network for military employees, their colleagues and families, to help Guard and Reservists connect. Each service member is assigned a sponsor who remains in contact throughout the deployment cycle to provide transition assistance. The sponsor also identifies family needs and offers assistance with support services including babysitting or lawn care. Many banking centers adopt military units and participate in welcome home ceremonies and job fairs. In 2012, the company worked with more than 200 military support organizations, donating $2.6 million and 23,000 employee volunteer hours. When an employee’s husband returned early from deployment for surgery, her colleagues collected donations to help the employee to stay at a Fisher House, rent a car, and pay for meals and airline tickets. This support evolved into a monthly fundraising effort to support 10-15 Fisher House families. Bank of America also prioritizes hiring active Guard and Reservists, veterans and their families. The company employs more than 6,000 veterans and Reservists. By partnering with organizations including Hiring Our Heroes and the Wounded Warrior Project, the bank has quadrupled its hiring of disabled veterans since 2007, and doubled military hiring since 2010.

City of Columbus

"I cannot elaborate enough how supportive the City of Columbus and Columbus Public Health have been to me. The Mayor has personally made visits to families of fallen soldiers. He has made it his directive to form a veteran's committee who meet monthly to constantly re-evaluate how our city treats its veterans. They don't stop with the great work they do, they continually improve it."

Army Maj. Stephen Snyder-Hill, U.S. Army Reserve
Columbus, Ohio, the 15th largest city in the United States with a population of 787,033 residents, was nominated for the Freedom Award by Army Reserve Maj. Stephen Snyder-Hill. The city is committed to recruiting, hiring and supporting service members and veterans in both its workforce and the community. The city extended its veterans’ hiring preference to include all current Guard and Reserve members and regularly attends military job fairs, including Hiring Our Heroes and General Electric hiring events, among others. It also promotes job opportunities through email outreach to Guard, Reservists and military units. The Columbus Veterans Committee developed a targeted handbook for managers and supervisors to accompany training on Uniformed Service Employment and Reemployment Rights Act requirements. The city also coordinates care packages for deploying service members and developed a detailed human resources checklist to ensure their pay and benefits are maintained. City employees are dedicated to supporting their colleagues during deployments: when a police recruit was called to duty while at the training academy, the city accommodated his military service and ensured he was able to graduate on time. The mayor also created the Jim Lendavic Award to recognize employees who do great work in support of veterans. In the words of one service member, the city’s support “(doesn’t) stop with the great work they have done, they continually improve."

Colorado Spring Utilities

"Colorado Springs Utilities was very supportive to me and my family while I was deployed and the support has not stopped since my return. I sustained an injury when I was deployed that required me to have surgery since my return to work. My employer found light duty for me until I was released for full duty. They were extremely flexible with all my doctors and physical therapy appointments."

Navy Chief Petty Officer Christopher Ortiz, U.S. Navy Reserve
Colorado Springs Utilities provides electric, natural gas, water and wastewater services to its customers in Colorado Springs, Colo. Nominated by Navy Reserve Chief Petty Officer Christopher Ortiz, the company has a reputation for reaching out and supporting service members. It maintains relationships with the families of deployed employees, who are invited to company events and are regularly visited by community utility crews to offer assistance. The company also manages an interactive website for service members and families to stay up-to-date on news from the workplace and communicate with fellow employees. Colorado Springs Utilities has made strides in recruiting Guard and Reserve members to the workforce by providing informational interviews, offering career preparedness activities and participating in local military job fairs. The company created a corporate video featuring the president and service member employees to highlight their commitment to the military. It leads by example in the community, sponsoring military symposiums, parade floats and letter writing campaigns. The company also pays employees and deployed Guard and Reservists differential pay. Ortiz said the company’s support continues even when an employee reintegrates into the workplace. He sustained an injury during military service, which required surgery and kept him from performing his full duties. Colorado Springs Utilities was “extremely flexible with all of my appointments and found light duty for me until I was released," he said. “The company was very supportive to me and my family while I was deployed and the support has not stopped since my return."

C.W. Driver

"C.W. Driver went above and beyond my expectations during my deployment. Their support of myself and my family has made me an even more loyal employee to the company and my senior management."

Navy Commander Christopher Myers, U.S. Navy Reserve
Headquartered in Pasadena, Calif., C.W. Driver is a premier builder serving the western United States, specializing in landmark projects, historical renovations, hospitality industry and occupied campus programs. Because of the company’s culture of supporting service members, Navy Reserve Commander Christopher Myers nominated C.W. Driver for the Freedom Award. Senior leaders and managers frequently send letters, emails and care packages to deployed employees and update them on company projects. Each service member’s family is assigned a family support coordinator to provide assistance during deployment. The staff hosts send-off and welcome home parties for service members and their families. C.W. Driver seeks out sub-contractors, suppliers and partners that support Guard and Reservists as well as veteran-owned and service-disabled veteran-owned companies. The company partnered with the Hero2Hired mobile job store to highlight the benefits of hiring service members. C.W. Driver backs military support organizations, including the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, DBE Alliance, Elite SDVOB and Operation Help a Hero, and volunteers at Camp Joy, a camp for the children of deployed service members, at Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton, Calif. “It was so nice knowing that while my husband was deployed I could always count on our friends at C.W. Driver to be there when I needed them," a service member’s wife said. During her husband’s deployment, she “was a full time student and had a toddler in the house, so it was important to know that help was only a phone call away."

DaVita

"I never thought I would find the same levels of leadership, integrity and ‘espirit de corps’ once I left active duty. DaVita is an organization fully committed to a culture that supports the success of patients, teammates and community."

Lt. Col. Hermina Yarde, U.S. Air Force Reserve
DaVita is the dialysis division of DaVita HealthCare Partners Inc., delivering dialysis services to patients with chronic kidney failure and end-stage renal disease. Located in Denver, the company was nominated for the Freedom Award by Air Force Reserve Lt. Col. Hermina Yarde. DaVita employs more than 1,800 military veterans and sponsors the Star Troopers, a volunteer program supporting active and Reserve service members within the organization. The program also coordinates outreach to deployed Guard and Reserve employees with care package drives and letter writing campaigns. DaVita publishes an annual military recruiting newsletter, which is distributed to more than 46,000 employees and partners to highlight the activities and achievements of service member and veteran personnel. In 2012, the company published its Operation Homefront Charter to provide resources and special benefits for deploying employees. When service members return, DaVita offers flexible scheduling, paid time off and additional transition guidance with a military leave specialist. The company has been recognized as an industry leader in supporting veteran and service member employees, and has been named “Best for Vets," “Most Valuable Employer of Military," and a “Military Friendly Employer." Yarde attests to DaVita’s commitment to Guard and Reserve employees. “I never thought I would find the same levels of leadership, integrity and ‘espirit de corps’ once I left active duty," she said. “DaVita is an organization fully committed to a culture that supports the success of patients, teammates and community."

Eastern Chemical Company

"Instead of merely complying with (the law’s) ‘reasonable accommodation’ requirement… Eastman went above and beyond by actually creating a new position to provide me with a job and retraining that met my work restrictions and maintained my status within the company."

Army Col. Jerry Duncan, U.S. Army Reserve
Eastman Chemical Company, headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., is a global specialty chemical company that produces a broad range of advanced materials, additives and functional products, and fibers. Army Reserve Col. Jerry Duncan nominated Eastman for the Freedom Award. In support of mobilized service members, the company hosts going away and welcome home ceremonies, maintains contact with members throughout deployment, posts updates in company communications, and recognizes service members with awards. When Duncan deployed, Eastman sent him personal care packages, as well as soccer balls to give to Iraqi children. The company regularly checks in with spouses and families, performing yard maintenance and home repair to help ease the burden of deployment. When a service member returns from deployment, Eastman provides an additional week of paid leave for family reintegration. The company provides additional paid time off to service members who participate in color guard, funeral details and other ceremonial duties, believing these events are important reminders to the community of military sacrifices. Duncan shared his firsthand experience with Eastman’s commitment to service member support when he returned from deployment with an injury. “Instead of merely complying with (the law’s) ‘reasonable accommodation’ requirement… Eastman went above and beyond by actually creating a new position to provide me with a job and retraining that met my work restrictions and maintained my status within the company," Duncan said.

Family Allergy & Asthma

"My military experience was very attractive to potential employers, but my desire to continue my service was a difficult issue. Family Allergy & Asthma gets it, not only in their excellent treatment of patients and staff, but also in (their) willingness to take a risk and hire (me)."

Air Force Maj. Hans Otto, U.S. Air Force Reserve
Founded in 1979, Family Allergy & Asthma is a multi-site allergy practice with offices throughout Kentucky and southern Indiana. The practice was nominated for the Freedom Award by Air Force Reserve Maj. Hans Otto. All employees receive training on the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act to ensure they understand the commitments and needs of Guard and Reservists. The practice employs a human resources representative who deals specifically with issues arising from employee mobilizations and training. Physicians are compensated on a “fee for service" schedule, a policy that allows deployed Guard and Reservists the ability to receive credit for patient service, regardless of which doctor patients see. The practice’s staff also volunteers their personal time and resources to support service members, sending care packages and checking on families. During a deployment to Afghanistan, an employee’s wife was left to care for their two children with no family support nearby. The practice’s employees rallied to support her by providing babysitting services and other assistance as needed. In his nomination, Otto said, “My military experience was very attractive to potential employers, but my desire to continue my service was a difficult issue. Family Allergy & Asthma gets it, not only in their excellent treatment of patients and staff, but also in (their) willingness to take a risk and hire (me)."

Humana, Inc.

"(Humana Inc.’s corporate) culture enables service members the opportunity to excel in their civilian jobs, continue to serve their nation when called upon, and to continue to feel appreciated and valued for [their] service."

Army Master Sgt. Michael Ochs, U.S. Army National Guard
Headquartered in Louisville, Ky., Humana Inc. is one of the nation’s leading health and well-being companies, offering a wide range of health and wellness products and services incorporating an integrated, holistic approach to lifelong well-being. Army National Guard Master Sgt. Michael Ochs nominated the company for the Freedom Award. Humana’s commitment to the military and veterans is evident at all levels of the company. Its associates routinely attend deployment and welcome home ceremonies and check on military families. All managers, supervisors and associates participate in Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act training annually. Humana sent hundreds of care packages and letters to deployed Guard and Reserve colleagues, and sponsored a dining out event for a deploying unit. In 2011, the company pledged to hire 1,000 veterans and spouses by the end of 2013 through its Veterans Hiring Initiative in which it met its goal by November 2012 and committed to hire 1,000 more. Humana was the premiere sponsor of the 2011 Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention, partnered with the MilSpouse eMentor program, donated $1 million to the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities, and provides discounts at more than 300 Concentra Urgent Care facilities. “The (corporate) culture enables service members the opportunity to excel in their civilian jobs, continue to serve their nation when called upon, and to continue to feel appreciated and valued for [their] service," Ochs said.

Pape-Dawson Engineers, Inc.

"Pape-Dawson continued my health insurance and my flex benefit card for my family while I was deployed. Mr. Sam Dawson, the CEO, gave my wife funds out of his own personal account to buy my airline ticket to come home and be with my family (at Christmas)."

Army Sgt. Don Hollis, U.S. Army Reserve
The San Antonio-based Pape-Dawson Engineers Inc. is a civil engineering consulting firm that offers services in land development, hydrology and hydraulics, water resources, transportation, surveying, environmental and geosciences, geographic information systems, and mining. Army Reserve Sgt. Don Hollis nominated the company for the Freedom Award. Pape-Dawson’s leadership supports service member employees before, during, and after deployments. The company ensures all employees are aware of service member contributions by highlighting military promotions and honors in the corporate newsletter and posting deployment updates on the company bulletin board and intranet. When an employee is called to duty, Pape-Dawson encourages families to continue to join the company in social activities including bowling leagues, softball teams, sporting events, concerts, theater performances, etc. As an additional incentive, the company also provides families with complimentary tickets to Spurs, Rampage, and other sporting events, as well as local concerts to help them stay engaged in the community. A volunteer committee coordinates care packages and maintains correspondence with members while they perform military service. Pape-Dawson also actively seeks to recruit members of the National Guard and Reserve by participating in career fairs for transitioning service members and other veteran recruiting activities. “Pape-Dawson continued my health insurance and my flex benefit card for my family while I was deployed," Hollis said. “Mr. Sam Dawson, the CEO, gave my wife funds out of his own personal account to buy my airline ticket to come home and be with my family [at Christmas]."

Richland County Sheriff’s Department

"When you think of the sheer stress and fear associated with being deployed, we also have the same feelings about what is going to happen with our family during our time away. I have been personally impacted by the overwhelming support that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and his staff have provided me and my family."

Army Sgt. 1st Class Danny Brown, U.S. Army Reserve
The Richland County Sheriff’s Department, encompassing Columbia, S.C., is responsible for enforcing law and maintaining order among 384,000 citizens. Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Danny Brown nominated the department for the Freedom Award. The department conducts farewell and welcome home ceremonies for service members, maintains contact with members throughout deployment, and regularly keeps employees informed of service member’s activities through newsletters and emails. The regional captain, a victim advocate and the sheriff’s chaplain contact service members every two to four weeks, and deputies make frequent home visits to ensure families have the support they need while loved ones are deployed. For example, the department helped ease the financial burden of Brown’s family by hiring his spouse, who lost her job and needed flexible hours. The department’s Spouses Association also organizes care packages for mobilized members and their families. Sheriff Leon Lott and his team actively recruit employees with military backgrounds. Brown emphasized the support the department provided to his family while he was deployed: “When you think of the sheer stress and fear associated with being deployed, we also have the same feelings about what is going to happen with our family during our time away," he said. “I have been personally impacted by the overwhelming support that Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and his staff have provided me and my family."

Safeway, Inc.

"To me, being a part of Safeway is being a part of an organization which has embraced its service members’ experience. The company has gone out of its way, to make myself and all of its service members feel proud of its past and current service."

Navy Lt. j.g. Steven Carhart, U.S. Navy Reserve
Headquartered in Pleasanton, Calif., Safeway Inc. is a nationwide grocery chain with more than 1,600 stores across the United States and Canada. The company was nominated for the Freedom Award by Navy Reserve Lt. j.g. Steven Carhart. Safeway supervisors regularly stay in touch with deployed employees and their families, and assist with grocery purchases. The company’s Operation Serving All Military program has provided care packages and donations to service members. Safeway honors military employees on a wall of honor at its corporate offices and various stores. In addition, each store encourages Guard and Reservists to wear their uniforms on designated days. The company publicizes service member activities through publications, emails and social media, and by hosting a veteran’s networking group designed to promote career development. Safeway launched an accelerated leadership program for junior military and non-commissioned officers and places them in an intense 41-week course of study. After on-the-job training, classroom study and seminars, graduates qualify for key management positions. Safeway hired nearly 1,500 veterans in 2012, and has committed to hiring 1,500 veterans in 2013. This year, Safeway was recognized as the Employer of the Year for its efforts in veteran recruitment by the Los Angeles Ventura Employment Development Department. The company sponsors the Safeway Companies Employee Association, which offers emergency financial assistance to veteran and service member employees. “Throughout my Safeway career, I have always been supported," a service member employee said. “When I was deployed for three years, they gave me the opportunity to come back and train to be a successful store manager."

Steel Plate Fabricators

"Mr. Russell has paid for my time away from work when I am on duty status. I have informed him that he does not have to do this." His boss’s response said it all: “It is the least he can do… for my service."

Air Force Senior Airman Cameron Lale, U.S. Air National Guard
Steel Plate Fabricators, a small business in Knoxville, Tenn., has provided certified welding and metal fabrication services for more than 60 years. Air National Guard Senior Airman Cameron Lale nominated the company for the Freedom Award. Company President Mike Russell actively seeks to hire service members and veterans, who encompass a significant percentage of the 21-person workforce. He is considered a generous leader, even having provided a loan to a service member who needed short-term financial assistance after a mistake with his orders delayed his military pay. Management frequently recognizes service members through social media, at meetings and on military-related holidays. Russell frequently works with service member employees to provide career support and encouragement. When service members deploy, the company sponsors farewell and welcome home luncheons and supports the affected families. As a public demonstration of the company’s commitment to its service member employees, Steel Plate Fabricators created a stainless steel U.S. flag display next to a memorial wall that recognizes and honors employees in the military. Mobilized employees are highlighted on the memorial wall with a yellow ribbon above their name and photo. Lale said he is grateful for the support of his employer. “Mr. Russell has paid for my time away from work when I am on duty status,“ Lale said. “I have informed him that he does not have to do this." His boss’s response said it all: “It is the least he can do… for my service."

U.S. Bank

"I am proud and enjoy the inordinate support, advocacy and care from U.S. Bank. It is only through that support that I am able to continue to serve my country."

Air Force Col. Michael Ott, U.S. Air Force Reserve
Headquartered in Minneapolis, U.S. Bank is the fifth largest commercial bank in the United States. Air Force Reserve Col. Michael Ott nominated U.S. Bank for the Freedom Award. The company honors and supports the men and women of the U.S. military through its Proud to Serve program. Now in its fifth year, the program focuses on hiring and supporting veterans, veteran employees and their families. A cornerstone of the program is hiring veterans for positions at U.S. Bank’s locations nationwide. Through an aggressive and comprehensive recruiting initiative, the company set to fulfill its public commitment to hire 1,000 veterans during 2012-2013. The public Proud to Serve website helps veterans search for employment opportunities. Additionally, the Military Leadership Development Program focuses on recruiting and transitioning officers into the bank’s branch management. U.S. Bank’s policies and procedures regarding leave, benefits and pay differential for Guard and Reservists exceed state and federal standards. For example, eligible employees are offered up to two weeks paid leave in connection with a family members’ military deployment. Special consideration is given to employee requests for internal transfers made necessary by military reassignment of spouses. U.S. Bank also partners with a variety of nationally respected military service organizations including Operation Homefront, the Fisher House, Armed Services YMCA and Troops Direct, among others. Service members, like Ott, appreciate the company’s commitment to the military: “I am proud and enjoy the inordinate support, advocacy and care from U.S. Bank. It is only through that support that I am able to continue to serve my country."

U.S. Marshals Service

"The simple gesture of [U.S. Marshal] May and Chief [Deputy U.S. Marshal] Hartman shaking each of our hands and thanking us for our service, (let us) know that our office fully appreciates and supports our service. I can honestly say that we are not just an office of co-workers that are cordial to each other, but we are a family."

Coast Guard Lt. Garrett Hawk, U.S. Coast Guard Reserve
Established in 1789, the U.S. Marshals Service is the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency with law enforcement activities in each of the 94 judicial districts. Coast Guard Reserves Lt. Garrett Hawk, assigned to the U.S. Marshals Service’s Eastern District of Louisiana, nominated his employer for the Freedom Award. The Marshals Service works hard to cultivate strong relationships with local military units. They provide “Making the Most of Your Military Service" training to enhance military careers, publicly recognize service member employees, and host welcome home luncheons for returning service members. The U.S. Marshals’ support extends beyond the workplace: when one Reservist wanted to apply for officer candidate school, which would result in a six-week absence, a senior supervisor leaped at the chance to help the employee complete the paperwork. During another Reservist’s military absence, a storm collapsed the roof on his father’s home. Fellow deputy U.S. marshals quickly rallied to secure a tarp over the roof to prevent further damage while the storm was still raging. “The simple gesture of (U.S. Marshal) May and Chief (Deputy U.S. Marshal) Hartman shaking each of our hands and thanking us for our service, (let us) know that our office fully appreciates and supports our service," Hawk said. “I can honestly say that we are not just an office of co-workers that are cordial to each other, but we are a family."

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