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America Supports You: Citizen-Soldier Praises Employer Support

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18, 2006 – Mark L. Kniffen, 41, was overwhelmingly thankful for his employer paying his full salary, allowing him to keep his medical benefits and helping solve family crisis for the 15 months he was in Kuwait and Iraq supporting the war on terrorism.

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Nebraska Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Mark L. Kniffen, 41, a valve press operator, nominated his employer, Eaton Corp., for the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, which it received in October 2005. Photo courtesy Eaton Corp.

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When he returned home from war, Kniffen decided to show his appreciation for what his employer did for him and more than 100 other deployed National Guardsmen and Reservists. He composed a powerful, glowing nomination letter recommending Eaton Corp. for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

And, to his surprise, the firm was selected as one of 15 winners out of more than 4,000 nominations for the prestigious award.

Kniffen, a staff sergeant in the Nebraska Army National Guard, said he put things in the nomination letter that he thought would get Eaton selected for the award. "I was surprised that they won the award, but I figured that they had a pretty darn good chance at it when I nominated them," he noted. "I don't think there's another company in the world that supports their employees as well as Eaton does.

"I just can't put into words how they made me feel so wanted -- part of the company," Kniffen said. "They paid us for 40 hours per week while we were gone, with no questions asked. We were also allowed to keep our insurance benefits. We got much more than we expected."

Eaton, with more than 59,000 employees serving customers in more than 125 countries, currently has about 110 employees on active duty in the Guard and Reserve. Boasting sales of more than $9.8 billion, the company has had more than 425 employees mobilized in the past four years, according to company officials.

Not only did Eaton pay the citizen-soldier's full salary and allow them to keep their medical benefits, the firm also put out boxes for employees to fill with personal items and goodies to send to the troops in Iraq.

"They got so much stuff the first time they put the boxes out that they had to store half of it in a closet for the next box," said Kniffen, a native of Kearney, Neb.. "Getting the boxes in Iraq was like having another friend. "Just to get that little extra support was kind of like a kid in the candy store or a kid getting a Christmas stocking full of goodies," said Kniffen, whose wife, Cyndi Stump-Kniffen, also works at Eaton. "It was just so nice."

He said Eaton also kept its deployed employees abreast of what was going on with the company.

"They also supported us with letters and e-mails," he continued. "They supported our families back home by staying in touch with them, finding out how they were doing. If a crisis at home showed up, like somebody needing washers and dryers, a car fixed - (Eaton employees would attend to) the little things I couldn't do while I was gone."

Kniffen left for Iraq on March 22, 2004, and came back a year later. While in Iraq and Kuwait, he was a truck driver with the 734th Transportation Battalion (Motor Support) that was part of the 35th Infantry Division out of Missouri. He said his unit provided force protection in Kuwait and Iraq, which included distributing everything that came into or went out of those -- from food to water to replacement parts.

Kniffen said employers who support their workers will have better employees. Another Eaton employee, Judy L. Altmaier, agreed.

"Eaton Corporation has policies in place to support our employees when they are called to active duty to protect our country and the freedoms we enjoy," Altmaier said. "I'm proud to work for a company that values its employees and has a program such as this to demonstrate it.

"I am also very proud of Mark Kniffen and all of the Eaton employees who have actively served or are serving in any capacity," she noted.

Kniffen said the company he worked for 18 years before being hired at Eaton didn't offer the support he's found at Eaton.

"It's just the fact that Eaton cared, supported us and they wanted us to come home," Kniffen said. "You have no control when you're overseas in a war zone. You're homesick every day, but you learn to deal with it. You work long hours so that kind of kills most of the day."

Eaton's senior leadership personally emphasizes family support with an Eaton family services coordinator, who provides excellent support and assistance to families of mobilized employees, Kniffen noted.

Eaton is a diversified industrial manufacturer, involved in areas ranging from hydraulic systems to factory automation and engaged in a host of product development.

The company was recognized in an October 2005 ceremony in Washington as one of America's most supportive employers who make it possible for the nation to call upon the Guard and Reserve in response to natural disasters at home and to fight the war on terrorism, DoD officials said.

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award was established in 1996 to recognize outstanding efforts on the part of employers who support their National Guard and Reserve employees.

The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve is a DoD organization established in 1972 to gain and maintain active support from all public and private employers for the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve.

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Related Sites:
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Related Articles:
Banquet Honors Top Guard, Reserve Employers

Click photo for screen-resolution imageCyndi Stump-Kniffen, wife of Nebraska Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Mark L. Kniffen, who spent 15 months in Kuwait and Iraq, works on the visual audit line at Eaton Corp. in Kearney, Neb. Photo courtesy Eaton Corp.  
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