Guard Chief Calls Employer Support Vital to Military Success
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 14, 2005 Civilian employers are standing solidly behind their National Guard employees as they make a vital contribution to the global war on terror, according to the chief of the National Guard Bureau.
Employers have been "incredibly supportive" of their deployed National Guard workers, Army Lt. Gen. Steven Blum said during a joint interview with the Pentagon Channel and the American Forces Press Service July 13.
"I am absolutely astounded by how much the American employers have stood solidly behind the American soldier, airman, Marines, sailors and Coast Guard in this global war on terror, now going into its fourth year," Blum said.
"There's been no wavering of their patriotism and support," Blum said of the employers, who "understand what's at stake" in the war on terror and recognize the contribution their workers are making. "It is truly quite remarkable and it makes you feel very, very good," the general said.
This support is critical as the National Guard plays an increasing role in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraq Freedom, Blum said. By the end of July, the Army National Guard will make up more than 50 percent of the Army's combat power in Iraq, with eight combat brigades on the ground.
The Air National Guard represents about 12 percent of the Air Force in the Central Command area of operations, defense officials said.
Blum calls employer support part of the "three-legged stool" he said is essential to the Guard's success. One leg is the troops themselves, who must be trained, equipped and focused on the mission. Another leg is the support of their families. And the third leg is the support of their civilian employers.
While providing an important contribution to the nation's defense, civilian employers of Guard and Reserve members get better employees in return - workers who have benefited from military experience, training and discipline, Blum said. "They get a better employee back because of their service," the general said, "and they can see the benefit of that."
Blum delivered his comments the day after the Defense Department announced 15 recipients of its 2005 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, presented to employers who offer exceptional support for the Guard and Reserve workers.
This year's winners are Alicor, Inc., in Ada, Mich.; Citizens Financial Group, Providence, R.I.; Eaton Corporation, Cleveland; Enterprise Rent-a-Car, St. Louis; IDA Corporation, Boise, Idaho; Los Angeles Police Department, Calif.; Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections, Baton Rouge; Pioneer Financial Services, Kansas City, Mo.; Ryland Homes, Calabasas, Calif.; Sears, Roebuck and Company, Hoffman Estates, Ill.; South Dakota State University, Brookings; State of Delaware, Dover; Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc., Torrance, Calif.; USAA, San Antonio; and Wachovia Corp., Charlotte, N.C.
The companies were selected based on a variety of factors, from providing pay differentials to extending healthcare, dental and life insurance coverage during the employee's military mobilization. All have signed statements of support for the Guard and Reserve at the five-star level, which designates that they are strong advocates for the reserve components and role models for other companies.
Eaton, Enterprise, IDA, Wachovia, the LAPD and the Louisiana Department of Safety and Corrections pay their employees' full salary, regardless of their military compensation, plus benefits for the entire length of their mobilization. All other award winners provide pay differentials for their deployed workers.
Blum called these pay differentials an important show of support to activated Guard and Reserve members, about one-third who take a pay cut when they leave their civilian jobs to go on active duty.
But the employers' support goes beyond pay. At Citizens Financial Group, employees get a week of paid leave to be with their Guard or Reserve family members home on military leave. The benefit includes up to $500 in travel expenses.
Department managers at Alticor contact the families of deployed employees at least monthly to check up on them and the company sends regular care packages to families as well as their reserve-component employees. Eaton provides regular support for its workers' families, even helping with needed home repairs, and Enterprise's president actively participates in organizing care packages for deployed employees.
Pioneer Services pays for deployed employees' cell phone charges and Internet access fees for their families, including a video email capability for their home computers. Ryland Homes sends its employees care packages during their deployments, stays in close touch with their families and pays out special deployment bonuses.
Sears extended its military pay differential and benefits to 60 months for employees called to active duty in the Guard and Reserve and helps their spouses find jobs if they're interested. Toyota launched its "Hire a Hero" program to promote career opportunities in the company for Guard and Reserve members, as well as servicemembers leaving active duty, and helps fund a wide range of nonprofit groups that support military men and women.
The list goes on, with all the winning companies demonstrating what David Jones, national chairman of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, described July 12 as "above-and-beyond support" of the reserve component employees. By doing so, Jones said these companies are setting a standard for other employers nationwide.
Winners of the 2005 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award will be formally recognized during an Oct. 15 awards ceremony in Washington.
But Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve officials are quick to point out that these winners are among thousands of employees nationwide who demonstrate their patriotism through exceptional support for their Guard and Reserve employees.
These employees are "so patriotic and so supportive," Blum said. As they watch their employees "walk away from the workplace, answer and call to colors and come back and wait for the next time to be called," these employers offer support that's "quite extensive," he said.