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America Supports You: Sears Earns Defense Freedom Award

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 1, 2005 – Excellence deserves to be recognized, and an Alabama National Guardsman made sure it was when he nominated his employer for support above and beyond what the law requires.

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Sears Auto Center customer service adviser John Winkler, center, nominated his employer for a Defense of Freedom Award through the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization. District automotive center manager Lee Dierkes, left, and Glenn Bledsoe, manager of the auto center at the Huntsville, Ala., Sears store, both said they're proud of Winkler and Sears policies regarding the nation's servicemembers. Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Army Spc. John Winkler nominated the Huntsville (Ala.) Sears, Roebuck & Co. store where he works as a customer service adviser in the automotive department for the support they have shown him when he drills or is deployed. The nomination was made through the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve's Web site, and when ESGR officials checked out the Sears corporate policy toward Guard and Reserve employees, officials decided the company as a whole should be recognized.

"Every time I have been called up, or if I've got drill, they never give me a problem with it," Winkler said. "There's pay when I get back. Sears ... make the difference between what I get paid, my basic pay, and then what I would make if I was here for that two weeks. ... They've always made that up to me." Winkler, part of the 128th Military Police Company under the 31st Chemical Brigade, has worked for Sears, and for automotive center manager Glenn Bledsoe, for nine years. It's only been the last three years, however, that he's also been in the Alabama National Guard.

Basic training and advanced individual training took nearly a year, and while he was absent from his job, Winkler said, he was impressed by the support from Sears. During his initial training, the differential pay never made it into his bank account. While it was an initial problem, Sears quickly remedied that, he said.

"In 2002 when I went on active duty when I was gone (for his initial training), that difference did not get paid to me," he said. "When I got back to the store and brought it to the (human resources) representative, they back-paid me for the whole time I was gone."

And it was not chump change that Winkler had missed out on. He ended up with back-pay differential of nearly $9,000. The support also has been there during his regular drill periods and his two stateside deployments, he said. The first was on less than eight hours' notice to assist with efforts during hurricane Ivan. The second was an in-state deployment to Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Athens, Ala., when the national security threat level was raised to orange.

"(Sears) has always made sure that I was taken care of when I was gone," Winkler said. "They never give me any flak about it. It's a good place to work for. They take care of me, and I take care of them."

Bledsoe said that he's pleased to have Winkler as an employee.

"It hasn't been a real issue to work around him being gone, and he's helping defend our nation at home," Bledsoe said. "He's a good dependable guy, willing to take responsibility -- you know, step up when I'm not here to do whatever needs to be done to keep the auto center running."

Both are proud of the Defense Freedom Award that will be presented to Sears later in the year, as is district automotive center manager Lee Dierkes.

"I think it's a great honor to be chosen out of (all the nominees)," Dierkes said. "I'm proud that (Winkler) is representing our district and that he's representing our country as well."

Bledsoe said others on the 23-person staff step up and pitch in when military duty calls Winkler away.

While it was Winkler's experience working for Bledsoe at the Huntsville store that led him to nominate his Sears, his supervisor was humble about the award, saying that it's Sears' policy that makes it easy to support Winkler in his service to the country as part of the National Guard.

According to the Sears, Roebuck & Co. Web site, those policies include military pay differential that fills in the gap between military pay and employer pay. This policy was instituted in 1990 for Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Eligible employees called to duty in the National Guard or Reserve also can elect to continue life insurance and medical and dental benefits.

Sears also continues to give its National Guard and Reserve employees annual merit pay increases, incentive pay and stock options, and holds a comparable position for deployed employees for up to five years.

Records indicate Sears provided support to employees serving in the military as early as 1916, the company's Web site said. Additionally, Sears sponsors Operation Purple, a series of summer camps for children of deployed military personnel.

Thousands of companies were nominated for the Defense Freedom Award, according to Air Force Maj. Robert P. Palmer, public affairs officer, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

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Related Sites:
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve
America Supports You

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