IdaCorp Provides Model for Employer Support of Guard, Reserve
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19, 2005 Jan Packwood was a strong supporter of the Guard and Reserve long before he became president and chief executive officer of IdaCorp and Idaho Power, a commitment that's deepened since he watched several employees and his two sons deploy to Iraq.
Packwood, a retired Army Reserve colonel, understands the contribution the reserve components make to national security and the risks members face in the process.
He also knows firsthand the difficulties the families they leave behind often face during long deployments, from emotional and financial stresses to problems getting to military medical facilities or doctors who participate in Tricare.
Now, as the leader of a major utility and holding company, Packwood sends a clear message to all his Reserve and Guard employees and their families that their company stands behind them.
The company makes up the difference between its deployed employees' military and civilian pay and allows families to remain on the company health care program during their loved ones' deployment, Packwood said.
It also has funded extensive family outreach programs in communities in Idaho, Washington and Oregon during large-scale mobilizations and provided travel vouchers for activated National Guard members. In addition, a full-time human resources specialist, who also volunteers for the Idaho Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee, serves as a family services coordinator to assist family members of mobilized employees.
IdaCorp's efforts earned the company a place among 15 organizations to receive the 2005 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award for their top-level support of the Guard and Reserve.
The award, presented here during an Oct. 15 ceremony, publicly recognizes employers for exceptional support above the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994.
The Freedom Award is the highest in a series of Department of Defense employer awards that includes the Patriot Award, the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Above and Beyond Award, and the Pro Patria Award.
For Packwood, the decision to support his Guard and Reserve employees and ease their families' burdens during deployments was a no-brainer that he said benefits the employees, their families, the company and the nation.
"Having spent that much time in the military and watching my own family struggle with a very long deployment, it occurred to me that we were in a position to do some things that would help them," he said. "It was a pretty easy choice.
"We don't want to be part of the stress or the anxiety that they experience when they are on a long deployment," he said of his employees, noting that taking care of his workers helps ensure they'll return to the company when they return home.
Packwood said he gets "a lot of feedback" from both employees and their families thanking IdaCorp for the company's pro-military programs. The wife of a company employee deployed to Iraq with the Idaho National Guard's 116th Brigade Combat Team told him, "I worry about (my husband) Michael every day, but I don't have to worry about the roof over my head or the food on the table."
Similarly, Packwood said, allowing families to say on the company's medical plan during deployments saves them from having to drive long distances to military bases or to seek out doctors who participate in Tricare -- something he said can be particularly difficult in rural Idaho.
While supporting his Reserve and Guard employees, Packwood said he knows IdaCorp is getting a lot in return.
During their deployments, many troops assume more responsibility than they're accustomed to and developed as leaders, something Packwood said they bring with them when they return to their civilian jobs.
"What I notice when they come home is that they have grown tremendously," he said. "They are more confident and more capable. And in most cases, even though it is very painful to be separated from family that long, it turns out to be a positive growth experience for them."
(Army Staff Sgt. Melissa Fox, from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, contributed to this article.)