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VA Center Greets Returning Reservists With Open Arms

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 4, 2007 – When Air National Guard Tech. Sgt. Timothy Stoeckle deployed for Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004, he never heard a word from his employer -- not a card, note or thank you.

He eventually left that job and went to work for the Wilmington Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Delaware. Since taking that job, he has again gotten the call to serve, and the difference has been like night and day, Stoeckle said.

Cards, e-mails and care packages of support were constant during his most recent 120-day deployment to Afghanistan, he said. He was shown the same support when he was activated following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“They always said, ‘If you need anything, just ask,’” Stoeckle said. “It’s just comforting to know that folks back home care about you.”

As a way of saying thanks, Stoeckle nominated his employer for the Secretary of Defense Freedom Award, and the center was among 15 businesses and organizations selected to receive this year’s award. The annual award honors businesses and organizations that provide exemplary support for their employees in the Guard or reserves.

Stoeckle said he wanted to thank his employer for its support of reservists who are doing their part to fight the war on terrorism. “I am very happy that my nomination went through,” he said.

The biomedical engineering technician said his coworkers were especially supportive and that the center supports all its reservists in its practices and policies. In fact, the center has a history of supporting the troops and has received multiple Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Patriot Awards and a Delaware Pro Patria Award.

During Stoeckle’s deployments, the center kept his benefits, including health, dental and life insurance, active. Officials there also provided military leave that he could combine with other leave he earned to help continue his salary while deployed.

Joanne MacKenzie, staff assistant to the center’s director, said the center’s leaders also feel it’s important to support family members of deployed military members. “Most of the reservists have families back here who still need a lot of support. So we like to be here for them,” she said.

MacKenzie said officials at the medical center feel the contributions they make are small compared to sacrifices of the servicemembers. MacKenzie especially recognizes the sacrifices. Her husband is retired from the Delaware National Guard and a veteran of Operation Desert Storm, and she spent nine years in the Delaware Air National Guard.

“We don’t really feel like we are doing anything special. They are certainly putting out an awful lot, much more than we are. They take such good care of us,” she said. “It makes them feel like they are wanted, so they do want to come back. And hopefully they realize how much we appreciate them and how valued they are as employees.”

Stoeckle is a member of the 142nd Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, in New Castle, Del. He said the constant support from his employer makes the transition back to civilian life easier.

“It’s nice to have a place to come back to, an employer with open arms,” he said.

The Secretary of Defense Freedom Award recognizes U.S. employers who rise above the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department agency, manages the award process. ESGR assists Guard and reserve members and their employers in understanding employee eligibility and job entitlements, employer obligations, benefits and remedies under the act.

Wilmington VA Medical Center officials will accept the Freedom Award during a formal ceremony here Sept. 12.

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Related Sites:
National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Related Articles:
Bush Salutes Employer Support of Guardsmen, Reservists

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