State of Tennessee Honored With Top Employer-Support Award
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sep. 7, 2007 “The Volunteer State” is slated to receive the Defense Department’s top award next week for supporting Tennessee state employees who volunteer to serve in the National Guard and reserves.
The state of Tennessee will be among 15 employers nationwide to receive the 2007 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award during a Sept. 12 ceremony here. The Freedom Award is the highest recognition the U.S. government gives to employers for outstanding support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and reserves.
State employee and former Tennessee Army National Guard Sgt. Robert S. Nakamoto nominated the state for the award for creating an environment he said made its employees who serve in the military feel not just accepted, but applauded and rewarded.
“We all have to sacrifice when we are a nation at war; unfortunately, this is true for our employers too," said Nakamoto, who served with Company M, 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Regiment. “Without their support our situation would be truly bleak.”
Nakamoto, an environmental protection specialist for the state, has deployed overseas several times for military duty. His most recent deployment, to Kuwait and Iraq, kept him away from his worksite from June 2004 to until his discharge from the Army in July 2006.
Throughout the deployment, Nakamoto said the state and his fellow workers provided solid support for him and his family. That support was particularly evident after he was wounded by a roadside bomb and in a medical treatment program for nine months.
The state paid all his health care, dental, disability and life insurance benefits throughout his absence from the job. In addition, it supplemented his National Guard salary with $1,000 in monthly pay.
Meanwhile, the state allowed Nakamoto to accumulate sick leave, vacation leave, seniority time and time toward retirement as if he were on the job, and the state continued paying into his retirement.
Nakamoto’s colleague’s pitched in to help him, too. They covered his work assignments for two years, sent packages, e-mails and letters to him in Iraq, installed a water system in his home for his family, and got groceries for his wife when his children were sick.
“When I got back from deployment, I realized I had a lot of people to thank,” Nakamoto said. “I owe a giant debt to the state of Tennessee, my co-workers and my family.”
Recognizing its top-level support, Nakamoto nominated his employer for the Freedom Award. “I'm grateful to God that Tennessee's state government did everything that they could for me and the rest of the troops,” he said. “They went above and beyond what is required.”
Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen signed an executive order Aug. 30 continuing a policy that ensures that state employees ordered to active military duty aren’t financially constrained by lower military pay while they’re in service.
The order extends for another year the special leave with partial pay extended to executive-branch employees serving in the Tennessee National Guard and in the reserves in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States. The state pays the difference between their state salary and their respective service pay.
“I am proud of these state employees and their service to our country,” Bredesen said. “It is important that we support their service and limit the many sacrifices they and their families are making. The number of employees affected may be small, but continuity in the family budget provides a huge relief for these Tennesseans.”
(Sarah McCleary from Army News Service contributed to this story.)