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West Virginia Company Lightens Load for Aviation Unit

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 12, 2007 – The contributions of a West Virginia excavating company helped lighten the load -- literally -- for a deploying Army National Guard aviation unit.

When Army National Guardsman Chief Warrant Officer 3 Timothy Smith found out he was deploying, he was concerned about the distance from the command post to the flight line at Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq. It was nearly a mile, and with each of the four-person crew carrying 150 pounds in gear, plus weapons and ammunition, all in 135-degree-plus heat, Smith saw a problem.

“We’d be worn out before we ever left on a mission, just getting our gear out there,” said the UH-60 Black Hawk pilot with Company C, 150th Aviation, Air Assault, in Wheeling, W.Va.

After Smith talked with his wife about the problem, she went to her father, Frederick Gantt, a local businessman and former member of the West Virginia Air National Guard.

As it happens, her father is also Smith’s boss, and owner of Gantt’s Excavating and Contracting in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Gantt put heads together with a couple of fellow businessmen, and they raised more than $20,000 to purchase four Polaris Rangers, or small all-terrain vehicle-style trucks, to move equipment to and from the flight line.

During its deployment to Iraq from July 2006 to July 2007, the unit flew 200 missions and more than 600 hours, Smith said. The vehicles earned their money for unit, Smith said.

“They were invaluable. Many times I had members of my unit start trying to express what it was like to have those and they literally couldn’t find the words,” Smith said. “They were used 24/7. If they weren’t supporting crews, they were supporting maintenance.”

Smith, who is general manager of the business, said Gantt routinely gives back to the community in generous ways.

“They always go above and beyond to do something for the local area,” Smith said.

During Smith’s deployment, Gantt kept him on the payroll until he was sure his military pay had started coming in, and then began paying Smith at the end of the deployment, before he came off duty, just to ensure there was no break in pay. The company also kept his health insurance current, so his family didn’t have to switch providers during the deployment.

Smith’s wife, Janesa, who is also a veteran, nominated the company to receive the prestigious Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Gantt’s Excavating and Contracting is among 15 businesses and organizations selected to receive the annual award, which recognizes exemplary support for employees in the Guard or reserve.

Smith called his boss and family true patriots.

“I think it’s extremely patriotic. It’s heartwarming. It’s just another example of this family’s commitment not only to the country, but the community,” he said.

Even though Smith is his son-in-law, Gantt said, he would have done the same for any Guard member who worked for him.

“We feel that we need to do it to help the country,” Gantt said. “If you don’t stick together, you fall one at a time. We believe strongly in that.”

Smith agreed.

“I know I’m family, but the way they have always given back to the community -- it’s beyond family,” he said. “They are always trying to give back. I’m proud of that. I’m proud of them for that.”

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recognizes U.S. employers that 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 understand employee eligibility and job entitlements, employer obligations, benefits and remedies under the act.

Gantt is slated to accept the Freedom Award during a formal ceremony here tonight.

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Related Sites:
2007 Employer Support Freedom Awards
National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Related Articles:
Gates Hails Employers for Support of Guardsmen, Reservists

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