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Company Goes Extra Mile for Military Employees

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 26, 2009 – Waking up for work rarely ranks high on people’s “favorites” lists, but John Sookikian said he is perfectly happy to be in the minority.

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Army Reserve 1st Sgt. John Sookikian, who has completed deployments to Iraq that add up to about four years away from his civilian job, nominated his employer, Consolidated Electrical Distributors, for the 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Courtesy photo
  

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

Sookikian, a first sergeant in the Army Reserve, works for Consolidated Electrical Distributors Inc., one of 15 recipients of the 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

The award recognizes public and private employers for going above and beyond what’s required by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. The National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve manages the award program.

“The company is just fantastic,” Sookikian said. “I love getting up in the morning and coming to work, because I know I work with [great] people.”

In the seven years he’s worked for Consolidated Electrical Distributors, Sookikian has been deployed for an accumulated total of about four years. And each time, he said, the response has been the same.

“They didn’t even blink an eye,” he said. “In 2003, I deployed and actually only had 15 minutes to notify my manager. He [had] no issues, just ‘Go do what you’ve got to do.’”

Within six months of returning from that deployment, Sookikian deployed again. He was to be gone a year, but Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, then a lieutenant general in charge of training Iraqi security forces, needed him to stay longer.

“General Petraeus asked if I could stay another six months, which I did,” he said. “When I finished with that six months, I was ready to come home, and they asked me to do another mission [and] extended me for another six months.”

Upon his return, he requested a transfer from Consolidated Electrical’s branch in Columbia, S.C., to the one in Charleston to be closer to his two sons.

It was a mere six months before Uncle Sam requested his services again.

“I got deployed again for another 18 months, and again, they didn’t blink an eye,” Sookikian said.

In fact, his co-workers helped to collect 20 boxes of toys and clothing to support a program he had set up to benefit the children of Iraq, where he had served during each deployment.

Consolidated Electrical Distributors, with nearly 1,000 branches worldwide, took care of Sookikian’s fellow soldiers as well.

“They made sure that my soldiers had goodies and coffee,” he said. “Every two weeks, they would send 10 pounds of coffee.

“It was actually pretty cool, because the manager here in Charleston was just doing it on his own,” Sookikian added. “Then the district manager found out that he was doing it, and he made him start expensing it so that the company would pay for the coffee and the goodies.”

And despite his protests that he didn’t deserve them, Sookikian received profit-sharing checks while he was deployed.

Management also maintained contact with the citizen-soldier’s family during the deployments. “Even the president of the company, who’s never met me … always [asks], ‘So, how’s John doing?’”

All of this is on top of benefits that are more common these days, but no less important. For instance, the company provides full pay and benefits while the employee is deployed.

“It makes it really, really, really easy to be loyal to them,” Sookikian said.

He was in Wisconsin on military-related business when he got the call from his supervisor, Mike Goss, telling him the company had been selected for the award.

Sookikian was thrilled, as was Goss, though the latter admittedly was a bit shocked.

“I was aware our company had made the ‘short list’ of the final 30 companies in June,” Goss said. “When I got the call, … I was quite surprised. The notification that we were selected made me feel quite proud and honored to receive such a prestigious award.”

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Related Sites:
Special Report: 2009 Employer Support Freedom Awards
Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve

Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Reserve 1st Sgt. John Sookikian, who has completed deployments to Iraq that add up to about four years away from his civilian job, nominated his employer, Consolidated Electrical Distributors, for the 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Courtesy photo  
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