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2016 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award

The Defense Department honors 15 businesses and government organizations with the 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest honor the department gives to employers who support employees who serve in the National Guard and reserve.

2016 Freedom Award Winners

Alaska Airlines

“It is so humbling that such a great company makes it a point to support me and, ultimately, our great Nation.” - Maj. Caleb Haley, Air Force Reserve

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Alaska Airlines has an employee resource group, the AirGroup Military Group, that reaches out to newly hired National Guardsmen, reservists, veteran employees and military spouses to welcome and support them in their transition from military to civilian life. Its Military Apprenticeship Program helps transitioning military members gain experience with a civilian employer while exposing hiring managers to the unique skills and experiences of military members.

Albuquerque Police Department

“The Albuquerque Police Department is an amazing organization for military members. Its policies are extremely generous and supportive of deployed personnel.” - Airman Phillip Block, New Mexico Air National Guard

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The Albuquerque Police Department has more than 1,000 employees. Approximately 24 percent are veteran employees, including at least 32 active National Guard and reserve service members. The department implements policies that are extremely generous and supportive of military personnel; the department’s senior leadership ensures the family’s welfare so deployed officers can focus on their military missions.

Benjamin Franklin Plumbing

“So, really, everyone wins when a company hires veterans and active reserve or guard employees. Ultimately, I am proud to be a part of this organization.” - Petty Officer 2nd Class Carl Phillips, Navy Reserve

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The company engages in proactive outreach to find and hire National Guardsmen, reservists and veterans; they have a commitment to keep those employees whole financially and with benefits; their engagement with the family while members are on extended training or deployed is extraordinary. The company provides differential pay and sends care packages to deployed service members and their families.

Burford Corporation

“Nothing says that you matter more than the head of the company taking the time to reach out to you.” - 1st Lt. Kent Turner, Oklahoma Army National Guard

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Burford Corporation is a small company with a global reach. The company is completely committed to supporting military personnel who work there, and to all deployed service members. It is a company culture that starts with the CEO and spreads throughout the organization. Burford hosts a number of events throughout the year where military members and veterans are recognized and thanked for their service.

Carolinas HealthCare System

“My nomination is a very humble attempt at a very large ‘thank you’ for everything that each employee at Carolinas HealthCare System has done -- and continues to do -- to support those that serve or have served in our military.” - Lt. Col. Sylvia Wray, North Carolina Air National Guard

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Carolinas HealthCare Systems is one of the nation’s leading healthcare organizations. Four percent of its employees -- about 1,400 people -- self-identify as Guardsmen, reservists or veterans. Beginning in 2015, Carolinas HealthCare Systems set a goal that 7.2 percent of all new hires would either be members of the Guard or reserve or veterans.

Clackamas County Sheriff Office

“The Clackamas County Sherriff Office should receive the Freedom Award for their selfless and consistent support of the Oregon National Guard, the soldiers and, most importantly, the families of the deployed soldiers.” - 1st Sgt. John Zygava, Oregon Army National Guard

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In 2015, Sheriff Craig Roberts spearheaded a change to the Oregon state constitution that prohibited differential pay for reserve and Guard service members, alleviating the pay difference between military duty and their civilian jobs. The Clackamas County Sherriff Office gives five hiring preference points to Guard and reserve service members.

Delmarva Veteran Builders

“Our leaders, Chris Eccleston and Lee Beauchamp, both know what it is like to put on their boots and go be a part of the 1 percent. I believe that separates our company and truly defines our purpose.” - Tech. Sgt. Daniel Mills, Air Force Reserve

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The company seeks to hire members of the Guard and reserve, as well as veterans, to fulfill their construction contract requirements. Delmarva Veteran Builders has maintained a 60 to 65 percent veteran workforce; it is certified as a veteran-owned small business by both the Maryland and Delaware Departments of Veteran Affairs. The company president recognizes the strong skillset, loyalty and dedication found among those who serve.

FASTSIGNS International

“FASTSIGNS International leadership at the highest level honors what veterans do for this country. Being gone for nearly 240 days presents challenges for any serviceman or woman and their loved ones, but FASTSIGNS and Catherine Monson supported us through it all -- it was nothing short of amazing.” - Staff Sgt. Stephen MacKenzie, Air Force Reserve

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FASTSIGNS is a leading visual communications company in growth and innovation. This company exceeded its own differential pay policy to ensure service members had full differential for an entire seven-month deployment. FASTSIGNS support began before the deployment with phone calls, cards, emails and texts of support while their employees were preparing to leave and continued during the deployment with care packages every four weeks and notes of encouragement.

Hope Valley Industries

“I honestly don’t think there’s a company out there that’s more supportive of the military reserve. From start to finish, to present day, they have loved and supported me.” - Senior Airman Edward Marotta, Rhode Island Air National Guard

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Hope Valley Industries is a multifunctional manufacturer and distributor of all-weather automotive accessories, including floormats, mudflaps, fender flares and a variety of consumer products. An employee was injured while deployed, and the company helped him with a plan for recovery while he was healing for six months. They offered to pay for the service member’s school and books so, once he was healed, he would be better educated and have the opportunity to make more money at the company.

Idaho State Police

“It is a privilege to work for the Idaho State Police, as they set the bar for all leaders in the military and civilian sectors.” - Sgt. Sara Breckon, Idaho Army National Guard

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The Idaho State Police actively recruits Guardsmen and reservists through the Hero2Hired program and they are given additional points during the hiring process. Eighteen percent of the Idaho State Police workforce has served or is serving in the U.S. armed forces. An employee suffered a concussion during active duty training last April. She was unable to work full-time until released by medical providers. Her supervisor went the extra mile by attending military medical boards.

Lowe’s

“In the Navy and Marine Corps, our core values are honor, courage, and commitment; I see those values represented by the Lowe’s team when it comes to supporting military employees, too.” - Lt. David Nelson, Navy Reserve

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Shortly after the end of World War II, two returning, decorated Army veterans opened the first Lowe’s in the small western North Carolina mountain town of North Wilkesboro. The company currently employs more than 14,000 self-identified reserve component service members and veterans. Lowe’s contributed $25,000 to help bring more than 100 members of the South Carolina Army National Guard’s 1222nd Engineer Company home for the holidays before their deployment.

Maryland State Police

“As the Military Liaison for the Maryland State Police, I see daily the above and beyond support the agency has provided and continues to provide for not only our Troopers, but our civilians who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.” - 1st Sgt. Gregg Harrington, Army Reserve

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Traditionally, the Maryland State Police has provided the best possible support and recognition to military service members and their families. Its senior leadership implements a strong military and family support program. The Maryland State Police is a strong advocate for hiring military to serve among their ranks. Approximately 40 percent of the force is veterans, with around 15 percent actively serving in the Guard or reserve; 28 percent of the current academy class serves in the Guard or reserve.

Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46

“My employer, Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46, enabled me to answer the call of duty without consequence and with their utmost support, which I cannot express into words how grateful I am.” - Lt. Col. Patricia Klop, Marine Corps Reserve

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Prairie Grove made 2 1/2 years of full contributions to a service member’s Teachers’ Retirement System fund while she was on military orders. Prairie Grove sent her letters of support during her deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Prairie Grove granted an early departure date -- an extra two weeks -- before she was deployed in order to take care of personal affairs and her family’s needs. They continued to pay her full salary for the extra two weeks she had requested off.

Seattle Fire Department

“The Seattle Fire Department operates as a family and, as such, it constantly provides a willing and helping hand to the family members of activated Reservists, whether on mobilization or regular weekend drill periods.” - Lt. Cmdr. Chris Carter, Navy Reserve

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The 31 Guard and reserve service members and approximately 300 veterans employed at the Seattle Fire Department comprise 31 percent of all its employees. The department created and enacted Military Wage Supplemental Pay, which makes up for any lost wages associated with military service. When the son of one of the department’s firefighters was deployed to Afghanistan and killed in action, the service member’s father, also a reservist, was on duty at the time of notification. The Seattle Fire Department provided immediate time off and assigned two firefighters to full-time duty to support and assist the family during their time of loss.

The Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company

“Over the past year I have observed Goodyear’s continued and exceptional commitment to its guardsmen and reservist employees.” - Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Wozniak, Navy Reserve

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Goodyear has a long history of supporting Guard and reserve employees: It normalizes pay to provide stability for up to two years of active duty and up to 20 days of training; continues medical benefits and life insurance for up to two years and provides conversion options beyond that. The company sponsors a military employee resource group, fully supported at executive levels, to advise on hiring initiatives, mentor new Guard and reserve employees and provide community and company networking assistance.

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Carter Honors Exemplary Employer Support of the Guard, Reserve

Defense Secretary Ash Carter honored 15 companies with the 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for their exemplary support this year of employees who also are members of the National Guard or reserve. Story

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About the Freedom Award

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the Guard and reserve.

The award was created to publicly recognize employers who provide exceptional support to their Guard and reserve employees. It is the highest in a series of employer recognition awards given by the Department of Defense.

The Guard and reserve make up almost one-half of the U.S. military. The Department of Defense shares these citizen warriors with their civilian employers, many of whom provide significant support to their employees who serve in the Guard and reserve. This award recognizes employers who provide the most outstanding support for their Guard and reserve employees and is presented annually by the Secretary of Defense.

For more information, please visit www.FreedomAward.mil.