The Defense Department's Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve agency manages the program.
Members of National Guard and Reserve components make up nearly 40% of the total force. But unlike the active force, who balance military service and family, guardsmen and reservists must also factor in an obligation to their private-sector employers.
James N. Stewart, performing the duties of undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, was once a reserve Air Force officer. At today's awards ceremony, he said defense of the nation would not be possible without the support of private-sector employers.
"In today's security environment, we need to leverage our advantage that we have," Stewart said. "That's our people, and their skills. ... Having these employers here to go ahead and support them is absolutely essential. If we are going to meet all of the National Defense Strategy objectives we've laid out, you have to have the people."
It is employers, Stewart said, who ensure that when those Guard and Reserve service members are needed by their country, they are made available to serve.
"Really, it's very important that we recognize all of you today as employers, because you make it happen," Stewart said. "If we did not have you there with your support network, our members would not be able to go ahead and serve, because they would be too worried about their job and their families."
Recipients of the 2019 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award are:
Each year, Guard and Reserve employees, or family members acting on their behalf, nominate employers for the award. The ESGR state committees review nominations and submit recommendations to advance to the next round. A national selection board composed of senior DOD officials, business leaders and past winners selects up to 15 employers to receive the award.