ARLINGTON, Va. (Army News Service, March 24, 2008) - National Guard and Reserve members are responsible for a 97-percent increase in nominations for this year's Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

Created in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional support from the employer community, the award is the U.S. government's highest recognition for outstanding employers, and National Guard and Reserve Soldiers and their Families were eligible to nominate employers who went above and beyond in their support of military employees.

When the nomination period closed on Jan. 21, 2,199 nominations were submitted from across the United States, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In 2007, 1,119 were submitted.

Almost one-half of the U.S. military is comprised of the National Guard and Reserve. The Department of Defense shares these citizen warriors with their civilian employers, many of whom provide significant support to their employees who serve. Past recipients of the Freedom Award have provided full salary, continuation of benefits, care packages and even home and lawn care to families of employees fulfilling their military obligation.

The 2008 recipients will be announced in the spring and honored in Washington, D.C., at the 13th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award ceremony on September 18, 2008.

Recipients of the 2007 Freedom Award met with President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright presented the awards at a ceremony attended by members of Congress and senior government and military officials.

ESGR is a Department of Defense agency established in 1972. Its mission is to gain and maintain employer support for Guard and Reserve service by recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of the law, and resolving conflicts through informal mediation.

Previous Freedom Award recipients have included large businesses, such as General Motors, Starbucks, Home Depot, American Express, Sears, General Electric, DuPont, and United Parcel Service; state and local governments, including the State of Tennessee and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; and small businesses including the family-owned Augustine & Sons farm in Rose Hill, Iowa, and Turbocam International.

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