WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Aug. 23, 2007) - Challenged by the loss of employees, civilian employers of National Guard and Reserve Soldiers endure sacrifice in a time of war that only a Soldier could understand.

"We all have to sacrifice when we are a nation at war; unfortunately, this is true for our employers too," said former Sgt. Robert S. Nakamoto, Company M, 3rd Squadron, 278th Armored Cavalry Division, Tennessee National Guard. "Without their support our situation would be truly bleak."

To show his appreciation for that support, Sgt. Nakamoto nominated his employer for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

"When I got back from deployment, I realized I had a lot of people to thank," Sgt. Nakamoto said. "I owe a giant debt to the state of Tennessee, my co-workers and my family."

In his civilian life, Sgt. Nakamoto is an environmental protection specialist, revising and interpreting Tennessee's hazardous waste regulations and monitoring the state's hazardous waste and used-oil inspections.

Deployed in November 2004, Sgt. Nakamoto was a scout and gunner who conducted regular patrols with his tank crew, supported the Explosive Ordnance Disposal team and served as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle crewman. Injured when an IED detonated near him, Sgt. Nakamoto required medical treatment that kept him away from work for an even longer period of time.

"I'm grateful to God that Tennessee's state government did everything that they could for me and the rest of the troops," Sgt. Nakamoto said. "They went above and beyond what is required."

While he was deployed, the state of Tennessee paid 100 percent of the cost of his civilian health, dental, disability and life insurance benefits, according to Sgt. Nakamoto. They also supplemented his National Guard salary with $1,000 in monthly pay. Sgt. Nakamoto was able to accumulate sick leave, vacation leave, seniority time and time toward retirement as if he were on the job, and the state continued paying into his retirement.

"It wasn't just what the State did for me formally via policies and benefits, it was also what my co-workers did, too," Sgt. Nakamoto said.

Sgt. Nakamoto's colleagues covered his work assignments for two years, sent packages, emails and letters to him in Iraq, installed a water system in his home for his Family and got groceries for his wife when their children were sick.

The 'Volunteer State' has deployed more than 11,600 Soldiers and Airmen in support of the war on terror and Operation Jump Start, said Randy Harris, public information officer for the Tennessee National Guard.

"We encourage employers to hire guardsmen because of the traits and training they receive by hiring them," Mr. Harris said. "What they do and bring to the table are worth the employer's investment in them."

In a Sept. 12 ceremony, Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve will present the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award to the state of Tennessee and 14 other organizations for their support and sacrifice for the Army reserve component.

The Freedom Award is the highest in a series of Department of Defense employer awards that include the Patriot Award, the Above and Beyond Award and the Pro Patria Award.

Employee Support for the Guard and Reserve is a federal agency that identifies employers who go above and beyond the call of duty for the men and women Soldiers under their employ. Soldiers can nominate their companies for ESGR awards through a series of questions available on the ESGR Web site, www.esgr.mil.