By Karen Parrish, American - Forces Press ServiceSeptember 27, 2010
WASHINGTON, Sept. 24, 2010 -- Fifteen U.S. companies nominated by their employees received Defense Department awards yesterday for outstanding support to the Guard and Reserve members they employ.
Recipients of the 2010 Secretary of Defense Employment Support Freedom Award ranged from small companies to the state of Hawaii. The annual award is presented by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a defense agency.
Dennis M. McCarthy, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs, was keynote speaker for the event. He said the civilian employers of the nation's nearly 1.7 million citizen-servicemembers, roughly half the United States' military strength, play a key role in the country's defense.
"One thing that we need to constantly keep in mind is that the great young men and women -- if you will, the greatest generation we have today -- cannot do what they do in service of the National Guard and Reserve without the support of their employers," he said. "The employers that we recognize today are really the linchpin of our success."
McCarthy said most employers receiving the Freedom Award tell him they're just doing the right thing.
"Well, you are doing the right thing, ... [but] you're doing it at a higher level, and that's why we've singled you out for this very singular honor," he said.
Army Maj. K. Mark Takai, a medical service officer assigned to the Hawaii Army National Guard's joint services support division as equal employment opportunity and school liaison officer, attended the ceremony and said his state provides outstanding support to deployed troops and their families.
Takai was base support operations officer at Camp Patriot, Kuwait, during the 29th Infantry Brigade Combat Team's deployment to Kuwait and Iraq in August 2008, returning in August 2009. He nominated the state for the Freedom Award following the deployment, and said the award is the result of a team effort by the whole state.
"Whenever anybody deploys from the armed services in Hawaii, it's a big deal for us," he said. "We're all one family. So as people move forward to the front lines, there are many people at home taking care of our families and our loved ones. ... Our state does us very well."
For citizen-servicemembers, Takai said, deployment is particularly challenging because it represents not only leaving family, but also taking on a whole new identity.
"Looking at tonight, this is a very important night for us," he said. "It's employers like the state of Hawaii that make it possible for people like me to come back from deployment and get right back into our routines. When active duty members come home, they go right back into their active duty units. We don't. We see our family, friends and employers. It's our employers that are critical, especially right when we get back home."
Navy Reserve Lt. Tim Graczewski, who returned yesterday from deployment as an economic development officer with Regional Command South in Kandahar, Afghanistan, works in civilian life as Intuit's director of strategy and corporate development.
Graczewski, who attended the award ceremony with his wife, Cheryl, said he nominated the California-based company because he was impressed with the organization's support before and during his deployment.
Intuit paid him the difference between his usual salary and his reserve pay for the length of his deployment, he said, and continued his insurance benefits.
"I think beyond that, what really impressed me with the company was the sense of commitment and support that was demonstrated," he added.
Graczewski said after he notified Intuit he would be deploying, the company's chief executive officer, chief financial officer, founder and chairman all stopped by to visit and wish him well.
"There was much more a sense of neighbors helping folks than a corporation dealing with [a human resources] issue," Graczewski said. "We have a professional sound studio, and the group arranged for me to come in and read stories for my son that the group professionally edited and gave to us on CD as a going-away family support present."
Cheryl Graczewski said she played those stories for 7-year-old William after her husband deployed, and that William would listen to the whole CD as he went to sleep, "just to hear Tim in the room."
When she first learned her husband would deploy, she said, she was concerned about how the company would respond.
"I know there are laws in place to protect [a deployed servicemember's] job," she said. "But there's one thing to have it be the law, but there's another to have this underlying feeling of 'We're grateful for your service, and we're proud of you.'"
The 2010 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recipients are:
-- Bill Bragg Plumbing - San Francisco;
-- City of Irvine Police Department - Irvine, Calif.;
-- Dollar General Corp. - Goodlettsville, Tenn.;
-- East Carolina University - Greenville, N.C.;
-- Food Lion - Salisbury, N.C.;
-- Franklin's Printing - Murfreesboro, Tenn.;
-- Hawaii State Government - Honolulu;
-- Intuit - Mountain View, Calif.;
-- Legacy Sports International - Reno, Nev.
-- Logistics Health Inc. - La Crosse, Wis.
-- Merck - Whitehouse Station, N.J.;
-- Michigan State Police - Lansing, Mich.;
-- Newmont Mining Corp. - Denver;
-- Southern Co. - Atlanta; and
-- Yerecic Label - New Kensington, Pa.