Top Guard, Reserve Employers to Be Honored
By Terri Moon Cronk, AFPS, WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2011 - Their businesses are as diverse as their staffs are unified around a common goal: to give exceptional support to their National Guard and Reserve employees when they're deployed.
Bosses and coworkers across America have gone to great lengths to fill in gaps back home for their deployed employees, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve officials said.
They set up employee-support networks, sent care packages, kept up employees' yard work and even babysat their children.
It's that outstanding support to the troops and their families that earned 15 private-sector companies the Defense Department Freedom Award -- the highest-level recognition to businesses that support the troops.
This year's 15 award-winning employers stood out among the 4,049 nominations submitted by the Guard and Reserve service members who work for them, officials said.
The recipients will be honored Sept. 22 during the 16th annual ESGR awards ceremony at The Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center here.
This article, the first in a series of three, profiles five of the Freedom Award-winning companies for 2011, and how they excel as supporters of Guard and Reserve employees.
3M, based in Maplewood, Minn., is a diversified technology company that's no stranger to supporting its employees who serve in the Guard and the Reserve.
"Everyone at 3M is supportive of military employees, from the top leaders who championed the military support network, down to supervisors and coworkers providing personal support to help service members and their families throughout deployments," said Army National Guard Maj. Carl Fassbender, a 3M employee who nominated his employer for the award.
Fassbender said he was overwhelmed by the support provided by 3M's military support network, an employee resource group created by a coworker in 2009 to honor her son who was killed in action in Afghanistan.
The network supports 3M military employees and their families who have been called to serve the country or are affected by deployments. 3M's chief executive officer and president personally requested to be the executive sponsor when the network was founded.
The network has raised awareness of those serving the United States to strengthen connections between deployed 3M employees and their peers at work, and offers programs to ease transitions and foster community support during deployment, ESGR officials said.
3M also helped two other companies set up their own internal military support programs.
3M is one of only 14 companies the governor of Minnesota designated as a "Yellow Ribbon Company" that brings together the entire company in a network to support service members and military families.
Air Force Lt. Col. Bruno R. Stopka, from the Missouri Air National Guard, was one of four employees who nominated Ameren Corp. for a 2011 Freedom Award.
A Fortune 500 company, St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. is the holding company for utility companies in Illinois and Missouri with 2.4 million electric customers and nearly 1 million natural gas customers.
In addition to keeping customers content, Ameren Corp. makes it a point to support U.S. troops. It's a tradition that dates back to 1919 when the American Legion was first established at the utility's headquarters building in St. Louis.
During three overseas deployments following 9/11, Stopka experienced that commitment personally, as Ameren provided him and other deployed employees differential pay and full health benefits.
Ameren also sends care packages to deployed employees and their families and offers reintegration resources.
"I salute my employer, Ameren, and its employees who truly stand behind supporting their Guard and Reserve soldiers, sailors, airmen, Coast Guardsmen and Marines, and continue to recognize those who have previously served our great country," Stopka said.
Nearly 600 of Ameren's 9,300 employees have served in the military. Ameren hires military veterans through the Missouri governor's "Show-Me Heroes Program," and maintains a military job-recruitment website.
The company certified several of its apprenticeship programs so veterans and service members can access their GI Bill apprenticeship and on-the-job training money.
Ameren also pledged up to $1 million in energy credits to deployed military families living in Missouri.
Burt County Sheriff's Office
The Burt County Sheriff's Office supports a population of 6,881 people in 3,170 households, covering a 493-square-mile area of northeastern Nebraska.
And according to Navy Reserve Chief Petty Officer 1st Class Jamie Keatts, the sheriff and his small staff give full support to their Guard and Reserve service members.
Keatts is among five deputies at the office, led by Sheriff Robert Pickell.
"I take so much pride in working for Sheriff Pickell, simply because he takes pride in me and what I do," Keatts said. "Sheriff Pickell is an amazing boss, person and friend."
While he was deployed, Keatts said, daily emails and continuous care packages from the sheriff's office made him feel like he had never left home. The staff also checked on his home, kept the yard presentable and shoveled snow to make sure the house didn't look empty.
Pickell adjusted Keatts' schedule so he wouldn't lose pay because of his military service, and personally covered Keatts' shifts while he was away for drill weekends.
Before Keatts left for Afghanistan, and upon his return, the sheriff and his staff threw parties to show their appreciation.
"I cannot put into words what support I have from my boss and the Burt County Sheriff's Office," Keatts said. "I cannot express the gratitude and thanks I have for my employer."
CSX Transportation based in Jacksonville, Fla., is a leading supplier of rail-based freight transportation in North America. It also is the first two-time recipient of the Freedom Award for its outstanding support of its military employees.
CRX received the award in 1998 and garnered three nominations this year. Army National Guard Command Sgt. Major John Gipe, one of this year's nominators, said if there was an employer who deserved a "Lifetime Freedom Award," CSX Transportation would be it.
The company has supported Gipe through the nearly 10 years he has been activated, well beyond the five years of job protection required by federal law, he said.
"I have been on military leave from CSX Transportation since three weeks after September 11, 2001," said Gipe, a locomotive engineer with the company.
"Every time I was selected to serve in a higher position, CSX was extremely supportive. They congratulated me, encouraged me to continue to serve, and assured me my job would be waiting when I returned," he said.
The company supports the military in other ways, too. It participated in 245 veteran and military job fairs last year, made major contributions to the Wounded Warrior Project's "Warrior at Work" program and employs a workforce of 22 percent veterans or members of the Guard and Reserve, ESGR officials noted.
The company also champions the CSX Military Affinity Group that organizes programs to support both military employees and their families.
Electrical Contractors Inc.
Omaha, Neb.-based Electrical Contractors Inc., and its owner, J.J. Williams, consistently support military employees, Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Devin Brisbois said.
This year, the family-owned and ï¿½operated company will be recognized with a Freedom Award based on Brisbois' nomination.
"Mr. Williams has gone out of his way to support me and my family. He serves as an example to other employees who continually find ways to help and support me," Brisbois said.
During Brisbois' deployment, his wife told him their refrigerator stopped working. When Williams heard about it, he ordered a new refrigerator, covered the cost and had it delivered to the couple's home.
While Brisbois was deployed, Williams and his company also provided lawn care, snow removal and maintenance for the Brisbois' home, and offered to babysit the three children so Brisbois' wife could attend her evening college class.
When Williams' friends and family decided to thank Brisbois for his service by secretly restoring the 1969 Dodge Coronet Super Bee he never had time to work on, Williams made a considerable donation toward the project and helped arrange the surprise unveiling.
"Mr. Williams didn't have to do any of these generous things, but he is a patriot and he understands what a sacrifice it is to serve in the military," Brisbois said. "I cannot thank him enough for what he has done for me and my family."
This year's Freedom Award recipients are:
-- 3M Co., St. Paul, Minn.;
-- Ameren Corp., St. Louis, Mo.;
-- Burt County Sheriff's Office, Tekamah, Neb.;
-- CSX Transportation, Jacksonville, Fla.;
-- Electrical Contractors Inc., Omaha, Neb.;
-- Ford Motor Co., Dearborn, Mich.;
-- Hanson Professional Services Inc., Springfield, Ill.;
-- Integrity Applications Inc., Chantilly, Va.;
-- Orange County Sheriff's Department, Santa Ana, Calif.;
-- Qwest Communications, now CenturyLink Inc., Monroe, La.;
-- St. John's Lutheran Church, Yankton, S.D.;
-- State Employees' Credit Union, Raleigh, N.C.;
-- The Principal Financial Group, Des Moines, Iowa;
-- Town of Gilbert, Gilbert, Ariz.; and
-- Wells Fargo & Co., San Francisco