A pause from labor

Sunday, September 2, 2007

By Thomas F. Hall

This Labor Day as we pause in recognition of a collective job well done, we should also pause to think about our neighbors who are on duty today around the globe as well as those standing ready and on call: our country's 1.1 million National Guard and Reserve service members.

Our homeland is safe and our economy is strong and able to flourish thanks to the sacrifices of our all-volunteer military. Because of these men and women we go about our daily lives in America protected from undue worry.

Insomuch as they protect us, we have a responsibility to protect them as well. When America calls upon them to enter into harm's way, we need to make sure the livelihood and the careers they are building stateside are secure.

Since the war on terror began, more than 595,000 reserve component members have been mobilized, putting their lives on hold in support of our nation. Although some have experienced difficulty returning to the civilian position they had temporarily left, the vast majority have returned to their careers without issue. This is due to the remarkable support of their hometown employers.

In an effort to foster this continued support, the Department of Defense through its Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve agency recognizes those employers who have not only supported our reservists as required under federal law, but have in effect made sacrifices along with them.

Every year our National Guard and Reserve members and their families are invited to nominate their employers for the top recognition: the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Starting from more than 1,000 nominations a panel narrows the field to those employers who, in the spirit of America, made great efforts to ensure that our mobilized service members could worry less about the home front and instead focus on our nation's missions.

Among this year's honorees, Con-way, Dollar Thrifty, General Motors, Nucor Corporation and Sodexho USA all sponsor or make generous contributions to service member and family support organizations. Should a Sierra Pacific Resources National Guard or Reserve employee perform military service for a period greater than 12 months, the company will provide full pay and continuation of health-care, dental and life insurance benefits for the reserve component member and their family.

The Tennessee state government, New Hampshire State Police and the Wilmington VA Medical Center are leading examples in the public sector. The Wilmington VA Medical Center assists other organizations with how best to institutionally accommodate absences caused by employee military duty, and Tennessee's Gov. Phil Bredesen has introduced supportive state measures. The New Hampshire State Police was among the very first organizations in the public sector to provide differential pay and continuation of all benefits to its reserve component employees and their families while on active duty.

Small businesses including Gantt's Excavating & Contracting, Martinsburg, W.Va.; Augustine and Sons, Rose Hill, Iowa; Creative Healthcare Solutions, Scottsdale, Ariz.; CHE Consulting, Fenton, Mo.; Ultra Machining Company, Monticello, Minn.; and Turbocam International, Barrington, N.H., have all actively supported their Guard and Reserve employees despite their small sizes and the impact upon their businesses. Augustine and Sons has two employees, with one now deployed.

These small businesses shine in their support of National Guard and Reserve families. Ultra Machining Co. makes reserve component family house calls. Twenty-two employees spent two days repairing a fence, planting trees and building a sandbox for the children of a deployed reserve component employee. The family of Augustine and Sons' deployed reserve component employee lives rent free in housing provided by Augustine and Sons. CHS leaders took the sons of their deployed reserve component employee out for a special night at an Atlanta Thrashers game, in addition to their ongoing support.

The companies have gone above and beyond in other ways as well.

CHE Consulting actively recruits Guard and Reserve members. Gantt's raised funds to provide its deployed employee's military unit with needed gear. Turbocam International provided lifesaving battlefield surveillance technology to an employee's unit.

All of these employers are active in providing a support network for reserve component members, spouses and families. Whether providing generous care packages, covering family bills, distributing holiday gifts, or offering counsel for legal or business matters while a family member is deployed, each of these employers has demonstrated its willingness to help.

So as we pause from our labors this holiday, let's reflect a moment on those who are on duty for all of us and also for those who stand behind them in support.

Thomas F. Hall is assistant secretary of defense for Reserve affairs in Washington, D.C.

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