2008 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award

August 20, 2008

Having a son serving in the National Guard, I’m well aware of how hard it can be on companies who employ National Guard and Reserve Soldiers, when those “citizen soldiers” are activated and have to deploy. It can make it difficult, especially for small companies to continue their business, when their employees are suddenly activated and have to deploy for a year or more. Some employers take this in stride and are proud of the jobs that their “citizen soldier” employee does, serving their country. In recognition of the sacrifice these companies make and the support they provide to their “citizen soldier” employee, the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award was created. I’m always pleased to read of some of the things these employers are doing in support of these men and women, and this year, one really stands out to me. With so many Reserve and National Guard Soldiers being activated to serve in Iraq and Afghanistan, more and more companies are being affected.

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award is the highest recognition given by the U.S. Government to employers for their support of their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

Nominations must come from a Guard or Reserve member who is employed by the organization they are nominating, or from a family member.

The award was created to publicly recognize employers who provide exceptional support to their National Guard and Reserve employees. It is the highest in a series of employer recognition awards given by the Department of Defense.

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 in the Guard and Reserve. This award recognizes employers who provide the most outstanding support for their National Guard and Reserve employees and is presented annually by the Secretary of Defense.1

One such company is Union Pacific Railroad. The heritage of the company is one with strong ties to the military. After the Civil War, thousands of Civil War Veterans helped to build the very first transcontinental railroad, in the 1800s. The railway was considered to be a vital part of the national defense at that time. During World War I and World War II, a railroad canteen located in North Platte, Ne was a resting place for Soldiers on their way overseas.

Because of this history, Union Pacific has always had a strong working relationship with the military. That strong working relationship continues today. Currently the company has over 50,000 employees. More than 7300 of them serve or have served in the military. Since the beginning of the Global War on Terrorism, 530 of those employees have been deployed at some point.

Because of this, Union Pacific works to ensure that their deployed employes are taken care of. They ensure that they balance their work around their training and work in the Guards and Reserves. The company also has a policy that has been in place for many years, before 9/11, in which they offer differential pay to National Guard and Reserve employees during their deployments and other times that they might be activated. All of their health benefits for themselves and their family are continued and each of the employees are assigned a care coordinator who assists with benefits and other needs that the family might have during the deployment.

Union Pacific employees also ensure that their fellow employees who are deployed receive a “personal touch” by sending care packages, writing letters, ensuring that local news media has information about their Soldiers and helping out their families with home repairs and other things that might arise during the year long deployments.

Because of the awesome support of Union Pacific while he was deployed, Iowa National Guardsman and Union Pacific employee, Jesse Swanger nominated them for the Freedom Award. Among his fellow guardsmen were 5 others who were also employees of Union Pacific. They all got to talking and realized just how much Union Pacific did for them during their deployments and felt that this was the least they could do. Union Pacific also recognizes that their Soldier/Employees may suffer from things such as TBI and PTSD upon their return and took steps to establish a program to help identify and promptly treat PTSD. Their idea was to make the transition from Soldier back into being a civilian as easy as possible.

According to Union Pacific’s assistant vice president of human resources, Roy Schroer, the company feels that addressing PTSD is important for not only the employees and their health but for the entire company.

“Many of these people just need some assistance and understanding on our part, so that they can move back into normal physical and mental capabilities and work safely,” he said. “We need everyone to feel confident in everyone else’s abilities to focus on their tasks and be safe. Supporting the military is part of Union Pacific’s culture and heritage and is something that the entire company gets involved with,” Schroer said. Thousands of employees turn out to sign Christmas cards or contribute to care packages for deployed employees. It’s a great morale sustainer across the entire company,” he said. “It’s something that employees show a lot of pride in.”

Schroer said that the company feels that not only do the soldier/employees benefit from the treatment given to them by Union Pacific, but the entire company benefits from the experience, training, service and dedication of their deployed employees when they return to their jobs following their deployments. When told about the Freedom Award that they would be receiving, Schroer said Union Pacific’s leaders were ecstatic

The Freedom Award will be presented to Union Pacific, along with other companies 15 total, chosen for the award, at a ceremony to be held on September 18th at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington DC. The Freedom Award was began in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves, in order to recognize the outstanding support and contribution made by the employers of these “citizen” soldiers.2

It sounds like Union Pacific has a great program to support their National Guard and Reserve employees and it’s fantastic that they’ve recognized how difficult it can be for these men and women when they return and are struggling with PTSD. It amazes me that they’ve created their own PTSD program to help their employees cope and be able to continue being productive members of their team. I applaud them for their efforts and hope that more employers will look at their program and begin similar ones in their companies. I plan to email their corporate offices and let them know how much programs such as theirs are appreciated.

  1. http://www.freedomaward.mil/ []
  2. http://www.defenselink.mil/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=50861 []


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