-- This article is the last in a series of three -- each one profiling five of the 15 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award-winning companies and organizations for 2011, and how they excel as supporters of their Guard and reserve employees.
When Army Maj. Kerry Studer deployed with his Army Reserve unit, his boss and coworkers pledged to support him and care for his family in his absence. But the staff also had a big surprise for him: it adopted Studer’s entire unit.
“They really went way above what I anticipated –- providing for my entire unit was unbelievable,” said Studer, who nominated his employer, Principal Financial Group, for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
The company is slated as one of 15 to be presented the prestigious award during a Sept. 22 ceremony here.
Studer’s company provided all unit members with numerous care packages and practical items, too -- 300 sets of physical training uniforms and 600 T-shirts.
Principal is a retirement and global asset management company, headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. It recruits military members and has a corporate-wide statement of support program for service members.
Studer said he’s grateful for all the support his company gave him, his unit and his family.
“[They] essentially became additional parent figures to my kids, attending [their] games, arranging child care,” he said. “Their kind actions really gave me peace of mind during my deployment, knowing my family was being taken care of.”
Along with Principal Financial Group, the other companies and organizations include:
St. John’s Lutheran Church
South Dakota Army National Guard Chaplain (Lt. Col.) David Gunderson, who’s also the senior pastor at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Yankton, said he nominated his church for the Freedom Award because of the “generous support” received when he was deployed to Afghanistan.
“Many churches send care packages, but St. John’s Lutheran Church wrapped me up and sent me as the care package,” Gunderson said.
St. John’s supported its pastor, even though churches are reportedly exempt from the federal law that protects service members’ jobs. Gunderson offered to resign before deploying, but St. John’s refused, and instead offered to continue his pay and benefits, he said.
When Gunderson declined the pay, St. John’s used it to support his military mission in Afghanistan by sending dozens of hymnals to the military chapel.
St. John’s also sent so many care packages to Gunderson that he gave some to other service members and sent still more to troops in remote areas. He said he also was able to give clothing to Afghan children.
Back in Yankton, St. John’s established a place for family grief counseling when a local deployed unit experienced a series of losses.
The congregation supported Gunderson’s wife, he said, by mowing the lawn, repairing the heating system and bringing over food.
Because of the congregation’s support for “Pastor Dave,” Gunderson said he was able to focus on his mission in Kabul, knowing his family was well taken care of at home.
State Employees’ Credit Union
When Jamie Applequist, an employee of State Employees’ Credit Union, was deployed with the Air Force Reserve, she didn’t know that feeling “privileged” would become part of her life.
Applequist, an Air Force master sergeant, nominated the credit union for the Freedom Award because of its generous support for her and her fellow Guard and reserve members.
“I’ve had the distinct honor and privilege to be part of these two organizations, [and] while appearing to be very different, in reality, [they] have similar missions of servitude, defined by integrity, professional excellence and a spirit of service before self,” Applequist said of her civilian employer and the Air Force.
The credit union’s support extends from small gestures to big achievements, she said, including ensuring all North Carolina Guard and Reserve troops have access to no-surcharge ATMs.
And, the staff filled and shipped some 5,000 gift boxes to deployed troops.
Meanwhile, employees regularly help with one-on-one gestures of support, Applequist said. For example, one branch manager, acting on the credit union’s “People Helping People” philosophy, donated time to help care for children of a deployed single mother.
The credit union also shows its wealth of supporting deployed service members in other creative ways.
Its staff conducted its largest national “Statement of Support for the Guard and Reserve” signing at the annual managers’ meeting.
The “People Helping People” philosophy also led to a partnership with the North Carolina National Guard Association Educational Foundation, to support the troops and their families.
Through the partnership, zero-percent construction financing was offered for transitional housing to shelter homeless veterans.
Town of Gilbert
Army Reserve Sgt. 1st Class Leo Hess nominated his town and its fire department for the Freedom Award when supporters cared for his family during his multiple deployments.
“I wanted to recognize the Town of Gilbert Fire Department for the constant support given to my family and me while I fulfilled my military obligation,” Hess said.
The town government, in Maricopa County, Ariz., provides service members with care packages and news from home, conducts annual events to honor veterans and maintains a spouse support group for families of deployed employees.
The town has a history of military support initiatives, and it is partnered with the Employer Partnership of the Armed Forces to recruit service members.
Hess wasn’t the only one who wanted to nominate the town for the Freedom Award. So, several others gave him some input.
In one case, a deployed service member had a water pipe break back at home and the fire department responded quickly to fix it, free.
“If it’s fixing a broken water pipe or offering to help with a broken washer, they’re here for me,” a spouse of another service member said. “I receive phone calls just checking in to see if I need anything.”
Hess summed up the town’s support of its troops.
“When I notified the fire department I was preparing to deploy for the third time,” he said, “their first words were, ‘How can we help your family while you are away?’"
Wells Fargo & Co.
Army Capt. Rudy Magallanes’ nomination of Wells Fargo & Co. for the Freedom Award was selected from seven other submissions by employee Guard and Reserve service members.
“While I was mobilized during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Wells Fargo maintained personal contact with me throughout my deployment, including personal letters and emails from my supervisors,” said Magallanes, a California Army National Guardsman.
“Upon my return to work, Wells Fargo welcomed me back as though I had never left,” he added.
Wells Fargo is a nationwide, financial services company. It supports its Guard and reserve employees with services and compensation policies that “exceed legal requirements.”
The company’s 24/7 Employee Assistance Consulting Program offers post-traumatic stress disorder counseling. It has a Veterans’ Team Member Network with more than 900 employees to educate staff on the value of veterans, and promote veteran awareness, Magallanes reported.
The network joins with other Wells Fargo groups to conduct care package drives, and organize volunteer activities in military communities and military send-offs and welcome-home events, he said.
In addition, the company’s human resources staff provides career counseling services to veterans and disabled employees at its annual member outreach program.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve
Special: Employer Support Freedom Awards
Article 1 in the series: Top Guard, Reserve Employers to Be Honored
Article 2 in the series: Employers Earn Top Award for Guard, Reserve Support