Eight years ago, Army National Guard Lt. Col. Dan O’Meara considered a job as a pilot with Marcus Construction in Willmar, Minnesota. Owner Ross Marcus needed someone to fly his company twin-engine German plane, and O’Meara pegged him as a supportive boss. After saying yes to the job, O’Meara had a conversation with Marcus that confirmed his hunch.
“Ross offered me the company plane,” O’Meara said, “to fly from my hometown to the Army Aviation Support Facility in St. Paul two hours away.”
Then, when O’Meara was deployed, his wife, Sheila, and their three boys got a surprise: Every Wednesday for four months, Marcus Construction provided dinner. The employees’ good nature and shared military connection – out of 60, 15 are veterans and two serve in the National Guard — spurred them to donate the meals when Marcus Construction Marketing Director Sara Goebel floated the idea.
The two generous acts are part of the reason why O’Meara nominated Marcus Construction for the 2021 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the U.S. government’s highest honor to civilian employers of reservists and National Guardsmen.
“It is humbling to receive the outstanding support I do,” O’Meara said. “Without it, I simply would not be able to continue to serve.”
From 3,382 nominations, the Department of Defense chose Marcus Construction and 14 other organizations in July as winners. The complete honoree list of employers includes:
|Employer||Employer Headquarters City, State||Nominator’s Service, State|
|Associated Bank||Green Bay, Wisconsin||Army Reserve, Wisconsin|
|Boyer Commercial Construction, Inc.||Columbia, South Carolina||Marine Corps Reserve, New Jersey|
|Cameron Glass, Inc.||Broken Arrow, Oklahoma||Army National Guard, Oklahoma|
|HCA Healthcare – Grand Strand Medical Center||Nashville, Tennessee||Army Reserve, Florida|
|INNIO Waukesha Gas Engines||Waukesha, Wisconsin||Coast Guard Reserve, Wisconsin|
|J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc.||Lowell, Arkansas||Air National Guard, Arkansas
Army National Guard, Arkansas
|Loftin Equipment Company||Phoenix, Arizona||Air National Guard, Arizona|
|Marcus Construction||Willmar, Minnesota||Army National Guard, Minnesota|
|Medtronic||Minneapolis, Minnesota||Army Reserve, Minnesota|
|Nogales Police Department||Nogales, Arizona||Army National Guard, Arizona|
|Phillips 66||Houston, Texas||Coast Guard Reserve, Texas|
|Prudential Financial||Newark, New Jersey||Army Reserve, New Jersey|
|Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service||College Station, Texas||Army National Guard, Texas|
|Village of Pewaukee Police Department||Pewaukee, Wisconsin||Army National Guard, Wisconsin|
|Yankton School District||Yankton, South Dakota||Army National Guard, South Dakota|
“The award was established 25 years ago to provide high-level recognition to employers who go far beyond the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) requirements,” Marianne Downs, chief of public affairs at the Department of Defense, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, said. “There’s a lot of friendly competition among employers to achieve this distinction.”
Along with working disaster and overseas missions, members of the National Guard and reserves recently played a critical role in the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest responses, with tens of thousands mobilized. The employees’ absence, which can be prolonged, might create a financial and personnel hardship for employers, Downs noted.
“It’s more important than ever to recognize the sacrifices employers have made,” she said.
Employees mentioned the following when nominating their employers for the Freedom Award:
- Enhanced pay and benefit packages
- Flexible scheduling
- Generous leave policies
- Pre- and post-deployment support
- Robust training for human resource professionals and managers to support military-serving employees
- Sending care packages
- Assisting their families with home repairs
- Including their families in company functions
- Providing additional financial assistance to their families
Army Reserve Spc. Roxana “Karina” Banaduc nominated Freedom Award winner HCA Healthcare – Grand Strand Medical Center. She found her employer extraordinary from day one. As she was immigrating from Romania, HCA Healthcare opened its doors to Banaduc while she had a work permit as part of the federal government’s optional practical training initiative. The program allows foreign students to work in their field in the U.S.
Later officially hired by HCA Healthcare as a registered nurse, Banaduc was called to serve as a combat medic for a COVID-related assignment in Newark, New Jersey. She was in the middle of her orientation in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
“I was granted more orientation time when I returned,” Banaduc shared. “My journey has been a complicated one from the start, but I could always count on HCA Healthcare for anything I needed. My managers and supervisors are very understanding and support my military obligations, including drill, annual training, military schools and deployments.”
Two of HCA Healthcare’s founders, Dr. Thomas Frist, Sr. and Dr. Thomas Frist, Jr., served in the Army and the Air Force. The healthcare system has hired more than 40,000 veterans, active-duty service members, and military spouses since 2012. Dedicated departments recruit and assist military-connected employees.
“To be recognized nationally as an organization that supports our colleagues’ military service is an accomplishment our whole community can take pride in,” said Mark Sims, chief executive officer at HCA Healthcare’s Grand Strand Medical Center.