After serving more than eight years in security forces for the Nebraska Air National Guard, Tech. Sgt. Brett Schutte was ready for a change. An opportunity to train to become a boom operator on a KC-135 Stratotanker piqued his interest.
The only problem is training would take him away from home and his day job for about a year. The timing wasn’t ideal; he works as an officer for the Kearney Police Department in Nebraska. Law enforcement agencies have reported significant staffing issues in the past two years due to increased resignations and retirements.
But, what could have been a difficult conversation was met with nothing but support.
“It was really helpful to go up and have that conversation with the chief and say ‘Hey, I’m going to be gone for a year,’ and have them be really supportive of it,” he said. “That made me feel comfortable in my decision and made me know that I was going to have a welcoming place when I got home.”
Schutte added that his superiors didn’t just provide vocal support; they even offered to help his wife care for their young child while he was away and continued to check in regularly. That inspired him to nominate police Sergeants Jared Small and Mike Bogard for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Patriot Awards. The honor recognizes employers who help guardsmen or reservists when they’re called away for training or other duties.
“A lot of these opportunities don’t come around but once or twice in a lifetime, so it was something that we obviously were fully supportive of for him,” Small said. “We were all on board with it.”
The department’s support of his training came with personal sacrifices. It required his shift colleagues to work longer days and respond to more calls while other officers were frequently placed in quarantine due to COVID-19 exposure.
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“It left us really thin for a while,” Small said. “But we have a good team. We were able to adapt and overcome, and it didn’t affect our support of Officer Schutte while he was down training. Anyone with the U.S. military is protecting our freedoms here at home.”
Schutte plans to pay back some of his colleagues for covering his shifts when guardsmen can once again take visitors on flights aboard the KC-135 Stratotanker.
“It really is a cool job, and a lot of people show interest in it,” Schutte said. “They’re happy and proud of me.”
Flexibility leads to Patriot Award nomination
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, staffing challenges have also plagued Methodist Health System in Omaha, Nebraska. Still, supervisors in the emergency department didn’t waiver in their support of Nebraska Air National Guard Capt. Amye Dusatko.
Dusatko nominated her supervisors, Chelsea Craig and Jen Tran, for the Patriot Award. She wrote in her nomination that the managers provided flexibility for her drill periods, short-notice deployments and training commitments without question.
Forensic Nurse Examiner Team Leader Jen Tran said accommodating Dusatkos’s schedule is something she wanted to do because the nurse doesn’t hesitate to offer the same support for her coworkers.
“If someone needs help because they have something going on, she’s quick to fill in,” Tran said. “She’s an amazing employee; we’re so happy to have her.”
Craig, the emergency department service leader, added she’s amazed by Dusatko’s service, even if that means she has to deal with some staffing headaches.
“When she’s gone for a shift that leaves a staffing hole, but we know she’s doing something pretty amazing,” said Craig. “I want to step up to help her so she can help other people.”
In 2021, guardsmen and reservists nominated 7,087 employers for the ESGR Patriot Awards.