ELKHART LAKE, Wis. — Gov. Tony Evers and Maj. Gen. Paul Knapp, Wisconsin’s adjutant general, were on hand to recognize Wisconsin employers for their support of workers who also serve as members of the National Guard and Reserves during an Aug. 13 ceremony at The Osthoff Resort.
Highlighting the ceremony was presenting three employers — a large and small private company and a public agency — with the 2021 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the nation’s top honor for employers who actively support reserve component employees. This year marks the first time one state has had employers from each category receive a Freedom Award in the award’s 25-year history.
Associated Bank, INNIO Waukesha Gas Engine and the Pewaukee Police Department received the Freedom Award. They also joined Pierce Manufacturing, WEC Energy Group, Lutheran Home and Hardwood Place, and the Kenosha Police Department in receiving the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Above and Beyond awards.
“What a great day for us,” Evers said. “This celebration is even more special because it’s history for the state of Wisconsin. This achievement didn’t just happen by luck. This historic accomplishment shows what the state has to offer — dedicated employers who act on their promises to support their employees, and a world-class workforce.”
Evers thanked employers for providing “real, meaningful assistance” to their employees who serve in the Guard and Reserves.
“You made sure they knew their jobs were safe,” Evers said. “Our Wisconsin National Guard service members were able to focus on the task at hand, which in turn saved lives of Wisconsinites everywhere. Think about that — all of you together saved lives all across Wisconsin.”
The awards recognize that employers are an equally important part of the support National Guard and Reserve component members need, along with family and community support, to perform their duties. A reserve component service member concerned that military obligations may negatively impact family life or employment status is more likely to discontinue military service.
Knapp said the past year for the Wisconsin National Guard alone shows why family, community and employer support are critical to the success of the organization. In addition to overseas deployments, thousands of Wisconsin National Guard members were called to active duty in Wisconsin as part of the state’s COVID-19 pandemic response, collecting specimen samples, operating a COVID-19 test result call center, distributing personal protective equipment and later helping distribute and administer COVID-19 vaccines. They also were called to state active duty to assist with staffing polling places due to a significant drop in election volunteers during the pandemic. Guard members were also called to state active duty numerous times to support local authorities during episodes of civil unrest, as well as supporting wildfire fighting efforts on the west coast.
As Citizen Soldiers and Airmen, National Guard members and their counterparts in the Reserve Component all take leave from their civilian occupations or private lives each time they are mobilized for state or federal service. Most work their civilian jobs during the week and then report for a training one weekend a month and during an annual training period in addition to mobilizations and military schooling requirements.
“I’m not up here to toot my own horn, but to thank each and every one of you,” Knapp said not only to the employers, but ESGR volunteers. “Those volunteers are that connective tissue between the Guard and Reserve and their employers.”