Release Date: June 15, 2010

Citizen soldiers say 'thanks' to Fox Cities employers who allow them to serve Department of Defense presents Patriot Awards to businesses

The Post-Crescent

John Engel is glad to be back at his 9-to-5 job.

"This is my third time... so it gets easier each time," said Engel, 40, of Appleton, now home from a nine-month deployment in Iraq with the Madison-based 1-105th Cavalry.

Engel has served in the National Guard for 19 years and is a staff sergeant with the 32nd Brigade. His unit was part of the base camp defense at Baghdad International Airport. He has been back to work at Accurate Full Service Vehicle Center in Grand Chute since April where his employer is happy to have its 14-year service technician home. But not quite as happy as Engel, who nominated the business for a Patriot Award. Accurate is one of eight Fox Cities area companies and organizations presented with Patriot Awards in April and May. The awards are presented to the business by the Department of Defense through the National Committee for Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve, a volunteer organization that recognizes businesses supportive of the military reserve. There were 14,571 Patriot Awards presented around the country in 2009, ESGR reports. The organization estimates about 125,000 U.S. businesses employ active reservists.

"It's been great to have him back," said Mark Broehm, co-owner of Accurate, who allowed Engel to leave his job when he was called to duty by the National Guard. LeRoy Frahm, who provides administrative and electronics support at Lawrence University and served 35 years in the Air Force in active duty and as a reservist, has voluntarily coordinated ESGR efforts in the Fox Cities the past four years. "It's my way of supporting the community and our country," Frahm said. "Employers are a strategic part of our national defense and one of the things we can do to recognize outstanding employers is through these awards." "Getting this recognition shows we have pride in our country," Broehm said. "Holding someone's job for them while they serve our country is the least we can do for someone who puts their life on the line every day for our freedom."

The Defense Department reports as of Sept. 30, 2009, nearly half of the country's 1.1 million military reservists have been mobilized to support the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Broehm said staffing was an issue at times, but his other employees filled in where needed.

"We weren't going to hire someone, even when we were running shorthanded," he said. "We knew we were holding that spot for John until he got back." Engel's military service and that of his wife, Tricia, has called him away from his job three times. Engel was first deployed in 2002-03, but then took leave from his job in 2006-07 when his wife was deployed as a member of the Oshkosh-based 1157th transportation unit. "I stopped working so I could be home to take care of our sons," he said, noting the couple has three sons, Joshua, Jed and Jesse.

Engel's wife has since retired from the military after 21 years of service. John also plans to retire from military service next year when he will have put in 20 years.

"I'm so thankful for Accurate and how they've supported me through all my deployments," he said. "They never asked any questions... just let me do what I needed to do." Not alone Several Fox Cities area employers also have supported their employees who are active military reservists. The Boldt Co. of Appleton, a construction services company, recently was presented its second Patriot Award since 2003. Joe Lyons, a Milton native, has worked for Boldt for three years as part of its safety team.

A staff sergeant, Lyons been active with the Army Reserves for 12 years and returned in January after a year-long deployment in Kuwait as a member of the 826th Ordnance Company from Madison. Lyons unit supplied ammunition to troops in Iraq. When he was called to duty, there were times he had to leave for training on just a couple of days notice."(Boldt) never gave me any issues when I needed time off before I was deployed," Lyons said. "When I was out, they kept me on medical."

Tom Boldt, chief executive officer of The Boldt Co., said businesses should be flexible for their workers who serve in the military. Boldt continued to pay Lyons' salary and all of his benefits during his deployment. "They're sacrificing themselves for us and I think it's important for companies to do what they can do," he said. "I spoke with Joe and he told me how other people he served with didn't have the kind of support at home that he did, so the fact we were able to do what we could for him, made me feel pretty good." Lyons recalled other reservists being concerned about whether they'd still have a job when their tours were finished. "A lot of guys were worried, but I knew I didn't have to worry," Lyons said.

That's also the case for Winneconne Police Chief Peter Running. Running is an Army reservist, now serving in Afghanistan. The village also is a recent Patriot Award winner.

Winneconne Village President John Rogers said Running's job is waiting for him when he returns home in spring 2011. The village paid some of Running's salary and benefits for a short time, but could not do it for his full deployment.

"We couldn't just leave him hanging, but we do stand behind our employees who serve in the military," Rogers said. "We're proud of what they're doing for our country."

Dr. Michael Black, a surgeon with Fox Valley Surgical Associates in Appleton, is a general surgeon and lieutenant commander with the Naval Reserve. He has been an active reservist for four years. Black was deployed to Germany between December and February as a member of the Operation Health Support Unit-Great Lakes from Chicago. His employer received a Patriot Award but also was presented The Above and Beyond Award, given to a limited numbers of employers who provide exceptional support for their military employees. It also was presented a Pro Patria Award, which is given to only three employers in the state who have been recognized for providing extraordinary support through leadership practices and personnel policies for their employees who are active reservists.

Fox Valley Surgical Associates was selected for this award in the small private employer category. Fox Valley Surgical Associates is in the running for a national Freedom Award, the Defense Department's highest honor presented to a private employer for its support for reservists. Fifteen businesses were presented Freedom Awards in 2009.

"They just went above and beyond for me," Black said. While he was away, FVSA handled his patient load and kept in weekly contact with him. "They also checked in on my family every week to see if they needed anything or any help," Black said. "They truly showed interest in knowing that I was doing fine and that my family was well cared for." Black said when he returned, FVSA worked to rebuild his patient base. "They marketed me, helped me to rebuild my practice," he said.