Gilbert's support of military well deserving of recognition - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Gilbert's support of military well deserving of recognition

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Posted: Sunday, May 22, 2011 5:15 am | Updated: 7:59 pm, Sun May 22, 2011.

The Secretary of Defense announced last week that the Town of Gilbert is one of 30 finalists nationwide for the 2011 Employer Support Freedom Award, which honors employers for exceptional support of employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. This year’s finalists were chosen from 4,049 nominations by Guard and Reserve service members or their families — and Gilbert is the only municipality in the nation among the top finalists. There are many reasons why.

Gilbert provides paid military leave for employees who must be away from their jobs for annual training, and supplemental paid leave (the difference between compensation for their Gilbert job and military pay) for employees who are ordered to active duty. And, eligible employees on active military duty and their dependents may continue health insurance through the town for up to 24 months.

Town staff have received training in providing effective support to supervisors managing employees who are active in the Guard or Reserves. A special leave coordinator in the town’s human resources office trains supervisors and meets with employees before their active military duty begins to ensure a smooth transition when they leave and return to their jobs.

Because many of Gilbert’s employees in the Guard and Reserves work in the town’s police and fire departments, those agencies have created a local support system. Police supervisors stay in touch with employees on duty, and the police department’s benevolent fund — for emergency needs of police and their dependents — remains available to police even when they’re on active duty with the military. Gilbert police also have a voluntary spousal support group for sworn officers. At the fire department, the employee organization for firefighters maintains regular contact with employees who are away to fulfill Guard and Reserves duties and sends care packages to fire department personnel who are deployed.

Gilbert also goes out of its way to demonstrate public support for residents who serve in the military. Through its new Operation Welcome Home program, servicemen and women who return to the town are honored during a ceremony prior to a regular Town Council meeting as a way to give the community a chance to offer thanks. And, the town has a long history of honoring veterans of the U.S. Armed Services on Veterans Day.

Following the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Gilbert stepped up its support for military personnel by adding the supplemental pay benefit for employees who must temporarily leave their jobs for military training or deployment. Even in times of tight budgets, the town has made this a priority.

“As a public employer, we recognize the importance of our employees’ contribution through National Guard and Reserve service,” the town wrote in its application for the Employer Support Freedom Award. “The Town of Gilbert will continue to strive to meet the needs of our employees who perform this added public service for the security of all of our citizens.”

The job our military performs every day to keep us safe and free is hard enough on service personnel and their families when they’re away from home. More employers, public and private, could learn from the example set by the Town of Gilbert and its residents: Freedom is not free and we all have to do our part to support those whose sacrifice protects us and allows us to enjoy democracy and a quality of life envied by others around the world.

Whether it wins the Employer Support Freedom Award or not, the Town of Gilbert has done the East Valley proud.

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