As a proud member of the Army National Guard, a military spouse and a mom, many people tell me I have an uncommon story. The reality is there are actually more than 1.1 million members of the National Guard and Reserve with similar stories about sharing their civilian lives with military service. Like all service members, guardsmen and reservists have a long list of people to thank for standing by us and making our service possible — family, friends and neighbors, just to name a few. But this Thanksgiving, I'd like to send a special note of appreciation to the support network uniquely important to all of us in the Guard and Reserve — America's civilian employers.
Since 2001, guardsmen and reservists have answered the nation's call to duty at unprecedented rates. They have fought side-by-side with active duty service members in Iraq and Afghanistan and have responded to emergencies in our local communities and in nations around the world. As recently as hurricane Sandy, these citizen warriors were called from the safety of their homes to mobilize alongside first responders, providing assistance and search and rescue.
These Reserve Component members comprise nearly half of our nation's entire military, and their contribution cannot be understated.
Employers hiring Guard and Reserve members provide these hometown heroes with much needed predictability, stability and support. Sadly, too many guardsmen and reservists return from deployments with no way to support themselves or their families. Nationally, their unemployment rate is higher than that of the civilian population they protect. This is why Guard and Reserve members, and their families, appreciate those employers who recognize military members for their unmatched leadership and dedication and the skills they have honed in the most stressful environments.
Employing a member of the Guard or Reserve can come with challenges. Employers have to adapt to military schedules and find ways to make do when the service member deploys. Thankfully, our nation's civilian employers meet these expectations and even find opportunities to go above and beyond in their support. Through their policies, caring offers to help, simple prayers, thoughtful care packages, military hiring initiatives and military support events, employers demonstrate what it takes for America to have the best military in the world.
Nyemaster Goode, the law firm I work for, has adapted its billing requirements to ensure I do not fall behind my peers as a result of my military service. Whenever I am called to deploy, my employer assures me that my job will be waiting for me when I return. The firm even gave me additional paid time off to attend my husband's pre-deployment activities, spend time with him during his mid-tour leave and assist him in post-deployment reintegration.
Employers of every size and industry are implementing similar formal policies and providing informal demonstrations of support, all for the benefit of their military employees.
Last year, I expressed my appreciation to my employer by nominating the firm for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, our nation's highest recognition for employer support of Guard and Reserve employees. Both my employer and I were humbled when the firm was chosen to receive the award as simply being nominated is considered an honor.
I encourage every Guard and Reserve member in Utah who has been supported by their employer to nominate them for this award; family members can also submit nominations on a guardsman or reservist's behalf. Only four Utah employers have received the award in the past. I know there are many worthy of the honor, so nominate them today because the nomination period closes Jan. 21.
On behalf of every Guard and Reserve member and their families, thank you all for your support. It is an honor to serve our nation.
Major Kristina Stanger and her husband Staff Sergeant Doug Stanger serve in the Iowa Army National Guard.