Assistant Secretary of Defense Dennis McCarthy recently presented the Irvine Police Department with the Employer Support Freedom Award for going the extra mile for employees who serve in U.S. National Guard and Reserve.
The recognition was given during a ceremony last week in Washington, D.C, that honored employers who accommodate employees who are also reservists.
Practices like sending care packages to guardsmen and reservists, and helping a deployed member's family move, helped the Police Department land a distinction given to 15 employers nationwide this year.
"We work very hard to support them from the home front and make sure that they know that they have the Irvine police family at home taking care of their own families," Chief David Maggard Jr. said. "These are things that may not mean a lot in big picture but mean a lot to people separated from their family."
The department was nominated by Tom Allan, a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps Reserve.
While Allan was stationed for six months at the March Air Reserve Base in Riverside in 2003, police routinely checked in on his wife, Lisa, who remained at the couple's home with their 5-year-old son, John.
"You hear stories about other employers who aren't so gracious and give reserves a hard time," Allan said. "And that's another reason why we got the award. The police force not only complies with state and federal law, but goes beyond just benefits by supporting in other ways, too."
Because of the Police Department's support, Allan did not have to worry about his wife or son.
"He was such a little guy at the time," Allan said of his boy, now 12.
And being free of worry on the home front means that guardsmen and reservists can concentrate on serving their country.
"The little things make the difference for peace of mind," he said. "It's stressful to be taken away from your career, your family and put back into military life."
These days, Allan serves a few days out on the year on the reserve staff at the Pentagon, he said.
"My counterparts take over my duties while I'm gone," Allan said. "Everyone is very supportive. No one ever complains."
Besides Allan, four other Irvine officers serve double duty as the "weekend warriors," the reservist nickname being something of a misnomer because being called to service will often take the deployed member overseas for months or longer.
Gunnery Sgt. Charles Shaver, Marine Corps Reserve; 2nd Lt. Cody Bates, Army National Guard; Capt. Josh Assayag, Air Force Reserve; and Capt. David Mori, Navy Reserve, all have similar stories of support.
"We are very honored in receiving this recognition, which means a great deal to commitment and noble calling of those serving in guard," Irvine Mayor Sukhee Kang said. "This recognition highlights important work that they do … freedom is not free — we have to earn it."
This year's award winners, which include a university, a grocer and a printing company, have another reason to be proud: Their nomination coincides with President Barack Obama's naming of Sept. 19 to 25 as National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Week.