WASHINGTION, D.C. - Ford Motor Company received the prestigious 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award Thursday night during a special ceremony held at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.
The Freedom Award – presented annually by the Secretary of Defense – recognizes American employers who provide the most outstanding support for their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve, which represent one-half of the U.S. military.
“Our military members and reservists are a source of inspiration,” said Mike Bannister, Ford executive vice president, chairman and CEO of Ford Motor Credit Company, and executive champion of the Ford Veterans Network Group. “These are fine men and women, and we are privileged to be able to provide some measure of support as their employer. We appreciate this recognition.”
Ford is one of 15 companies nationwide selected to receive the award. This year, more than 4,000 nominations were submitted.
One of six nominations for Ford came from Todd Brooks, an engineering supervisor in the Body Chassis Test Lab who joined the Navy Reserve after the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
“There is an incredible untold story of compassion, commitment and corporate leadership that Ford Motor Company has been quietly providing to the nation’s veterans for years,” said Brooks, who served active duty in Iraq from June of 2008 to July of 2009 while he was employed by Ford.
“When I was deployed overseas, I maintained contact with folks here at Ford and they kept asking how they could help me,” he said. “I told them that we often go out on patrols in town and would like to have little toys and things that we can give to the kids. The next thing I know I’ve got 30 boxes of coloring books and stuffed animals being shipped over.”
“While another friend and co-worker, Mark Eubank, was deployed in Afghanistan, a storm blew over the flagpole in his front yard,” explained Brooks. “His work team pulled together, started fundraising activities and raised enough money to purchase a new flagpole. Then they went over and erected it while he was away.”
Brooks says it’s that type of camaraderie that sets the Ford culture apart from other employers. Another great example of support, he says, comes from the Ford Veterans Network, one of the company’s employee resource groups.
Erin Meadows, a Ford Credit legal assistant and Navy reservist, had similar experiences while she was in Afghanistan serving as a legal assistant on an assignment for the U.S. Army. She returned this summer and joined the group for the awards ceremony in Washington.
“A lot of co-workers collected and sent various items and necessities. We were able to share many with wounded soldiers,” she said. “Also, it was nice to know that if my husband back home had questions about things like insurance, Ford was there to help. It was nice to have so much support.”
Having friends at home who look out for you when you’re deployed on an assignment makes all the difference in the world, says Brooks.
“When your fellow Ford employees jump in and say, ‘We’re your extended family, and we’re going to make sure that things are taken care of for you on the home front,’ that’s huge,” he said.
“The Veterans Network Group is committed to serving and supporting all members of the U.S. Armed Forces, “said Dan Duderstadt, corporate investigator, and president of the Veterans Network Group. “And we could not do it without the ongoing support of our leaders here at Ford Motor Company.”
Ford employs 700 U.S. Reservists and Guardsmen, along with more than 7,000 U.S. veterans. The company currently has nearly 30 U.S. employees actively serving in the military.
Brooks says Ford goes above and beyond what the law requires in its support of Reserve and Guard employees. For example, the company offers differential pay for its employees on active duty, which means that Ford makes up the difference between what they make in the military versus what they make in base wages at Ford.
“My civilian job pays more than my military job by a fair margin, so if I was to be activated and that benefit did not exist, it would be financially devastating,” he said.
Brooks says he’s experienced firsthand the difference it makes to have a management team that cares.
“You can only imagine the stress involved with uprooting, leaving your family behind and going overseas into that type of environment, but coming home is also stressful in unique ways,” he explained.
“When I came back to the company after serving a year in Iraq, my manager and immediate supervisor did everything they could to get me right back into the same job I had before I left,” he continued. “Part of it was that they felt it was the best fit for me, but it was also done in an effort to alleviate any additional stress on me of coming back to an entirely new job.”
Ford has a rich history of commitment to its veterans and military personnel. The company’s relationship with Disabled American Veterans (DAV) began in 1922 when Henry Ford himself organized a cross-country caravan of 50 Model T’s to take disabled veterans to their convention in San Francisco. And since 1974, Ford Motor Company and the Ford Motor Company Fund have provided over $6 million to veterans organizations.
Since 1996, Ford has donated 156 vehicles to DAV for their Transportation Network, totaling approximately $4 million. Each year Ford sponsors the DAV’s winter sports clinic, and the company has supported the DAV’s youth scholarship volunteer program since 2000. Ford also helps other veterans through additional vehicle donations and scholarships.