DEARBORN - Todd Brooks, engineering supervisor, Body, Chassis Test Lab, and a member of the Navy Reserve, was one of six employees who nominated Ford for the prestigious 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which is the highest honor bestowed upon America’s employers who provide exceptional support to their employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve. The award was presented to the company Thursday evening at a special ceremony held in Washington, D.C.
Q. What is your current status with the military?
A. I served active duty from 1985 to 1991 and then worked at another company before taking a job with Ford in 1993. After the events of Sept. 11, I became a member of the Navy Reserve.
Q. How often do you serve?
A. When you’re on Reserve duty, you’re obligated to serve one weekend a month and a minimum 2 weeks per year. I don’t think there’s been a year since I joined the Reserves that I’ve done only the two weeks of active duty. Typically I’ve used my vacation time and done a month if not five to six weeks of duty per year up until I was actually mobilized in Iraq in June of 2008. I left my Ford job at that time, and I didn’t come back until July of 2009.
Q. Was your job waiting for you when you came back?
A. Yes it was. And that was part of the recognition of support that I wanted to communicate by nominating Ford for the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. 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. My manager and my immediate supervisor did everything they could to get me right back into the same job I had before I left. 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. That was extremely appreciated on my behalf for sure.
Q. What are some of the other reasons you nominated the company for the award?
A. While I was in Iraq out on patrols, I maintained contact with folks back in the shop here and they kept asking how they could help me. I told them I had all the basics covered like food and water. But I said, “We often go out on patrols in town and we like to have little toys and things that we can give the kids, so if we could get some coloring books and stuffed animals to give to the kids that would just be huge.” The next thing I know I’ve got 30 boxes being shipped over. We became famous for rolling into town and pulling out these stuffed animals and coloring books and the kids just went crazy. My folks back here on the home front were really helping my mission over there from the standpoint of winning the hearts and minds of the children. It really filled me with pride knowing that they cared enough to actually do that.
Q. Do you think the actions of your co-workers are a reflection of the company as a whole?
A. There’s an aura of teamwork and camaraderie here at Ford. No matter how good a company is, if they don’t have that type of camaraderie in place with support from management it’s just not going to happen. People really watch out for each other here. We hear all the time on the floor, “You are your brother’s keeper,” when it comes to different aspects of safety and watching out for one another. And that just kind of transcends throughout the company.
Q. Ford is one of 15 companies nationwide selected to receive the prestigious award out of more than 4,000 nominations. Why do you think the company was singled out?
A. One of the things that really hit home for me happened in 2007 when I was selected as the Navy Reserve Reservist of the Year. They select one person out of 67,000 people to receive the award, and I went to Washington, DC, for a week for the final competition. When I returned to work the following Monday, I was in a meeting and I’ll never forget it. My manager and other fellow supervisors were there. The phone rang and it was Alan Mulally’s secretary. I picked up the phone and she said, “Mr. Mulally would like to speak to you.” I said, “Mr. Mulally?” And she said, “Yes sir.” The room fell silent when they heard me say “Mr. Mulally.” All of a sudden he gets on the phone, and he was so excited that I had to pull the phone away from my ear.
Mr. Mulally said, “I’m so proud of you. Working at Boeing the way I did I probably know more than anyone in this company what it takes to achieve that recognition. I worked with military extensively when I was at Boeing, and I just can’t believe that I have the Navy Reserve Sailor of the Year here at my company.”
I was dumbfounded. I was absolutely blown away to think that Mr. Mulally would take time out of his day to call me. I couldn’t even figure out how in the world he found out about the award. Then he invited me up to his office to meet the following Friday and he took a good half hour out of his schedule to meet with me and shake my hand. That’s a commitment that to me is just unbelievable.
Ford has supported veterans in so many ways over the years. The company has been very generous in its support for Disabled American Veterans as an example. It’s really quite impressive.
Ford also has formal initiatives in place to help people serving in the military such as differential pay for employees on active duty. When we’re deployed, the company makes up the difference between what we make in the military versus what we make in base wages here at Ford. My civilian job pays more than my military job by far so if I was to be activated and that benefit did not exist, it would be financially devastating.
There are so many different aspects of support that I’ve been witness to around this company. It’s just been a very positive experience for me as well as for others that I know of who are in similar situations.
Q. You are an active member of the Ford Veterans Network, a Ford employee resource group. How important is the support from that group?
A. Surprisingly, not all companies have employee resource groups like we do, but there are more coming online. They go a long way to shore up the support. There’s nothing like another group of veterans who are familiar with the trials and tribulations involved in serving. There is a lot of sacrifice involved, not only on the part of the service member but on the family left behind.
We had one gentleman who was part of our Veteran’s Network. While he was in Afghanistan, a storm blew over the flagpole in his front yard, and the team in his group pulled together, started fundraising activities and raised enough money to purchase a new flagpole. They went over and erected it while he was away. It’s that type of camaraderie and support. We all knew what that flagpole meant to him. He was overseas serving our country and the group had his back covered. That’s an incredible feeling when you know you have people that you can lean on back on the home front because that’s the last thing you need to be worrying about when you’re deployed overseas.
There is a lot of communication among our veteran’s group. If somebody deploys and they need their lawn cut or something else done, we’re here for them. That’s a big thing because that’s such a huge unknown when you go overseas. When National Guard members mobilize, they typically mobilize as a unit. So there’s a sense of community even among the folks who are at home. Their wives or significant others can bond together and help each other out. When Reserve members are called to go overseas on a long mobilization, we’re activated as individuals to go over and augment some group or task force. So when the Ford employees jump in and say, “We’re your extended family. We’re going to help take care of you and make sure that things are taken care of for you on the home front,” that’s huge.
Q. How did you feel when you found out that Ford won the award?
A. I was elated. I was so proud of the company and all the support they’ve been providing. And I was so excited for Mr. Mulally to hear the news of the award. It is recognition that is richly deserved by the company especially during this tough economic time. Ford’s true colors are shining as far as not having taken the bailout and really making America proud. And this is just one more validation point that we’re doing things the right way.