WASHINGTON – Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense agency, presented the 2013 Secretary of Defense “Freedom Award” to Steel Plate Fabricators of Knoxville and Eastman Chemical of Kingsport, during the 18th Annual ESGR Ceremony in Washington on Sept. 26, 2013.
“ESGR honors ‘Freedom Award’ recipients for going ‘above and beyond’ the legal requirements as employers and support their Guard and Reserve employees through both formal and informal initiatives,” stated Beth Sherman, Chief, Public Affairs Officer for DoD ESGR. The two Tennessee companies were among only 15 employers nationwide to be honored. The ‘Freedom Award’ is the DoD’s highest recognition and is given for exceptional support to Guard and Reserve employees. Since 1996, only 175 employers have received the Freedom Award and the two Tennessee employers chosen this year were picked from among 2,899 nominations submitted.
Steel Plate Fabricators, based in Knoxville, Tenn., has provided welding and metal fabrication services for more than 60 years. The company was nominated by SSgt. Cameron Lale, of the Tennessee National Guard’s 134th Air Refueling Wing, Knoxville, Tenn. Steel Plate Fabricator’s President, Mike Russell, accepted the award on behalf of the company.
“Mr. Russell has paid for my time away from work when I am on duty status…even though he does not have to do this,” said Lale. “Russell actively seeks to hire servicemembers and Veterans, who encompass a significant percentage of his 21 person workforce. Steel Plate Fabricators also provides numerous other support services to military members far exceeding the requirements of governmental regulations,” stated Sherman.
Eastman Chemical, headquartered in Kingsport, Tenn., is a global specialty chemical company that produces a broad range of advanced materials, additives, functional products and fibers. Eastman was nominated by Col. Jerry Duncan of the Army Reserve and the award was accepted by James Rogers, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.
“Instead of merely complying with the law’s ‘reasonable accommodation’ requirement, Eastman went above and beyond by actually creating a new position to provide me with a job and retraining that met my work restrictions and maintained my status with the company,” said Duncan. During a deployment in the Global War on Terror, Duncan was injured and shared his gratitude for the support of Rogers and the management team at Eastman for their employee loyalty and accommodation to wounded Veterans and current servicemembers.