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Tim Graczewski, Published November 24 2010

Be thankful for employers who support Guard, Reserve

Sometimes experiences bring new meaning to old traditions. After a year in Afghanistan, I have a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

On Mother’s Day, I was out on patrol in rural southern Afghanistan with a British unit when our lightly armored vehicle rolled over a massive improvised explosive device that should have ended our lives in an instant. Fortunately, the homemade bomb – a mortar, a rocket and 75 pounds of high explosive – failed to detonate.

From violent attacks to the welfare of loved ones back home, life in a combat zone is a mosaic of daily worries. For those of us serving in the Guard and Reserves – which account for more than 25 percent of those currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan – we often contend with additional burdens. Unlike active duty service members, we leave our civilian jobs behind when we are called to serve, putting our positions, pay and benefits at risk.

The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act provides Guard and Reserve members basic protections, but leaves some of the extended support policy to the discretion of employers. Consequently, some Guard and Reserve service members suffer a loss of income because of their service. Others see their clients and key accounts parceled out to colleagues. Most leave their families behind without the community support traditionally available to active duty military families living on or near military bases. Luckily for me, I did not have these concerns.

On this Thanksgiving, I am thankful that I have the privilege of serving our country while enjoying the benefits of working at a generous private-sector employer like Intuit, recipient of the Department of Defense’s 2010 Freedom Award, the U.S. government’s highest honor presented for outstanding employer support of reservists and members of the National Guard.

Intuit, a maker of small-business and personal financial management solutions, offers extensive support to employees serving in the armed forces, including matching salary for the entire duration of your deployment (in my case 420 days) and continuous coverage of health benefits, so my wife and son did not need to find new doctors while I was gone.

Intuit’s program of support – both formal and informal – is exemplary but not unprecedented. There are dozens of other companies, from multibillion-dollar corporations, like the pharmaceutical leader Merck, to mom-and-pop shops, like the five-employee Bill Bragg Plumbing in San Francisco, that have committed themselves to ensuring their employees who serve our country can concentrate on their missions and not worry how their service will affect them financially, professionally and personally.

So, this Thanksgiving, while you are giving thanks for all that you have, I ask that you consider what you and your employer do for members of the Guard and Reserve. Where does your employer stack up against past Freedom Award recipients? If you think that your company already provides exceptional support for reservists and members of the Guard, nominate them for the Freedom Award before Jan. 17, 2011 at http://www.freedomaward.mil.

Graczewski is director of strategy and corporate development at Intuit and a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve. He served as economic development adviser in NATO’s Regional Command (South) in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from October 2009 to September 2010.