By Elaine Sanchez
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 9, 2011 – When Army 1st Lt. Sean Blacker of the Idaho National Guard was tapped to attend officer basic training in Oklahoma, his wife, Michelle, felt prepared for the five-month separation. But then she learned her husband would follow up that training with a year-long deployment in Iraq.
Blacker approached her supervisor at the Idaho National Laboratory and asked if she could telecommute for five months so she could accompany her husband to officer training. Without hesitation, her supervisor, Amy Lientz, said yes.
“From the get-go, she was 100 percent supportive,” said Blacker, who works in the lab’s office of communications in governmental affairs. “Just to spend that time with him before his deployment; I don’t think she realizes how much it’s meant to us.”
While she didn’t have the words to express her gratitude at the time, Blacker said she was grateful to find out about a program that could: the Spouse Patriot Award.
The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department agency, established the award program to recognize employers who go above and beyond to support reserve members and their families. The program initially was open only to service members, but ESGR expanded the criteria in February to encompass spouses’ employers. Since the program was expanded, more than 500 spouses have nominated their employers for an award, said Beth Sherman, ESGR spokeswoman.
“We had so many spouses asking us to expand the program so we did last year,” she said. “Little attention was being paid to the employers of their spouses, who also were doing their part.”
The employer contribution is significant, Sherman noted, since it eases the burden for spouses who often take on additional responsibilities as they manage households and care for children while a loved one is deployed or at training.
Sherman recalled hearing of a supervisor who shifted a spouse’s entire nursing schedule while her husband was deployed so she could have more time at home with their three children. Other employers grant leave liberally, pitch in with lawn care or send care packages, she explained.
Blacker said her employer’s outstanding support continued long after her husband deployed to Iraq. When she had a baby, her supervisor established a part-time schedule so she could have more time at home while her husband was away.
This support has been beneficial not just for her, but for her husband’s peace of mind, Blacker said. “He feels like I’m taken care of on a working standpoint while he’s gone,” she said. “He can focus on the mission, and breathe.”
In turn, the award serves as acknowledgement to employers who aren’t obligated to help, but choose to do so anyway, Sherman said.
“The employer gets far more out of it than the spouse could imagine,” she said.
Blacker said she surprised her supervisor with the award at a staff meeting attended by her local military affairs committee president and a rear detachment commander, who presented her supervisor with a certificate of appreciation and patriotic lapel pin.
“She was totally shocked and very, very grateful,” she said.
All spouses of Guard and Reserve members are eligible to nominate their employers. To submit a nomination, visit the ESGR website and fill out the spouse nomination form.