BRATTLEBORO -- As a veteran, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark knows how critical it is for employers to support military reservists.
Now, Clark has been nominated for an award that recognizes employers who go to "extraordinary lengths" for workers who are serving in the National Guard or Reserve.
Clark said he appreciates the recognition but believes such policies are common sense.
"A lot of employers are realizing, just take care of your people," he said.
The Newfane-based Windham County Sheriff's Department is one of seven Vermont nominees for the 2013 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. The honor is billed as "the Department of Defense's highest recognition for employers supporting employees serving in the Guard and Reserve."
Five of Vermont's nominees are from the Burlington area; also nominated was GE Aviation of Rutland.
The nominee announcement came this week from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department committee. Officials said they received 2,899 nominations nationwide, and up to 15 awards will be announced later this year in Washington, D.C.
Officials said past recipients have met with senior White House and Defense Department officials.
Nominations come from Guard or Reserve members.
"Every year, these nominations demonstrate the strength of our employers' commitment to supporting our guardsmen and reservists," James G. Rebholz, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve national chairman, said in a prepared statement.
"We applaud all the National Guard and Reserve service members who took the time to tell the DoD why their employers are exceptional, and we are grateful to the 2013 nominees for providing our citizen warriors with the assistance and encouragement they rely on while answering the call to duty."
For Clark, the nomination "shows we're doing something right."
His department offers paid military leave and also shifts schedules so that employees in the Guard or Reserve are off for drill weekends.
"I don't think I go above and beyond," Clark said. "But, having been a guardsman, I recognize that employers can do a little more or give a little more back."
Clark was an active-duty member of the Air Force and also served three years in the Air National Guard and a decade in the Army National Guard. He retired in July after more than two decades in the service.
Clark was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010 and said he appreciated the backing he received from friends, neighbors and others during and after that time.
"The people here, they were very supportive of what I was doing," Clark said. "I came back feeling like I was coming back to a place that appreciated what I was doing."
He said employees need to be assured that their career will not be negatively impacted by military service.
"It's tough. It's not easy for employers, especially the smaller ones," Clark said. "But in the long run, what you get back is an even better employee."
ESGR officials said almost half of the U.S. military is made up of Guard and Reserve members.
"Even with recent drawdowns in Afghanistan, ongoing national security demands and historic humanitarian-relief missions have continued to call service members away from their civilian lives," officials said in announcing the award nominees.
"Supportive employers are critical to helping restore stability and peace of mind for these citizen warriors and their loved ones."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.