The 2018 Freedom Award nominations are in. Who will make the cut?

A prestigious award, a Pentagon ceremony, moving testimonials, exemplary leadership, induction into an elite membership, and the expressed gratefulness of a nation. That’s the stage set for up to 15 U.S. employers who will travel to Washington, D.C. in August to receive the highest honor the Department of Defense (DoD) awards to employers of National Guard and Reserve members: the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

This year, nearly 2,000 employers are under review to advance first as semifinalists, then as finalists, and if chosen, to become one of the final recipients. Nominations are restricted to those who are in the best position to assess employer support — Guard and Reserve employees or their relatives. More than 2,350 employees were inspired to submit the nominations for 2018.

Any business or industry, academic institution, civic or professional organization, or state or local government is eligible to receive this prestigious award, and nominees fall into large employer, small employer, and public sector categories. The 2018 pool of nominations spanned all U.S. states and territories, and the District of Columbia.

Nearly half of the individuals currently serving in the military are in the Guard or Reserve, and many of them have civilian jobs. Workplace policies that recognize the unique challenges of Reserve Component employees and the value these service members bring to the workplace are critical to the members’ stability and resilience, and by extension, to the stability and resilience of both civilian and military employers.   

In 1996, Secretary of Defense William Perry instituted the Freedom Award to honor and recognize outstanding employers of Guardsmen and Reservists. Since then, the DoD has chosen 250 employers to receive the award who represent the very best from thousands of nominations.  Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a DoD program, oversees the selection process and award ceremony.

What do these companies do to earn the Freedom Award?

It varies, but an unerring sense of patriotism is always in the mix. In 2017, one of the recipients was Howard County (Maryland) Department of Fire and Rescue Services. Coast Guard Reserve Ensign Gamaliel Baer, who has been a Howard County firefighter since 2008, nominated the department for its longstanding and overwhelming support of department members in the Guard and Reserve, and veterans. Strong advocacy for hiring military members, top-down leadership in onsite support, and stepping in to help families of deployed spouses were among reasons cited in the nomination.


Coast Guard Reserve Ensign Gamaliel Baer has been a firefighter with the Howard County (Maryland) Department of Fire and Rescue since 2008.

In an interview with The Baltimore Sun, Baer stated that even with the demands of his military schedule, he was able to take leave when needed and knew his job was safe when he returned. 

Baer also cited Fire Chief John Butler as having a huge personal influence on Baer’s success with the Coast Guard, mentoring him as he sought to become an officer.

As a visual demonstration of its support, the fire department has purchased a red, white, and blue fire truck and a paramedic unit emblazoned with the words “we support our troops” and “we support our veterans.”

The stories of support shared by the nominators are as varied as the employers that are nominated. And although the ultimate recipients are honored publicly for an extraordinary measure of support, they represent all Freedom Award nominees — a class of employers that truly makes a difference for those who serve.