WASHINGTON — A Willmar construction company is among the 15 recipients nationwide of the 2021 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, announced July 21 by the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award recognizes employers who go above and beyond in their support of employees who are National Guard or Reserve service members.

Of the 15 awards handed out to both businesses and municipalities, Minnesota had two companies selected for going far beyond the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act: Marcus Construction of Willmar and Medtronic of Minneapolis.

“It is a distinct honor for two Minnesota employers to receive this award,” said Gov. Tim Walz. “I’m grateful to Marcus Construction and Medtronic for ensuring that when their employees who serve in the National Guard are called to duty, they are supported and appreciated at home.”

Award recipients include small and large employers in both the private and public sectors. They are nominated by a National Guard or Reserve component employee who works within their organization.

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“Knowing my dad and my grandpa, (Marcus has) always been an employee-first, family-style culture,” said Taylor Marcus, business development manager for Marcus Construction. “So I think we recognize the sacrifices that (service members) ... make. I think for us, it's just 'how do we help? How do we pitch in?'”

Dan O’Meara works for Marcus Construction as a safety compliance officer and company pilot. For at least one weekend a month and two weeks a year, he is better known as Lt. Col. O’Meara, with the Minnesota National Guard’s 34th Infantry Division, currently assigned to Division Headquarters.

Lt. Col. Daniel O’Meara, pictured next to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter overseas, nominated Marcus Construction for going above and beyond what is required of them as an employer to become one of 15 recipients of the 2021 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

Courtesy photo
Lt. Col. Daniel O’Meara, pictured next to a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter overseas, nominated Marcus Construction for going above and beyond what is required of them as an employer to become one of 15 recipients of the 2021 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award. Courtesy photo

O’Meara said that, after being in the National Guard for 29 years, “it's all the little things” that Marcus Construction does to make the company stand out as an employer.

Many of the employers who were honored offer enhanced pay and benefits packages; flexible scheduling and generous leave policies; and pre-and post-deployment support.

“Being an officer and an aviator, the whole ‘one weekend a month, two weeks in the summertime’ thing, that went out the window a long time ago,” O’Meara said. “I get phone calls all throughout the week, or I'll have meetings during the week. You know, there's always something going on and (Ross Marcus, CEO of Marcus Construction) is very accommodating to what I need to do in order to keep both careers going.”

With the award ceremony at the national level being canceled this year due to COVID-19 concerns, awards will be presented at the state level. Marcus Construction is scheduled to receive its award Aug. 18 in Willmar.

The 2021 Freedom Award recipients will be recognized by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve state chairs.

“I am proud to salute the outstanding employers who have earned the distinction of being named Freedom Award recipients as we mark the 25th year of this highly coveted recognition,” said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the news release announcing the awards. “The men and women of the National Guard and Reserve make significant contributions to our communities and our national security through their civilian and military careers. We owe a debt of gratitude to these exemplary employers, who by valuing and supporting their employees’ military service, enhance the strength, readiness and diversity of our National Guard and Reserve forces.”

Selected companies have implemented robust training to equip human resources professionals and managers to support their organization’s military serving employees; stayed connected to deployed employees by sending care packages; and have taken care of their employees’ families during deployments by assisting with household repairs, including them in company functions or providing financial assistance.

2021 award recipients

Listed by employer, employer headquarters city, state; nominator’s Service, state

  • Marcus Construction, Willmar, Minnesota; Army National Guard, Minnesota

  • Medtronic, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Army Reserve, Minnesota

  • Associated Bank, Green Bay, Wisconsin; Army Reserve, Wisconsin

  • Boyer Commercial Construction, Inc., Columbia, South Carolina; Marine Corps Reserve, New Jersey

  • Cameron Glass, Inc., Broken Arrow, Oklahoma; Army National Guard, Oklahoma

  • HCA Healthcare – Grand Strand Medical Center, Nashville, Tennessee; Army Reserve, Florida

  • INNIO Waukesha Gas Engines, Waukesha, Wisconsin; Coast Guard Reserve, Wisconsin

  • J.B. Hunt Transport, Inc., Lowell, Arkansas; Air National Guard and Army National Guard, Arkansas

  • Loftin Equipment Company, Phoenix, Arizona; Air National Guard, Arizona

  • Nogales Police Department, Nogales, Arizona; Army National Guard, Arizona

  • Phillips 66, Houston, Texas; Coast Guard Reserve, Texas

  • Prudential Financial, Newark, New Jersey; Army Reserve, New Jersey

  • Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service, College Station, Texas; Army National Guard, Texas

  • Village of Pewaukee Police Department, Pewaukee, Wisconsin; Army National Guard, Wisconsin

  • Yankton School District, Yankton, South Dakota; Army National Guard, South Dakota

For more information about the Freedom Award, visit www.FreedomAward.mil. To learn more about Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a program of the Defense Personnel and Family Support Office, visit www.ESGR.mil.