America Supports You: Louisiana Citizen-Soldiers Treated Right

By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 30, 2006  - Employees at the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections feel they are treated right when they're called to active duty in the National Guard and Reserve.

The department was selected as one of 15 recipients of the 2005 Secretary of Defense Freedom Award for strong support of its citizen-soldiers.

Corrections officer Keithe Turner nominated the department for the award. "It's a real honor for me to nominate the department, because I don't know of any employer who could have been more supportive of me when I served on active duty," said Turner, who was activated for seven months in 2004 and served stateside.

Turner, who works at the Dixon Correctional Institute, is a sergeant first class in the Army Reserve's 1190th Deployment Support Brigade, with headquarters in the Louisiana capital city of Baton Rouge.

Sponsored by the Defense Department's National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, the annual Secretary of Defense Freedom Award goes to recipients who represent the highest level of corporate patriotism for exceptional support of employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve. Guardsmen and reservists who want to nominate their employers for 2006 recognition can do so at the ESGR Web site through Feb. 28.

The Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections was the first Louisiana state agency to achieve ESGR "five-star status" as a supportive employer of its employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve. The prerequisites for obtaining five-star status include the employer signing a statement of support publicly demonstrating support for their employees who serve in the National Guard and Reserve.

The department's secretary, Richard L. Stalder, is credited with setting the standard of employer support by developing a computerized training program that instructs corrections personnel on the fundamentals of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. Corrections officials said Stalder encouraged department employees to communicate with deployed guardsmen and reservists and to write personal letters to deployed employees at the time of their mobilization, as well as during the holiday season.

Called to active duty in 2003, Turner didn't have to deploy to Kuwait or Iraq. His outfit was responsible for deploying other units and their equipment overseas. "We have people overseas and receive all the equipment and process the soldiers when they get to Iraq," Turner said.

"The Department of Corrections here in Louisiana really does a good job with us; they support us 100 percent," Turner said. "Nothing stops when we're deployed -- our pay, insurance, retirement continues to be paid.

"If you're gone a year or two years, you come right back to the position that you were in before you left, or you get a position that's equivalent to the one you had in pay," he said. "If I'm gone for a year, I still get my 4 percent merit increase."

Turner said the organization also stayed in touch with his family while he was deployed.

The safety and corrections department has more than 70 soldiers on active duty. More than 115 employees have been called to serve since 9/11.