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ESGR in the News


Editor's note: Updated March 29 to include John Miler of West Virginia who is also a recipient of this year's James M.Roche Spirit of Volunteerism Award

WASHINGTON – Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) is pleased to announce the 2023 recipients of the James M. Roche Spirit of Volunteerism Award. The recipients are ESGR volunteers nominated by their respective ESGR State Committee Chairs for their exceptional contributions to ESGR’s mission over a sustained period of time.

ESGR has the unique characteristic for a government organization of relying on nearly 3,000 volunteers across 54 state committees to carry out local engagement with Service members, employers, and to conduct informal mediation between civilian employers and Service members when issues arise related to military service.

In 2022, ESGR volunteers logged more than 187,000 hours of service, delivering a $5.6 million return on investment to the Department of Defense. Collectively, ESGR volunteers executed 3,113 events; engaged 123,00 employers; and briefed 234,000 Service members last year.

The Roche award is named for James M. Roche, who served several years as the ESGR National Chair after retiring as Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board at General Motors Corporation, and other senior leadership roles at PepsiCo, Jack Eckerd Corporation, and the New York Stock Exchange. A past quote attributed Roche reads: "Anybody who achieves a top position in an organization owes a debt of some kind. If you have a talent and you have your health, you should help others."

We congratulate the 2022 Roche Award recipients for their outstanding service to ESGR and the Department of Defense:

  • Alan Battenburg Texas Alan joined ESGR in August 2005, Alan has been an exceptionally high-performing volunteer who excels in the military outreach and ombudsman mission areas. Over the last nine years, his selfless service has been recognized with diverse awards at the state, regional and national levels. Alan received the 2022 Spirit of Volunteerism Award, was the National and Central Region Military Outreach Volunteer of the Year. He also and has two Outstanding Volunteer Awards and four Seven Seals Awards.   
  • Peter Caspari Florida Peter joined ESGR in 2007 after participating in a Florida ESGR boss lift. Using his expertise in the marketing profession, Peter is well suited as the Employer Outreach Director and has served in this position since 2007. He is also adept at Military Outreach and filled a void in South Florida. During the pandemic, he developed ESGR videos for use when briefing military units and employers. He tailored the content of the videos to the specific audience to make them less generic.
  • Patrick Kuykendall Arizona Patrick started with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in 2005 taking over as the Northern Arizona Chair after his late father Marlin Kuykendall had held that position since 1995. Kuykendall led a volunteer team of 3 and supported all Northern Arizona Guard and Reserve units from Kingman to the Navajo Indian Reservation borders. He was able to promote ESGR in front of County Supervisors and City Councils including efforts for municipalities to support and hire Guard and Reserve members.
  • John Miller West Virginia Throughout his tenure as an ESGR volunteer, John has worked tirelessly in ever increasing leadership positions to ensure that members of the National Guard and members of the Reserve components in West Virginia, and their civilian employers, are afforded fair and equitable treatment under USERRA. As an ESGR volunteer and state ESGR leader, John has embodied the spirit of volunteerism while also encouraged and cultivated that spirit in other ESGR volunteers. He has served ESGR with distinction and continues to do so.
  • George Palazzo Rhode Island George started in a volunteer capacity with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in 1982 and continues as an ombudsman and liaison to the Special Forces in Rhode Island. His volunteer activity over the years included being a unit volunteer, an ombudsman trainer and case worker for the Rhode Island State Committee. He has balanced time between employer and military outreach by contributing 301.5 volunteer hours covering a period of 2016 to 2018. He is an invaluable leader and guide.
  • Paul Ryan Michigan Paul has been a volunteer with the Michigan Committee for ESGR since April of 2001. During his time with the Michigan Committee, he has served as an Employer Outreach Representative, Military Outreach Representative, Ombudsman, Area Chair, and State Chair. He currently serves as Chair Emeritus and as our Military Outreach Director.  In the past five years he has contributed over 875 hours toward ESGR activities. His has also contributed countless additional hours with Committee Support, Military Outreach, and Employer Outreach activities.
  • Keith Schwartz Oregon Keith started in a volunteer capacity with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in 2013 as the Employer Outreach Representative for the Southern Oregon region. He was selected to serve as the Region/Area Chair for Southern Oregon in 2016. His volunteer activities included being a unit volunteer and educator. He has balanced time between Employer and Military Outreach by contributing 1,782 volunteer hours and is seen as the torchbearer leading the Southern Oregon Region in a collaborative effort with employers, Service members and community leaders.
  • Del Spafford Pennsylvania Del is the senior member of the Pennsylvania ESGR Committee and has been the model for the rest of us for over twenty years. He has been fully dedicated to the ESGR Mission and leads fellow volunteers throughout the state to achieve excellence by his personal example. He has been a pioneer in Employer Outreach, Military Unit Briefings, award presentations, Briefings with the Boss with organizations, boss lifts, and as an Ombudsman.
  • Wayne Theroux Massachusetts Wayne started with Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in 2008, as our Public Affairs representative. Wayne has been the Eastern Massachusetts boss lift Coordinator for over 10 years organizing 2 boss lifts a year except during Covid. These boss lifts have accounted for hundreds of employer interactions which have been invaluable to promoting our mission. Theroux also serves as our Awards Coordinator vetting any awards that are proposed for employers or our members for accuracy, relevance and worthiness.
  • Roger Trout Florida Roger has been an ESGR volunteer for almost 19 years. He has held leadership positions at the National and State Committee level. He served as the Chair, Virginia Committee for over two years before relocating to Florida and currently serves as the Florida ESGR Committee Vice-Chair, Central Region. Roger also served at the ESGR National level and contributed over 200 hours to the Volunteer Training Subcommittee, where he served as Vice-Chair and Chair.
  • Jeffrey Unger Wisconsin Since taking over state awards director duties in 2017, Wisconsin employers have been awarded a total of six Freedom Awards in five years. For the first time in its 25‐year history, Jeff’s leadership recorded an unprecedented, historic achievement of three Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Awards for a single state, in a single year. This perennial award winning ESGR volunteer perpetually speaks of the importance of nurturing relationships between service members and their employers. 
  • Bill Wenger California Bill has served as an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve volunteer since January 2016 and started immediately as the Area Chair for our largest Area, the Los Angeles Metro area, and served on the National Volunteer Support Sub-Committee in 2021. Over the last six years he has contributed on average over 120 volunteer hours per month totaling 8,664 hours. He was instrumental in providing quality virtual award presentations.
  • Eli Wishart South Carolina Eli joined ESGR in 2012 and served for two years as Military Outreach Director. He was then appointed as South Carolina State Chair and served two consecutive terms. Since then, he has continued to serve as a volunteer. His total service exceeds 10 years. His exceptional leadership ability, management skills and work ethic enabled him to implement many changes that greatly improved the performance of the committee. He implemented many changes in organizational structure, strategic planning, training, and outreach strategies.
  • Don Wood Alabama Don started in Alabama Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve in 2007. It was very apparent to leadership that being a recently retired Alabama National Guardsman he had a very strong knowledge base for units within the Alabama National Guard. He was appointed as Military Outreach Director and has excelled in that position. He also served as District Chair for District 3 in Alabama ESGR. He has been recognized for contributing nearly 950 volunteer hours.

About ESGR

ESGR, a Department of Defense office seeks to foster a culture in which all employers support and value the employment and military service of members of the National Guard and Reserve in the United States. ESGR develops and promotes supportive work environments for Service members in the Reserve Components through outreach, recognition, and educational opportunities that increase awareness of applicable laws. It also provides assistance in resolving conflicts between Service members and their employers. To learn more about ESGR visit


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