SEATTLE – When the United States was attacked on 9/11, thousands of employees left behind their jobs and families after being called up to serve in the National Guard and Reserve Components. This included many employees of King County, including Air Force Reserve Senior Master Sgt. Michelle Helpenstell, a 21-year employee who works for King County Department of Adult & Juvenile Detention where she works as a Corrections Officer.
“When 9/11 occurred, over 20 of us in my department were called up to active duty that day,” recalled Helpenstell. “I had to drop everything to pack up and ship out on 9/13. Our department rallied behind us and helped to support our immediate deployment. At that time, I deployed for three years. Whenever I return from deployment I returned to my exact same position and also retained seniority in my union.”
By King County promoting a culture that supports those who serve in the Reserve Components, Helpenstell was able focus on her military mission because she did not need worry about her employment, allowing her to be able to focus on her mission. “I…see many of my [military] personnel I supervise having to deal with employers who do not support their employees,” said Helpenstell. “I cannot emphasize how support of the employer alleviates the stress on not only the military members but their families. I receive pay differential and all my benefits continue, including medical, vacation and sick leave. It is hard to verbalize how much this support alleviates an already stressful situation.”
In recognition of its continued support of its employees who serve, including the over 100 current employees of King County who serve in the Reserve Components, King County has been awarded the Pro Patria Award by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), the highest award that may be awarded by an ESGR State Committee, for their support of National Guard and Reserve employees. The award is presented annually and recognizes employers for their leadership and practices, including adopting personnel policies that make it easier for employees to participate in the Guard and Reserve.
The award was presented by Washington ESGR State Chair Phil Sanders and accepted on behalf of King County by King County Executive Dow Constantine in a virtual presentation attended by over 50 King County Employees. “King County is so proud of our Guard and Reserve employees and their service not just to King County but our nation,” said King County Executive Constantine. “This award recognizes our efforts to be an employer that values and supports Guard and Reserve members and their contributions to our government. We are richer for their knowledge, skills, and experience, and grateful for their ongoing service.”
“Our hope is that by creating a culture in which all American employers value the military service of their employees, we will limit any issues between employers and Service members,” Sanders stated. “It’s evident that a supportive culture is extremely important to King County and we’re proud to be celebrating King County for their outstanding support of their military employees.”
“I’m proud that at King County, we’re doing right by our heroes and emerging as a leader in how to invest in and provide support to employees in the uniformed services,” said King County Council Vice Chair Reagan Dunn. “The men and women of the National Guard and Reserve have dedicated their lives to protecting our country, and employers have a unique opportunity to honor that sacrifice.”
Prior to receiving the Pro Patria Award, King County was also awarded the Above and Beyond Award for exceeding the legal requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act by providing their Guard and Reserve employees additional, non-mandated benefits, numerous county supervisors and managers have been presented ESGR Patriot Awards, and both the King County Council and the King County Executive signed a Statement of Support.
“I have been with King County 21 years; during that time I have been activated with the Air Force Reserves numerous times both stateside and overseas,” said Helpenstell. “King County has gone above and beyond in their support…Without the support of my employer there is no way I could have continued to serve.”
ESGR is a Department of Defense program that develops and promotes supportive work environments for service members in the National Guard and Reserve through outreach, recognition, and educational opportunities that increase awareness of applicable laws. ESGR also provides assistance in resolving conflicts between Service members and their employers.
For more information about ESGR outreach programs or volunteer opportunities, call (800) 336-4590 or visit www.esgr.mil/wa.