In a surprise announcement before the county commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, February 12, Winona County Jail Administrator Steve Buswell was presented with the Patriot Award from Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a subsidiary of the Defense Department. The award recognizes supervisors who are especially flexible and supportive of particular employees in the national guard or military reserves. Sheriff Brand was also presented with an award from the ESGR recognizing the department as a whole in supporting guard and reserve members.
The Patriot award recognized Buswell for his work to accommodate Detention Deputy Jose Pelaez, who also serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and must attend reserve training one weekend every month. “We have been having trouble in trying to keep the jail fully staffed with me being gone all the time for training,” Pelaez said. Despite that, Buswell “has been great,” he said.
Pelaez nominated Buswell for the award, “because of all the support that’s he has been giving me while I have been gone during training.”
Winona County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) Training/Programs Deputy Jerry Obieglo, who served in the U.S. Army Reserves for years while working for the WSCO, said that when he was activated for the first time, “the county did not know what to do with me.” He missed out on retirement dollars because he did not know he needed to have money set aside to match the WSCO’s contributions. After that, he and WCSO officials sat down and drew up a checklist so that service members and the WCSO both know what to expect when a reserve or guard member is activated. Often there are questions about what happens with benefits, Obieglo said. Basically, guard and reserve members have to be treated as if they were still working, except for pay, he said.
Accommodating reserve and guard members is not necessarily a given. “I have heard stories about people going away on deployment and coming back finding they no longer have their job back home,” Pelaez said. Working around guard and reserve members’ responsibilities is not always easy. “You think about inconvenience, they can go for two weeks [for training], and if they get activated they can be gone for two years,” Obieglo said. Meanwhile there is still work to be done at home.
The ESGR was created to help recognize the contribution that employers make to the mission of the reserves and the National Guard. “These citizen warriors cannot protect us at home and abroad without meaningful employment for themselves,” Obieglo said.