Defense Department recognizes terrorist attack heroes

The Defense Department honored four businesses and one city last week for their support of National Guard and Reserve personnel following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, conferring upon them the Secretary of Defense's Employer Support Freedom Award.

Southwest Airlines, Boeing, Electronic Data Systems, BAE Systems and the city of Bedford, Va., were all recognized at a White House breakfast that was followed by an awards ceremony. More than 12,000 companies were considered for the annual award, established by the Secretary of Defense in 1996.

Employers are nominated for the award by their state branch of the National Committee of Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). ESGR is an agency of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Reserve Affairs. It was established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between reservists and their civilian employers.

The award winners were recognized for being Reserve-friendly organizations. For example, BAE Systems provides up to 60 days of benefits when its employees are called to active duty, and Bedford, Va., plays an active role in fund raising and other activities for the Virginia ESGR Committee, the Virginia National Guard, and in particular Company A, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division of the Army.

Nearly 53,000 members of the National Guard and the Reserves have been mobilized to help fight terrorism since Sept. 11.

The Employer Support Freedom Award is one of many the Defense Department has awarded since the Sept. 11 attacks.

Last month, Defense recognized more than 79 civilians involved in the attack on the Pentagon during a ceremony at Fort Myer. Of the 79 civilians honored, 53 are presumed dead, 19 were seriously injured and seven survived with minor injuries.

The new Defense of Freedom Medal, established by the Defense Department in September, was awarded to 47 civilian employees and six contract employees who are now presumed dead. A contractor who was injured in the attack also received the award, as did 18 Army civilians who were injured. The Defense of Freedom Medal is the civilian equivalent of the military's Purple Heart, which is awarded to uniformed personnel killed or injured in battle.

Another four honorees received the Decoration for Distinguished Civilian Service. The award was given to civilian contractors who distinguished themselves during the Sept. 11 Pentagon attack. One recipient extinguished the burning hair of a fellow employee with his hands and a shirt, then despite his burned hands, helped pull another office mate from the Pentagon's rubble.

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