Traditionally, Military Appreciation Day at ECU is a chance for the university to thank the brave men and women who serve in our nation's armed forces by offering them a small token of our appreciation—tickets to a home football game—along with recognition by and showings of support from the Pirate Nation during the game. This year, however, the university was on the receiving end as the U.S. Department of Defense honored ECU for its support of National Guard and military reservists employed by the university.
Dr. Steve Duncan (left) and Chancellor Steve Ballard (right) receive the Patriot Award on behalf of ECU.
At a ceremony on Friday, November 20, representatives from the Department of Defense organization Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve presented the university with a ESGR Statement of Support, and awarded Chancellor Steve Ballard and Dr. Steve Duncan, assistant vice chancellor for military programs at ECU, the Patriot Award in recognition of outstanding service to guard and reservist employees.
“The Patriot Award recognizes employers who go above and beyond what the law requires in supporting their employees who serve in the National Guard or reserves,” said Ken Oppenheim, area chair of the ESGR. “East Carolina University really leads in all of things it does with its support of the military.”
The men and women of the National Guard and military reserves compose nearly half of the nation’s 2.4-million-person military force. Since September 11, 2001, more than 800,000 of those men and women have been called up to active duty. In North Carolina, nearly one quarter of the state’s 22,000 guard and reservists are currently deployed, leaving thousands of families to cope with the emotional, financial, and legal demands of having a loved one deployed.
The ESGR works with employers around the country to ensure that employees who serve in the guard or reserves face as little hardship as possible when they are called to active duty. Federal law protects guard members and reservists under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. It guarantees an employee will be reinstated at his or her former job, or similar position, with equal pay, seniority, and benefits upon returning from service. The law also entitles employees to the same benefits other employees receive during comparable leaves of absence.
ECU distributed 3,425 free tickets to area military bases for the football game against UAB, and provided half-priced tickets to 570 more military veterans, National Guard members, and reservists.
But, the Patriot Award is given to employers who go beyond the USERRA in supporting guard and reservist employees.
ECU has a well-earned reputation for supporting the military and its employees who serve in the guard and reserves. ECU is a leader in the state for developing programs to assist military families, and the university’s work with the Wounded Warrior program at Camp Lejeune is well known in military circles. But it was a recent ESGR trip Oppenheim took with some area employers to visit their employees serving in the 1st Attack Reconnaissance Battalion of the 130th Aviation Regiment prior to their deployment to Iraq that crystallized for him why ECU was deserving of the Patriot Award.
“They were training with the 1st Cavalry down in west Texas at a simulated forward operating base and they invited some of their employers to come and see them train before they deployed. We boarded a C-130 at RDU, and it was funny because these employers were probably used to flying first class or at least business class, but here they were on a C130 wearing earplugs just to support their people. We landed at what looked like an abandoned air strip and stepped out into 105-degree heat to find all of the employees lined up to greet us. If you could have seen the interaction between these employees and employers, it just makes your heart feel great.
“ECU had two faculty members on that plane. They were going down there to see a young woman who had just graduated and was working for the university and was accepted to veterinary school in Louisiana. Of course, her life changed. She got mobilized. So she was now going to Iraq instead of vet school. But these two faculty members from ECU took their time to go down there and support her, to keep her morale up, and it was really great to see. Not many universities will do that,” he said.
Also at the ceremony, Dr. Ledyard Ross, Col. Ellis F. Hall Jr., Dr. Leo Jenkins, and Col. David B Stevens were enshrined in ECU’s Distinguished Military Service Society, and Dr. Elizabeth Carroll, Walter “Hunt” McKinnon, Dr. Carmen Russoniello, Dr. David Cistola, and Dr. Vivian Mott were recognized for their continued support of the military through research and academic pursuits.