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Oak Ridge National Laboratory receives top US honor for supporting armed forces employees

The Oak Ridger logo The Oak Ridger 2 days ago Donna Smith, Oakridger

LOUISVILLE, Tenn. — It is an award deemed so important that Oak Ridge National Laboratory Director Thomas Zacharia traveled more than 30 hours by air to receive it.

Because of the "passion" of the 600 or so ORNL employees who serve as reserve members of the U.S. Armed Forces, he told the crowd at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday afternoon, "we are better for it."

Gov. Bill Lee and other state dignitaries were present as the Tennessee Employer Support for Guard and Reserve (ESGR) presented the lab and its contractor, UT-Battelle, with the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award for its support of these employees.

ORNL's award is one of 15 presented across the nation this year, from 2,700 nominations by employees.

Maj. Maria McClelland, ORNL’s chief information security officer, submitted the nomination. She was unable to attend Monday's event, but in her nomination she cited her 20 years of experience in the military, most recently as a Tennessee Air National Guard cyber warfare officer.

“I nominated UT-Battelle for the Freedom Award because they not only actively recruit veterans and current Guard and Reserve members, but they also go above and beyond in support when those employees are mobilized or deployed, including benefits and recognition before, during and after deployment,” she said in an ORNL news release.

About 10% of ORNL’s 6,000 employees are military reservists and veterans, Zacharia said. He said he flew back from visiting family in India to accept the award on behalf of ORNL and UT-Battelle.

Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjunct General for the Tennessee National Guard, chats with ORNL director Thomas Zacharia before an awards presentation. Oak Ridge National Laboratory was presented with the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award by the Tennessee Employer Support for Guard and Reserve at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022. © Saul Young/News Sentinel Maj. Gen. Jeff Holmes, Adjunct General for the Tennessee National Guard, chats with ORNL director Thomas Zacharia before an awards presentation. Oak Ridge National Laboratory was presented with the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award by the Tennessee Employer Support for Guard and Reserve at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

Kingston resident Jim Mungenast, chair of the Tennessee ESGR committee, said ORNL provides "world-class support' to the Reserve and Guard. Although not required by law, when the military personnel are called to serve their country, ORNL pays the difference between their military and lab pay when they have to serve extended periods of time.

The employees get more support from the lab, he said, including ensuring they can stay in contact with family, taking care of the family members at home and sending care packages.

Tennesee Gov. Bill Lee, second left, greets Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, second right, while shaking hands with state Rep. John Ragan, and being in a selfie with state Rep. Bob Ramsey. Lee visited McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022 for the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award presentation. © Saul Young/News Sentinel Tennesee Gov. Bill Lee, second left, greets Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, second right, while shaking hands with state Rep. John Ragan, and being in a selfie with state Rep. Bob Ramsey. Lee visited McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022 for the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award presentation.

Zacharia said the Reserve and Guard members serve their country, which is what ORNL is all about. Noting after the event that he's worked at ORNL for 35 of the lab's 80 years, the soon-to-retire director said, "I am a product of that organization ... we do things every day at the lab that change and make the world better." He likened those efforts to that of the military reservists.

"We have a definite appreciation for the men and women who serve," Gov. Lee said. "They have been the face of the Volunteer spirit in this state."

He cited the work the Guard and Reserve have done recently: providing testing for COVID-19; helping at hospitals that were short on staff, which was the case for Methodist Medical Center of Oak Ridge in September 2021; and helping Tennessee neighbors who were victims of tornadoes and flooding.

Saying the Reserve and Guard members working at ORNL have a leader in Zacharia, the governor said military reservists are an example to the country.

"Tennessee is a beacon to this country; America at its finest," Lee said.

Jim Mungenast of the Tennessee Employer Support for Guard and Reserve speaking at the presentation of the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, September 19, 2022. © Saul Young/News Sentinel Jim Mungenast of the Tennessee Employer Support for Guard and Reserve speaking at the presentation of the 2022 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award at the McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base on Monday, September 19, 2022.

The Freedom Award was created in 1996 to recognize employers who provide outstanding support for their Guard and Reserve employees. It is presented annually by the Secretary of Defense. The Freedom Award has been granted to 325 honorees.

Others at the event included Lt. Gov. Randy McNally and state Rep. John Ragan, both of Oak Ridge, and state Rep. Bob Ramsey of Maryville.

The Oak Ridger's News Editor Donna Smith can be contacted at dsmith@oakridger.com or by calling (865) 220-5514. Follow her on Twitter @ridgernewsed.

This article originally appeared on Oakridger: Oak Ridge National Laboratory receives top US honor for supporting armed forces employees

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