By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 16, 2009 - When Tom Castellano was called on to deploy in 2007, his manager at Microsoft had a parting gift. "She gave me a GPS device," the Army Reserve major said. "She told me, 'This is to help find your way back to Microsoft.'"
Castellano deployed from his home in Omaha, Neb., to Fort Meade, Md., where he spent 14 months working in support of Operation Noble Eagle. In addition to the GPS gift, Castellano received the difference between his military pay and his Microsoft salary during his deployment. The company also continued medical and life insurance benefits for Castellano and his family.
For its support of Castellano and several hundred others at Microsoft also in the reserve-component forces, Microsoft, along with 14 other employers, will receive the Defense Department's Freedom Award in a ceremony here tomorrow.
"Their support allowed me to focus on the military mission. I didn't have to worry too much about finances," said Castellano, a military intelligence officer. "I got some positive feedback from even some high-level executives at Microsoft. It made me feel proud to know they were out there supporting me doing something worthwhile."
As a matter of policy, Microsoft recognizes the military service of Castellano and other citizen-servicemembers through newsletters, official Microsoft publications and public events. Company officials also bent some of the rules for Castellano upon his return, he recalled.
"Usually the policy is [that] if you don't use your vacation, it would get lost if it lasts over a year," he said. "But I was reinstated all the vacation time I accrued up to my deployment. They made the exception for me so I could get that back."
Teresa Carlson, Microsoft's vice president of U.S. federal government sales, said Microsoft goes to great lengths to alleviate work-related stress that reserve-component servicemembers on the company's payroll feel while on active duty.
"When someone goes to active duty, the one concern they have is, 'Am I going to have a job when I come back?' Absolutely. Yes, you're going to have a job. Yes, you continue your benefits, and we give you pay differential," Carlson said. "So we try to ensure that when they leave us to go to active duty, they still maintain those same benefits. They don't have to worry about that -- that's one thing that's taken off their plates."
Carlson said employees often mention servicemen and women deployed overseas during company meetings. "We continually keep them in the conversation until they come back and join us again," she said.
When asked if there were qualities in military members that carry over into their civilian jobs, Carlson prefaced her response by disclosing her own family's experience.
"My husband was Army, my son's at West Point, and I spent a lot of years as a military wife. I have a bias," she said. "They are warm-hearted, good people. [They have] high values, care about their government and care about their country. And that absolutely translates to their work life.
"They don't know boundaries of time, because they work until the job's done," she said. "Their training is such that you give them a job to do [and] even though they may not have been specifically trained, they take the hill. They get it done."
The Freedom Award, instituted in 1996 under the auspices of the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, recognizes U.S. employers that rise above the requirements of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.