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Central Washington University named finalist for 2018 Freedom Award

CWU president James L. Gaudino and CWU chief information officer Andreas Bohman at the ESGR Pro Patria award ceremony in Tacoma May 5. Bohman nominated CWU for the prestigious award. Photo courtesy of CWU

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In an ideal world, when a National Guard or Reserve servicemember attends annual training, monthly drill or is called to active-duty status, her coworkers and employer are there to support her. They absorb her workload -- probably with a little grumbling -- then work together to finish her projects as best they can. When she returns, they fold her back into the daily work routine and carry on.  

It's idealistic, we know, but that kind of workplace support for National Guard and Reserve servicemembers does exist at some businesses in Washington State, and its about time we recognize it. That's why Central Washington University (CWU) has not only been nominated for the 2018 Secretary of Defense Employer Freedom Award but was also named as a finalist for the national-level award earlier this month.

"This (award) is a symbol that our efforts are moving us in the right direction," said Ruben Cardenas, director of the Veterans Center at CWU. "From my perspective -- and I'm working in the weeds and making a daily effort to provide a welcoming, supportive environment for veterans -- it's always good to receive accolades and recognition that our efforts are shining through."

Over 2,300 businesses were nominated for the Freedom Award this year, which formally recognizes businesses across the nation that "Support their employees serving in the National Guard and Reserve." Of those nominations, only 30 were chosen as finalists, CWU among them. Fifteen will go on to receive the prestigious award in June. Amazon, ArgenTech Solutions and CWU are the only organizations from Washington State among the finalists. 

"CWU wants veterans to work here," said Cardenas. He's been working at CWU for five years. He also served as a Bradley mechanic in the Washington National Guard for six years. "I'm one of those veterans and I've felt welcome from the very beginning," continued Cardenas. "CWU has a great sense of community and support. You can get to know people easily here."

In addition to being named a finalist for the 2018 Freedom Award, CWU was also selected for the ESGR Pro Patria Award, the highest corresponding state recognition. The annual award is presented to only three organizations per state, including one to a small, large and public-sector employer. 

Andreas Bohman, the chief information officer at CWU, nominated the organization for the 2018 Pro Patria Award. He's one of 80 CWU employees with confirmed military connections, including 21 faculty and 59 staff. The true number of military-connected employees at CWU is likely higher, though, as some choose not to report their military connection to the school.

"CWU is a good transitional or permanent workplace for people to come to because of how strong and supportive it is," said Cardenas. "That's super important for veterans, especially, because they've experienced ‘community' at a level that many civilians haven't - simply because of that ‘tribal community atmosphere' you're in when deployed."

National Guard or Reserve employees or family members like Bohman, who feel their employer has supported their military service, can nominate their employer for both the Freedom Award and the Pro Patria Award each year. Award criteria include leadership principles, business practices and supportive personnel policies that make it easier for National Guard and Reservists to participate in military training. 

Central Washington University - Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday-Thursday; 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday, Stone Education Center, 6242 Colorado Ave., Joint Base Lewis-McChord, 509.963.1210,

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