- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

In October of 2001, Cmdr. Mike Monfalcone was asked to leave his job and family to help fight the war on terror.

A member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, Cmdr. Monfalcone had worked at Dominion Resources Inc., a Richmond-based energy production and transportation company, for only eight months when he was called to duty at the Navy’s Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center in Norfolk.

Although Cmdr. Monfalcone was a Virginia resident and did not have to travel far, he said he still had to drop his work at Dominion and be away from his family Monday through Friday.

Cmdr. Monfalcone was mobilized from Oct. 2001 until Aug. 2003, and during that time, he not only continued to receive company benefits and was assured of having his job at Dominion when he returned, but the company also paid for his family’s medical insurance so that they would not have to switch doctors.

“We want to be sure our employees don’t have to worry about their income or their benefits while they’re serving our country,” said Jim Eck, vice president of human resources for Dominion.

Dominion and 14 other companies whose employment policies exceed requirements for treatment of active Reserve and National Guard employees were honored with Freedom Awards at ceremonies hosted by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), Sept. 18.

Cmdr. Monfalcone nominated Dominion for the Freedom Award, the highest recognition of civilian employers for support of the armed forces. He’s now back at work for Dominion as a senior human resources specialist,

As a nominator, Cmdr. Monfalcone was invited to the award ceremony, but was deployed to Baghdad a few months before the event. He said that he knew it was a long shot, but he requested permission to attend the event.

The Navy informed him that he would be attending the ceremony and began working to fund his trip from Baghdad. Eventually, Capt. Jeff McKenzie, the commanding officer of the Expeditionary Combat Readiness Center agreed to fund his travel.

“The Navy really went above and beyond in helping me attend this event,” Cmdr. Monfalcone said. “[Capt. McKenzie] is the one that granted my unorthodox request.”

Cmdr. Monfalcone praised Dominion’s efforts during his first mobilization as well as his recent deployment overseas. He said in 70 days he received eight care packages, including everything from snacks and drink mixes to magazines and toiletries.

“The company doesn’t have to do any of that,” he said.

According to Mr. Eck, however, Dominion’s support of its 83 active Reserve and Guard employees is necessary. “We believe that our employee policies must help those who sacrifice to serve our nation,” he said.

Among other programs,Dominion offers up to 60 months of pay and benefits supplements for both voluntary and involuntary service. The pay covers training and active duty, he said. Dominion also allows employees a couple of weeks at home to reacclimate before returning to work.

Dominion also recently expanded its pension plan to offer disability benefits to employees who are injured while serving during a war and cannot return to work. “We don’t say that our support is ever done,” Mr. Eck said of the pension program.

Along with financial support, Dominion also offers emotional support to its employees. In 2007, administrative assistant Bev Robinson was appointed care package coordinator for Dominion’s 11-state operation.

Ms. Robinson said that her efforts began in 2006 when a partnership of local businesses asked Dominion to collect items to support a battalion that was shipping out. She began e-mailing Dominion employees, and they eventually donated enough items to fill all 500 boxes.

When Ms. Robinson received thank-you letters from the troops, however, a one-time collection drive became a full-time operation.

“It touched me so much I couldn’t stop,” she said. As word of their efforts spread, employees began telling Ms. Robinson of a spouse, friend or relative that was serving overseas.

She began reaching out to the community and other Dominion branches for donations. Almost three years after the first collection drive, Ms. Robinson said each location coordinates its own fundraisers and drives and sends proceeds to her without her even asking.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” she said of the 30 or more packages Dominion sends out every week.

Ms. Robinson not only organizes care packages for deployed Dominion employees. The company initiated an “Adopt a Service Member” program so that employees with neighbors, friends or relatives serving overseas, as well as their families, can help them get support. Since 2007 entire plants or individuals have volunteered to send cards and care packages to service members and their families, whether they are a Dominion employee or not.

Mr. Eck recalled an employee who got his orders the day before he was to start work at Dominion and still received a going away party and care packages during his absence.

“It’s tremendous to see the support that occurs,” Mr. Eck said. Although resources have to be shifted and staffing re-evaluated when employees are called to serve, Mr. Eck said departments and plants as a whole readily cover for a deployed worker.

“People take great pride when they can pitch in and help for someone who has been deployed,” he said.

Cmdr. Monfalcone said he sees Dominion as having a “culture of caring” when it comes to supporting their military employees. “It’s time for Dominion to get some recognition for all the great work they’re doing,” he said.

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