Deployment to foreign soils is nothing new to Daniel Weist. Quite the contrary. During his six years as an enlisted soldier in the U.S. Army, Weist completed two tours of duty overseas, first in Iraq as part of Operation Freedom and later in South Korea. However, when he left for Afghanistan in December, he deployed not as a member of the U.S. Army, but as a sergeant in the 1104th Mobilization Support Battalion of the Army Reserve and an employee of JLG Industries Inc., an Oshkosh Corporation company and a global manufacturer of aerial work platforms and telescopic material handlers.
According to Weist’s father, Dwight Weist, who is a production supervisor at JLG’s Bedford facility, “Daniel is lucky enough to work for a company that has gone the extra mile to support him, not only as he prepared for his most recent deployment, but also now, while he is serving in Afghanistan and when he returns, ensuring that the job he left will be waiting for him.”
Even before he deployed, the younger Weist recognized how important that support is to him and his family and took the necessary steps to nominate his supervisor, Dwight Gates, for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Patriot Award. In January, Gates received the prestigious award during a presentation at the JLG Mid-Atlantic Reconditioning & Service Center in Bedford, Pa., where both Gates and Weist work.
The Patriot Award recognizes supervisors and bosses for support provided directly to the guardsmen or reservist employees who nominate them. The award reflects the efforts made to support citizen warriors through a wide range of measures, including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families, and granting leaves of absence if needed.
Harry Zeznanski, ombudsman with the ESGR, a Department of Defense agency that promotes cooperation and understanding between Reserve Component Service members and their civilian employers, presented the Patriot Award to Gates.
“The Patriot Award is a very distinguished award,” explained Zeznanski. “In the past year, I probably distributed more than 5,000 nomination forms to guardsmen and reservists in the Pennsylvania Mountain Area, but I’ve only presented five awards. So it really is significant for someone to take the time to complete the form, because in that service member’s mind, his or her supervisor did something above and beyond what is required. For example, the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-Employment Rights Act (USERRA) requires a service member to rest eight hours prior to reporting for duty, but it does not require the employer to pay the service member when time off is necessary to meet that requirement. In the case of Daniel Weist, I understand that Dwight Gates made changes to Daniel’s work schedule to accommodate his reserves duty without losing any wages in the process or forcing Daniel to use vacation time, as is often the case.”
According to Zeznanski, this kind of support from a supervisor is critical to the success of the Guard and Reserve program. “But it also says a lot about the company that employs these people. We all know that supervisors can’t always act on their own. Often they need approval from management and a corporate environment that fosters support for our service men and women. I’d far rather be honoring men like Dwight and by extension, companies like JLG, than spending my time mediating disputes between service members and their employers, which unfortunately is where I spend the bulk of my time.”
Zeznanski was also impressed with the awards presentation arranged for Gates by JLG. In most cases, he makes presentations to the award recipient in a private office, with few people in attendance. However, the presentation for Gates took place on the shop floor at the Weber Lane facility in Bedford, enabling employees to watch as both Zeznanski and Andy Tacelosky, JLG vice president global manufacturing operations, delivered remarks. Dwight Weist attended the event on behalf of his son, and a celebratory luncheon followed the presentation.
“The time and energy JLG invested in the program is just another illustration of the support they offer our service members and the significance they place on the award Gates received,” said Zeznanski.
Looking back on the presentation, the elder Weist remarked, “I am a very proud father. I have a young son who is willing to leave his family and his job to serve his country. But, I’m also proud of Dwight and the fact that I work with a fellow supervisor who followed through and did the proper things to get my son ready to go.”
Gates sees it differently. “I didn’t think I was doing anything special at the time,” he recalled. “I made schedule changes so that Daniel could go home and get the rest he required to perform his military duties the following day. Leading up to his deployment, there were times he needed to be out to take care of things in preparation for his departure, so I made sure he got any time he needed to do that and be with his family. And I took the time to talk with him, asking him about things he had going on in his personal and military life, and where he might need some assistance.
“But I was really stunned to receive the award,” he continued. “Now, I’m also honored. It’s very special to me and something I was happy to take home and share with my wife and two daughters, demonstrating to them the good things you can do in life, sometimes without even knowing it.”
Gates is a production supervisor at the Bedford Weber Lane facility with nearly 17 years experience at JLG. He began his career as a welder and was later promoted to group leader before transferring to the Service Plus (formerly Equipment Services) facility in McConnellsburg, Pa., in an assembly/teardown position. There, he was again named group leader before being promoted to supervisor and eventually moving back to the Weber Lane site.
This was Gates’ first experience working with a reservist. “But it’s not an uncommon experience throughout JLG,” noted Andy Tacelosky. “As a company, we make it a practice to support our men and women in uniform whenever we can, and it’s especially nice when one of our employees is singled out and publicly recognized for his or her individual efforts.”
“We do other, less formal things, as well,” added Gary Morgart, operations manager at JLG’s Weber Lane and Sunnyside Road facilities. “For example, the team here is sending care packages to Daniel, writing postcards to him and sending him copies of ourGround Support e-newsletter, just to keep him aware of things happening with team members. We want him to know we care about him, we’re still concerned about him, and that when he comes back to JLG, he has a JLG family to welcome him home.”
Perhaps most importantly, in this time of economic uncertainty, Weist will have a job waiting for him. “We regularly look at our staffing and rotate people around to fill the void until he returns,” explained Morgart. Meanwhile, Weist is working as a mechanic on the Apache helicopter engine and is cross trained on the Black Hawk and Chinook helicopters.
“All of the support Daniel is receiving here at home is imperative as he pursues his assignment abroad,” said Zeznanski. “I’m a retired command sergeant major with the U.S. Army Reserves, and I can tell you from personal experience with multiple deployments, the support Dwight and the rest of JLG provides means service members have far fewer things to worry about. As a result, they can concentrate on the job before them rather than the one they left behind.”
“At JLG and at Oshkosh, it’s all about being one team; about being a family,” added Jeff Rush, JLG vice president of manufacturing - Americas. “We’re trying to instill in our employees that we’re always there for them, and we’ll do what we can to ease work constraints, so that if people have burdens outside their job, they are better positioned to manage them. At the end of the day, it’s all about them, and not about us. That’s what contributes to a strong team.”
“I think Daniel recognizes that, and it certainly made his going away a bit easier for him,” said his father. “He’s always been interested in aircraft, especially helicopters. So this deployment is his opportunity in life not only to do something he enjoys, but also to serve his country, which is just as important to him. He’s doing both proudly, reassured by the support of his family and the JLG family.
For more information about JLG, visit the company website at www.jlg.com.