Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a U.S. Department of Defense agency, announced 15 Maine Army National Guard and Reserve service members nominated their employers for the 2011 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

The award is the Department of Defense’s highest recognition for employers showing exceptional support to their guard and reserve employees. ESGR received 4,049 nominations from guard and reserve members across the nation, a 64-percent increase over last year’s total.

The Department of Defense honors employers of guard and reserve members as they are critical to our country’s national security. Guard and reserve members nominated employers, ranging from small to large businesses and the public sector, who demonstrated support of their service through initiatives such as continued benefits, differential pay and family assistance.

The 2011 recipients will be announced this summer and honored Sept. 22, in Washington, D.C., at the 16th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award ceremony.

Recipients of the 2010 Freedom Award met privately with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

The Freedom Award was instituted in 1996 under the auspices of ESGR to recognize exceptional support from the employer community. ESGR was established in 1972 to develop and maintain employer support for guard and reserve service.

ESGR advocates relevant initiatives, recognizes outstanding support, increases awareness of applicable laws, and resolves conflict between service members and employers. Paramount to ESGR’s mission is encouraging employment of guardsmen and reservists who bring integrity, global perspective and proven leadership to the civilian workforce.

The following Maine employers were nominated for the Freedom Award:

• Alfred Fire Rescue

• Kennebec Internal Medicine Associates of Augusta

• Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife of Augusta

• Bangor Hydro Electric Company

• Mac-Lin Medical of Bangor

• Bank of America of Belfast

• United States Postal Service of Hampden

• York’s of Houlton

• Riverside Farm of Monroe

• Oakland Police Department

• Spurwink Services of Portland

• The Home Depot of Rockland

• Delta Ambulance of Waterville

• SGC Engineering, LLC of Westbrook

• Two Bridges Regional Jail of Wiscasset