Honored for helping them serve

By Brad Durrell
(Reprinted from The Easton Courier – June 18, 2009)

Raymond Gaines Sr. was just doing what he thought was the right thing.

Last week, the Easton businessman’s willingness to provide flexibility to a long-time employee who serves in the U.S. Navy Reserves was formally recognized.

“I was surprised because I didn’t think I should be acknowledged for anything,” Gaines said.  “I’m just letting the guy do his duty and come back to a job.”

Gaines, owner of the Gaines Construction Co., was presented with the Patriotic Employer Award during a ceremony in his office from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a U.S. Defense Department division that promotes understanding between employers and their employees who serve in the military.

Petty Officer 1st Class Tom Henri has worked as a carpenter for almost 15 years at Gaines Construction, which primarily does residential and small business renovations.

“He’s treated me right,” said Henri, who spent 10 months away from his job in late 2008 and early 2009 when he was deployed to Iraq.  Part of that time away was spent training at a base in America.

“He’s always backed me up,” Henri said.  “Knowing I had a job when I came back made me feel good.”

Gaines said making adjustments for Henri – such as when he went to Iraq – is a way to respect and honor his service to the country.  “It was difficult to see him go, but we understood he had an obligation,” Gaines said

Henri nominated Gaines for the award, which is given to employers “for contributing to national security and protecting liberty and freedom by supporting employee participation in America’s National Guard and Reserve force,” according to the ESGR.

Due to his Reserve status, Henri also must train one weekend a month and for an additional two-week stretch once a year.

‘Key Components’

Presenting the award to Gaines was Lawrence Lafferty, an ESGR volunteers from Connecticut who previously served 24 years in the Navy.

Lafferty said it’s important to recognize employees like Gaines who treat their Guard and Reserve employees well.  “Our role is to show the employers that Guard and Reserve personnel are key components of the military,” he said.

A large percentage of the U.S. armed services are not full-time enlistees, but men and women who have joined the Guard or Reserves.  This is one way the war in Iraq has been different from previous conflicts, with more people being uprooted from their civilian lives to be sent to the war zone.

Lafferty said Gaines’ reaction is typical of most employers who receive the awards.  “They are usually amazed they are being awarded because they think it’s the service member who should be recognized,” he said.

Lafferty has presented awards to about 100 employers in the past three years for ESGR.  He said good employers will guarantee Guard and Reserve members’ jobs, allow them to keep their benefits, and provide support in various ways for their families when they are gone.

Employers learn they must be flexible with part-time military members on their staff, according to Lafferty.

“A lot of times service members get short notice for training or for being deployed, so that can put employers and co-workers in a bind because they must pick up the slack,” he said.

A company asset

Gaines has been in business for 39 years.  While his business has slowed down in recent months due to the economy, he now has nine employees, including Henri.

He called Henri, who lives in Ansonia, “a very loyal and consistent employee.  He’s a skilled, master carpenter.  He’s honest and I can count on him.  He’s an asset to the company, and it’s important to keep him here for when we’re busy.”

Henri said Gaines has never complained about having to make workplace changes based on his military-related absences.  “I’m sure it’s an inconvenience, but he’s never said anything,” he said.

While having a pivotal employee need to regularly take time off presents challenges, Gaines said he and Henri’s fellow employees do what they must to fill in for Henri when necessary.

“We know it’s for a good reason, and we always pick up the slack,” he said.

Gaines, a Bridgeport native, has lived in Easton for more than three decades.  He is married with two children.  He began his construction career as a carpenter.

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