Sanford Health earns Defense Department Freedom Award

It's the highest U.S. government honor for employers of Guard & Reserve members

Sanford Health earns Defense Department Freedom Award

Sanford Health has earned the 2020 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest U.S. government honor to employers for support of National Guard and Reserve employees.

Sanford Health was a finalist for this award in 2019. It is among 15 recipients nationwide this year. Sanford Health was recognized for the award with a ceremony on Sept. 26 at the South Dakota Military Heritage Alliance in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said he is proud to recognize these 15 outstanding civilian employers.

“The citizen warriors of the National Guard and Reserve have evolved from a strategic reserve to become an integral component of the operational force,” Esper said. “Having employers who support their military service is critical to their success and the success of our National Defense Strategy. We salute these exemplary employers for their steadfast commitment to their Guard and Reserve employees, their patriotism, and their contributions to the defense and security of our great Nation.”

The 2020 Freedom Award recipients will be recognized at the state level by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve State Chairs.

Nominated employers of any size, from industry to the public sector, can come from the 50 states, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, District of Columbia and Guam-Northern Mariana Islands.

The 2020 recipients were selected from 2,623 nominations received from Guardsmen and Reservists highlighting how their civilian employers went far beyond what the federal law requires to support them. The Freedom Award began in 1996 under the auspices of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve to recognize exceptional employer support, with 295 honorees to date.

ESGR is a Department of Defense program that develops and promotes supportive work environments for Service members in the Reserve Components through outreach, recognition, and educational opportunities that increase awareness of applicable laws. It also provides assistance in resolving conflicts between Service members and their employers.

Military Friendly Employer

The Freedom Award is one of three recent accolades for Sanford Health’s support of veteran and military personnel. The health system also earned the Military Friendly Employer Silver designation, and a spot on the Military Times’ Best for Vets list of employers.

Institutions earning the Military Friendly Employer designation were evaluated using both public data sources and responses from a proprietary survey. Hundreds of companies participated in the Military Friendly Employers portion of the 2021 Military Friendly Companies survey.

Sanford is one of only six health care companies nationwide to receive Silver level recognition, and one of 43 companies in all industries to be recognized at this level.

“We want to do our part in order to say thank you for what you’ve done. Sanford Health doesn’t do this for the accolades,” said vice president of Sanford Health Bismarck Clinic and North Dakota army state surgeon Todd Schaffer.

“The recognition is great, it really is. But, I think I’m just like everybody else who works at Sanford, you do what you do because you believe in it and you think it’s right,” added Sanford Health president and CEO Kelby Krabbenhoft.

A Sanford Health Veteran decal in red, white and blue decorates a window in Don McLeer's office. Military friendly touches at Sanford Health include veteran stickers for employees' and patients' cars and offices.
Sanford Health recognizes military veteran employees in a number of ways, including name badges and decals. Don McLeer, photo/video manager for Sanford Health marketing, displays his on his office window.

Photo by Sanford Health

From recruitment to retention

Methodology, criteria and weightings were determined by VIQTORY with input from the Military Friendly Advisory Council of independent leaders in the higher education and military recruitment community. Final ratings were determined by combining an organization’s survey score with an assessment of the organization’s ability to meet thresholds for:

  • Applicant
  • New hire retention
  • Employee turnover
  • Promotion and advancement of veterans and military employees

Retired U.S. Navy Capt. Paul Weckman, director of veteran and military services at Sanford Health, said this award is the latest recognition of the health system’s dedication to service members.

“I think that’s the part of our culture here at Sanford Health. To support our veterans and the Guard and Reserve members is the right thing to do,” he said. “And we are doing it.”

Military friendly programs for Sanford employees include continuation of benefits, a differential pay policy and education scholarships. Veterans clubs at Sanford medical centers in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Fargo, North Dakota, provide private spaces where veterans and their families and caregivers can spend time relaxing.

Josh Rosen, director of Military Friendly, praised companies on the list.

“Companies that have earned this designation have invested in substantive programs to recruit, retain and advance veterans within their organizations,” Rosen said. “To them, hiring veterans isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s good for business.”

Sanford Health will be showcased along with other 2021 Military Friendly Employers in the December issue of G.I. Jobs magazine and on

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Posted In Awards & Recognition, Company News, Veterans