Michigan Department of Corrections Director Heidi E. Washington on Nov. 21 accepted the Pro Patria Award for the department’s efforts to support employees serving in the National Guard and Reserves. The award is presented annually by the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) program to one small, one large and one public sector employer in each state that demonstrates their dedication to employees in the Armed Forces. It is the highest honor an organization can receive from the program. “We are humbled to receive this award,” Washington said. “Our employees serving with the National Guard and Reserves make great sacrifices to protect our freedoms. They deserve our gratitude and support, and we are committed to assisting them in any way we can.” Almost 2,000 of the Michigan Department of Corrections’ 13,000 employees are military veterans. There are 31 employees who are currently deployed. The department was nominated for the award by Ed Mize, who was serving as Operations Administrator of the Correctional Facilities Administration when he was called to active duty in 2014. Washington accepted the award from Melvin Bauman, Michigan ESGR state chairman. "The ESGR Pro Patria Award was created to publicly recognize the most exceptional employers in each state, like the Michigan Department of Corrections, who provide extraordinary patriotic support and cooperation to their employees," Bauman said. "Guard and Reserve member employees, who like the citizen warriors before them, have answered their nation's call to serve. Supportive employers like the Michigan Department of Corrections are critical to maintaining the strength and readiness of the nation's Guard and Reserve units." The MDOC provides military leave and continuation of benefits for employees who are called to serve, and provides care packages for deployed staff, along with financial support to their families through employee-led fundraising events. The department has also expanded its efforts to recognize employees who are military veterans, or who have been mobilized. Washington personally contacts mobilized employees to ensure they receive the support and assistance they need.