S2 employee receives Patriot Award

The deployment began on Dec. 22 — leaving Dearth’s wife, Connie, and young daughter unexpectedly alone for the holidays.

And it left Dearth’s boss at the BAE Systems Air Force Sustainment office in Warner Robins, Ga., scrambling to backfill Dearth’s role as a program manager on the B-1 bomber defensive system.

But Wes Feudner, the company’s site director at Warner Robins, took it in stride. A retired chief master sergeant with a 30-year Air Force resume, Feudner recognizes the importance of supporting employees called for Guard and Reserve duty. And he works for a company that shares that opinion.

“The mission they’re doing is important,” Feudner said of the company’s Guard and Reserve employees. “They are going from supporting the warfighters to being the warfighters. When that happens, it’s way more personal.”

So when he began the three-month assignment at a forward operating location that remains a secret, Dearth was told not to worry about things at home. “I found out about the deployment on a Tuesday night, and I spoke to Wes on following morning. He assured me not to worry about my job or my family” — the job would be waiting when he got back, and the company would look in on his wife and daughter throughout the deployment, which lasted 75 days and ended on his daughter’s fifth birthday in March.

Feudner made good on his word, backfilling Dearth for the duration of his absence and keeping close touch with his family.

It doesn’t always work that way, Dearth said. Prior to joining BAE Systems in 2010, he was deployed three times while working for other defense companies. “The other companies I worked for, they didn’t go above and beyond the way Wes did,” he said. And he’s heard “horror stories” about companies actually penalizing employees who leave on deployment — for example, “putting them on the bottom of the rack-and-stack pile for promotions.”

Dearth was so impressed with his boss’s support that he nominated Feudner for a Patriot Award, given by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Defense Department organization that promotes cooperation and understanding between reservists and their civilian employers. Feudner was honored to receive the award, if a little embarrassed.

“I never feel like we’re doing anything so exceptional that we deserve awards,” he said. “But it was quite an honor — not an honor for Wes Feudner, but for BAE Systems. It’s unfortunate that it had only my name on it, because it certainly goes much deeper than that.”