Pontotoc County Sheriff John Christian’s longtime practice of employing Oklahoma Army and Air National Guard members and reservists was recognized Friday when deputies presented him with the Defense Department’s Patriot Award.
The Patriot Award is given by Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve — a Defense Department program intended to promote cooperation and understanding between civilian employers and their National Guard and Reserve employees. The award reflects efforts made to support service-connected employees through a wide range of measures, including flexible schedules, time off prior to and after deployment, caring for families and granting leaves of absence if needed.
“It was a surprise,” Christian said Monday as he looked at the award sitting on his desk among a stack of internal paperwork and court documents. The sheriff said he had no idea what deputies were up to when they began asking him questions a few weeks ago about his history of hiring service members.
“Burt Page and Zubair Khan had been asking me a lot of questions … and we’d had several discussions about that,” Christian said. “I didn’t know what they were up to, but they nominated me and I was chosen to receive this award.”
Christian said he wants to support Guard and Reserve members, despite the challenge sometimes involved in accommodating their time away from work for training and service.
“I look at (service members) and I know that they’ve had excellent training, they’re very conscientious about what they do — very disciplined,” Christian said. “They make excellent employees. I’m very proud to make it work, because of their commitment not only to the safety of citizens here in Pontotoc County but for the safety of our nation.
“We want to make sure that they have an opportunity to have a livelihood and also be able to go and do what they need to do for our nation’s security.”
Christian said he encourages other employers to hire service members.
“You just have to be a willing partner, and you need to look at what these people bring to the table,” Christian said. “The discipline, the training, the knowledge — our Guard and our reserve and our active-duty veterans transitioning back to civilian life, all these people have had specialized training.”
Employing Guard and Reserve service members is more than a civic duty to Christian. It’s a point of personal pride.
“I’m very proud of their service and what they do,” Christian said. “They go above and beyond, not only here, but they take time away from their family to go, so I’m very proud of them, very supportive of them.
“I’m absolutely honored to have them work for me.”