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John J. Kruzel American Forces Press Service
DETROIT, May 5, 2008 –
Patriotism was in full gear at the Chrysler headquarters today, as hundreds gathered inside the star-spangled atrium of the automaker’s main hub to honor America’s men and women in uniform.
On the tiered floors of the glass-enclosed plaza here, employees hung over railings to watch while their chief executive kicked off Military Appreciation Month by signing an agreement strengthening Chrysler’s ties to Reserve and National Guard troops, and recognizing past and present servicemembers on the automaker’s roster.
“I just want to thank all the men and women who give of themselves, who are apart from their families, who are enduring tremendous hardship to maintain the freedom the democracy on which this country was founded,” said Robert Nardelli, Chrysler’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We are truly blessed.”
As an expression of Chrysler’s gratitude to servicemembers’ sacrifice, Nardelli today signed a 5-Star Military Support Agreement. The document promises Chrysler’s commitment to continue supporting employees who are called into active military service.
“A lot of times people ask, ‘Gee Bob, isn’t that an expense?’” Nardelli said of the pledge. “But I think it’s an investment. People say, ‘Well, isn’t this a burden?’ I say, ‘It’s a responsibility.’
“So today,” he continued, “it is really demonstrating that personal commitment to our men and women in uniform.”
The Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Committee agreement signed today follows Chrysler’s recent decision to partner with America Supports You, a Defense Department program that connects citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.
“Today was above and beyond any corporate event I’ve seen to honor our men and women in the military,” said Allison Barber, deputy assistant secretary of defense for internal communications and public liaison, and the architect of America Supports You. “Chrysler is a terrific America Supports You partner and a great example to other corporations that tell the full story.”
In an event that included remarks from Defense Department and military officials, local radio personality Paul W. Smith, the master of ceremonies, listed the names of more than 40 Chrysler employees currently deployed to U.S. operations abroad.
With each name Smith read, a camo-clad servicemember on the second story of the circular plaza draped a flag with a blue star over the railing. A tradition since World War I, the blue flag is a symbol displayed by family members in remembrance of their loved ones serving in harm’s way.
In a somber postscript to the presentation, the family of Army Master Sgt. William Balinski accepted a flag embroidered with a gold star.
After being employed at Chrysler for nine years as a sheet metal worker, Balinski -- an Army reservist -- was called to active duty. While stationed at Fort Benning, Ga., in 2005, Balinski was involved in an automobile accident that took his life.
“The Gold Star flag will always be a reminder of Master Sergeant Balinski’s service and patriotic support of this country,” Nardelli said, before announcing that Balinski’s Gold Star flag and the Blue Star flags would become permanent fixtures here.
Later, Thomas F. Hall, assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and signatory to the 5-star agreement, told the audience that during his six-year tenure in his current position, he has addressed more than 200,000 people at more than 300 events. “And I have never seen a ceremony equal this,” he said.
“Employer support is so important for [servicemembers] when they come home,” he said. “It’s so important for their families. So I thank Chrysler and all the supporting corporations.”
Honoring its home-state servicemembers, Chrysler donated $50,000 today to members of Michigan’s National Guard.
Air Force Maj. Gen. Thomas G. Cutler, adjutant general of the Michigan National Guard, called Chrysler “a great corporate citizen,” and said the donation will allow the Guard’s family fund to continuing providing financial support to the loved ones of those called up to active duty.
“Citizens across the country -- and here in Michigan certainly -- appreciate the service of all their soldiers and sailors, Marines, airmen and Coast Guard members,” he said. “They do deeply appreciate, and I think today was just a day to celebrate their service.”