For Military Appreciation Month, recognizing and supporting those who serve

Kerry Olin

The U.S. Congress in 1999 officially designated May as National Military Appreciation Month, and at Microsoft we mark this as a time to recognize and celebrate the employee military community globally.  In this moment I remember my own grandfathers. My dad’s father served as an infantryman in World War I. The tri-corner folded flag presented to us at his funeral is encased steps away from my desk at home. My mom’s stepfather served as a paratrooper in World War II. The map he carried with him of the 1943 invasion of Sicily, where he jumped behind enemy lines, hangs just a few feet from my desk as well.

Both my grandfathers were enlisted soldiers who volunteered and served with distinction during times of great conflict. Both shaped my views of military service — that it is driven by courage, honor, and love of country and fellow citizens.

It’s why, when I was asked to serve as one of the executive sponsors for Microsoft’s Military Employee Resource Group (ERG), I happily but humbly accepted. I have had the privilege of interacting with many who have given distinguished military service around the world and who are also committed Microsoft employees. Many in Microsoft’s military community are veterans and others still serve today, in reserve corps for their countries. They commit weekends to training. They accept the responsibility of periodic deployments, some weeks and even months in duration. They, along with active-duty peers, are at the ready to be called to serve by their country. They are also outstanding colleagues who have made a choice to apply their well-earned skills and capabilities at Microsoft. We are better as a result.

I aspire to be an ally to Microsoft’s military community. This means committing to learning so I can gain a greater degree of empathy for the experiences and perspectives of those who serve. It means being an advocate for the community and working actively to value veterans’ experiences. And it means doing my part for the community when called upon — following their example of service, even if in very small ways.

Here I offer a few reflections on my own learning journey and the journey we’ve been on at Microsoft, which I hope might provide encouragement to others who strive to be allies to the military community:

Express sincere appreciation for the service and sacrifice of veterans and those serving today. Of course, our gratitude is not what motivates service — the veterans and service members I know are motivated by duty, honor, love of country and fellow citizens. Those who serve know that their responsibility is 24 hours a day, every day of the year. Readiness and preparedness never get to take time off. We can express our gratitude by being willing to listen and learn more about the experiences of the military community, and by remembering and acknowledging their service not only during times of conflict in the world but at all times.

Celebrate and support military community members in their careers after active service. Microsoft employs thousands of veterans and reserve service members in many countries around the world. We strive to be world class in our policies and benefits that support military community employees. For example, during reserve deployments in the U.S., we provide salary continuity by supplementing the difference between military and Microsoft pay, and we continue benefits coverage such as employee and dependent health care. And our benefits programs have supported over 600 employee deployments in 18 countries outside the U.S. in just the past five years. Beyond our company programs, our managers take special care to appreciate and leverage skills and experiences gained in military service, and support team members called to reserve duty. This commitment at an individual and team level gives me immense pride.

Appreciate that the military community can experience world events in significant and distinct ways.  The conclusion of the Afghanistan war, for example, had profound meaning for so many who served during that 20-year conflict, and especially so as 13 U.S. service members gave their lives during the final drawdown and exit. It was a privilege at that time for our Military at Microsoft ERG leadership to share a message of acknowledgment and thanks to our community: “To those who have served or are serving, whether with boots on the ground or from afar, to those who have supported family members in service, you have our deepest gratitude. We were tragically reminded in recent days of the great risk taken by those who serve. Like so many before them, we will not forget those who gave their lives. We honor them as heroes.” Along with critical support at key moments, the ERG — which is global and also encompasses active local chapters such as the Australia New Zealand chapter — is there for the Microsoft military community day in and day out, year-round. The military experience continues to evolve, and Military at Microsoft ERG helps employees connect, navigate, and grow.

Serve those who have served. This year’s theme for Military Appreciation Month at Microsoft is “Appreciation Beyond Words.” I deeply hope that our military community experiences in tangible ways that their service is recognized. A wonderful example, one of immense pride for so many of our employees, is the Microsoft Software and Systems Academy (MSSA). Established nine years ago, MSSA has provided a practical and intensive training curriculum that has helped prepare over 3,000 transitioning military service members for their next career. Over 400 Microsoft employees have committed their personal time to serving as mentors for MSSA participants, yet another example of serving those who have served.

Military Appreciation Month gives us an opportunity to recognize those who make such significant commitment to their countries and fellow citizens. On behalf of employees at Microsoft and everyone who shares deep appreciation for the courage, commitment and sacrifice of those who serve, thank you.

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