Crotched honored with Patriot Award

GREENFIELD — With Memorial Day not long past, and Flag Day approaching, this is a time of year when many reflect on the service of those in our armed forces. This Thursday, one service member will be returning the favor, recognizing workmates that have supported him through his active duty in Afghanistan as a member of the N.H. National Guard.

Sgt. Chuck Eldridge, who serves with the 237th Military Police Company, N.H. National Guard, nominated four of his fellow employees at the Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center in Greenfield for the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Patriot Award for their support during his recent deployment to Afghanistan. In a ceremony at Crotched Mountain on Thursday, the award will be presented to President and CEO of Crotched Mountain Don Shumway, Human Resources Benefit Coordinator Deirdre Grimes, Director of Human Resources Lorrie Rudis and Eldridge’s direct supervisor, Benjamin Drew.

The award reflects employer efforts to support and value active service members in the Guard and Reserves. Eldridge, who resides in Nashua, recently did his first tour in Afghanistan with the National Guard from August to January, working in U.S. customs, checking equipment and clearing it to return to the states.

While in Afghanistan, Eldridge had kept in touch with Grimes as well as his family and friends, and would occasionally exchange letters with her, with Grimes sending updates from Crotched Mountain or small notes about events happening at home. But then, a few months into his tour, Eldridge was met with a surprise when he went to open his email: letters from coworkers — some he knew quite well, and others that he had only seen in passing in the halls.

“I was away from the wife and kids, and keeping in touch with them, but when you’re out there, you kind of put yourself in this place thinking about yourself and your family,” said Eldridge. “And then you’re reminded that, ‘Oh, yeah, there’s other people out that care, too.’”

“I’m so glad that I did this,” said Grimes in an interview Monday. “I didn’t have any idea how much it meant to him until he came back and told me. I’d do it again in a second.”

Eldridge discovered that the influx of mail was all down to Grimes, who had written up an article about Eldridge for the company newsletter and posted it on the company webpage, disseminating his email and encouraging his coworkers to drop him a word of encouragement.

There were other ways that his coworkers made him feel missed and supported, too, he said. Drew, his direct supervisor and friend, would often share phone conversations with Eldridge while he was at work, even going out of his way to arrange to be in a certain part of the facility when it came time for their scheduled call, so that other coworkers could pass the phone around and say hello. Eldridge had a flag flown in Afghanistan to send to Crotched Mountain in a display, and after receiving it, the Crotched Mountain board passed a resolution to both express gratitude and wish Eldridge a safe and speedy return home. And when Eldridge did make it back from Afghanistan, safe and sound in January, Shumway invited him to his office to personally express his gratitude, offer any assistance that might be needed, and to further extend that hand to any of Eldridge’s fellow citizen soldiers who might need assistance.

“He said, ‘If you have any of your guys that need a job, we’re hiring,’” said Eldridge, noting that the company had researched the unemployment rates among recently returned soldiers. “And I don’t think it was about trying to fill their numbers. They were legitimately reaching out to some of the other guys that came back. It wasn’t an empty offer.”

After returning from Afghanistan, Eldridge and his fellow soldiers underwent a debriefing process, and as part of that process were told about the Patriot Award for which they could nominate employers or supervisors who showed strong support for their employees overseas. Eldridge decided to nominate Crotched Mountain.

“I think people that support you like that, should be acknowledged. The fact that they’re doing things on their own time to stay involved and show their support is great,” said Eldridge.

“It was very humbling,” said Rudis about receiving the award, which was presented to the four Crotched employees in a welcome home ceremony for the N.H. National Guard in early May. “In the presence of all the people that do their civic duty, and they’re giving us an award? ... You don’t realize how much correspondence back and forth can mean. ”

On Thursday, Eldridge will be attending a ceremony at Crotched Mountain, where Dave Quinn, ESGR N.H. State Chairman, will present the Patriot Award, as well as a Statement of Support for Crotched Mountain signed by the Secretary of Defense. The ceremony will be held at 1 p.m. in Carter Hall. Crotched Mountain Rehabilitation Center clients will present homemade flag pins to active duty service members.

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