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Missouri Guardmembers honor top employer, supporter

Lt. Col. David Halter, 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, presents Dr. Melody Smith, Superintendent of the Saint Joseph School District, with a flag that was flown on a combat mission in Afghanistan, on August 22, 2011 in Saint Joseph, Mo. In addition to the flag Dr. Smith received the ESGR “Patriot Award”, and the “Above and Beyond Award” for her support of military families. ( U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson)

Lt. Col. David Halter, 139th Airlift Wing, Missouri Air National Guard, presents Dr. Melody Smith, Superintendent of the Saint Joseph School District, with a flag that was flown on a combat mission in Afghanistan, on August 22, 2011 in Saint Joseph, Mo. In addition to the flag Dr. Smith received the ESGR “Patriot Award”, and the “Above and Beyond Award” for her support of military families. ( U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson)

Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Missouri Air National Guard, presents Dr. Melody Smith, Superintendent of the Saint Joseph School District, with the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) award on August 22, 2011, in Saint Joseph, Mo. Dr. Smith received the “Above and Beyond Award” and the “Patriot Award” for her support of military families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson)

Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, Assistant Adjutant General for Air, Missouri Air National Guard, presents Dr. Melody Smith, Superintendent of the Saint Joseph School District, with the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) award on August 22, 2011, in Saint Joseph, Mo. Dr. Smith received the “Above and Beyond Award” and the “Patriot Award” for her support of military families. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Sheldon Thompson)

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- Providing pay and benefits during deployments, sending care packages to deployed employees, allowing time off and celebrating military service are just a few commitments that the Guard's top employers are honored for each year.

Missouri National Guard members recently honored St. Joseph School District Superintendent Melody Smith as one of their best supporters.

Smith was nominated for the "Above and Beyond Award" and the "Patriot Award" by the spouses of Guardmembers who benefited from her support during deployment.

The awards are provided by the Department of Defense's Employer Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) office.

"She knows how hard it was for families, both spouses and children, to be apart from the military members and survive at home alone," said Jeanette Westfall, wife of Lt. Col. Kurt Westfall, who deployed last year with the 139th Airlift Wing.

Westfall and Jennifer Halter, wife of Lt. Col. David Haler, are employed by the school district.

Air Force Brig. Gen. Stephen Cotter, assistant adjutant general for air, and Lt. Col. Halter, presented the awards during an evening board meeting.

"It's because of this St. Joseph School District and staff and their commitment to do what is right for the kids that any of this happened,'" said Smith, who was surprised by the recognition.

The Above and Beyond Award recognizes employers who have gone above and beyond legal requirements for granting leave and supporting military duty. The Patriot Award recognizes all nominated employers with a certificate and accompanying lapel pin.

"All employer recognition and awards originate from individual reserve component members," said ESGR officials. "With ongoing global operations, support from employers is more critical now than ever."