CHS Receives Highest Department of Defense Honor for Support of Military and Veterans

07.06.2016 Atrium Health News

The U.S. Department of Defense has awarded Carolinas HealthCare System (CHS) a 2016 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, the highest recognition given by the Department to employers for their support of employees who serve in the Guard and Reserve.

CHS was one of just 15 employers nationally to be recognized with this top honor, from more than 2,400 employers nominated. One other employer from North Carolina, Mooresville based Lowe’s, was also among the top 15.

“These 15 employers have distinguished themselves through their outstanding support of our Guard and Reserve members and their families," said Defense Secretary Ash Carter. “Without the unfaltering support of employers like them, the men and women of the National Guard and Reserve would not be able to fulfill their vital roles in our National Security Strategy. It is a great honor for me to recognize these employers, and I congratulate them on their receipt of the Employer Support Freedom Award.”

Nominations must come from a Guard or Reserve member who is employed by the organization they are nominating, or from a family member. 

The nomination for CHS was submitted by Sylvia Wray, RN, nurse manager at Carolinas HealthCare System Kings Mountain and a flight nurse for the North Carolina Air National Guard. 

Wray wrote, in part, “In the National Guard we talk quite a bit about how the guard functions as one big family. We take care of each other. That same feeling pretty much sums up the way that Carolinas HealthCare System takes care of their employees. Two main themes that are always present in the System are ‘one team’ and ‘caring.’"

Aaron Harper, CHS manager of military and veterans affairs, knows firsthand the work being done on behalf of CHS’ military teammates. “CHS, like all employers, is required to comply with USERRA (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act) but we don't just comply, we go above and beyond,” Harper said. “We aren't doing this to win awards. We are engaged internally and externally because we truly care about our military, veterans and their families.” 

CHS has taken a leading role in recruiting and retaining military veterans, which number more than 1,500 throughout the System.  Efforts include:

  • Job networking events for military veterans, including assistance in creating resumes that match their military experience with open positions at CHS.
  • A Veteran System Resource Group that helps veteran CHS teammates and their spouses to network, discuss issues, explore volunteer opportunities in the community and assist in recruitment.
  • A System-wide effort to create and send postcards to military personnel who are deployed overseas to show appreciation for their service.
  • Celebrations for veterans, active military members, and spouses, including an annual Veteran’s Day breakfast, to salute their service and make them feel valued as CHS teammates.
  • Active support of community organizations that help military members, veterans and their families, including Charlotte Bridge Home (an organization that helps vets transition back to civilian life), Toys For Our Troops, and US Department of Veterans Affairs offices in Charlotte and Salisbury, NC.

A fifth generation Marine and veteran of Operation Desert Storm, Harper says, “It warms my heart that our System is being recognized for its support of those who are serving, have served and will serve, along with their families.”

The Freedom Award began in 1996 under the auspices of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a Department of Defense program, to recognize exceptional support from the employer community. In the years since, 220 employers have been honored with the award.  CHS and the other 2016 award recipients will be honored at a ceremony in the Pentagon on Aug. 26.

For more information on the 2016 Freedom Award program, visit For more information on Employer Support of The Guard and Reserve (ESGR), visit

About Carolinas HealthCare System

Carolinas HealthCare System (, one of the nation’s leading and most innovative healthcare organizations, provides a full spectrum of healthcare and wellness programs throughout North and South Carolina. Its diverse network of care locations includes academic medical centers, hospitals, freestanding emergency departments, physician practices, surgical and rehabilitation centers, home health agencies, nursing homes and behavioral health centers, as well as hospice and palliative care services. Carolinas HealthCare System works to enhance the overall health and wellbeing of its communities through high quality patient care, education and research programs, and numerous collaborative partnerships and initiatives.