ESGR recognizes Alaska business with their highest award

  • Published
  • By David Bedard
  • 176th Wing Public Affairs

At the recommendation of an Alaska Air National Guardsman with the Alaska Air National Guard’s 176th Wing, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve recognized an Alaska business Sept. 29 with the organization’s highest national award.

With the endorsement of Capt. Bryan Farthing, a traditional, weekend-drilling Guardsman with 176th Medical Group, ESGR officials presented the federal organization’s Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award to Farthing’s employer, the Allergy, Asthma and Immunology Center of Alaska.

According to the organization’s website, ESGR is a Department of Defense office established in 1972 to promote cooperation and understanding between reserve component service members and their civilian employers and to assist in the resolution of conflicts arising from an employee's military commitment.

Patty Wilbanks, Alaska ESGR state chair, said only one other Alaska employer has earned the award since its establishment in 1996. Of 2,777 employers nominated, only 15 earned the award for 2022. Since the award’s inception, only 325 employers have received the award.

Wilbanks said the rarity of the award underscored the magnitude of the honor. 

Many of the AAIC staff are retired and prior military, Farthing said, and many of their business practices are adapted from military medicine.

Ronald Bogle, ESGR National chair, sent a letter with the award to AAIC, underscoring the importance of employer support.

“As an employer, you may not think of yourself in this way, but you are an important partner in our national defense,” he wrote. “The military forces are facing recruiting challenges not seen since the Vietnam War, and supporting employers are making even more important contributions to both the retention and readiness of their employees.”

Brig. Gen. Tracy Smith, Alaska Air National Guard commander, said supportive employers were recently instrumental in the National Guard’s ability to send more than 130 Guardsmen to Western Alaska in response to Typhoon Merbok.

“Thank you so much for all you do to allow us to continue to serve, to be that community support,” she said.

Dr. Melinda Rathkopf, AAIC director, said she was honored her clinic earned the award, and she said Farthing’s Guard duties have enhanced his service to the clinic.

“I really want to thank Bryan,” Rathkopf said of the captain’s efforts to route the award. “He has been such an asset to this clinic. We promoted him to our director of clinical services. He excels in teaching our staff, teaching all of the providers and keeping us all up to date.”

Farthing said the idea for submitting the award came a few years back. In the wake of the COVID pandemic and through his absence supporting the Arctic Care medical training and outreach at Kodiak, he said it was high time to write and route the award paperwork.

“With how much I was gone and balancing both this organization’s requirements and the Guard requirements, my company was so supportive with me working different hours, and they were always here for me and my family,” he said. “So, I made it a point to follow through on what I had been thinking about doing for a couple of years.”

Farthing credited Wilbanks, her fellow volunteers, and the full-time ESGR staffer Amy Arsenault, for successfully submitting the award.

“When you have a volunteer service, the people who are in those positions want to be there and want to make a difference,” he said. “They’re not only there to support and recognize employers, but to help spread the word about Congressionally granted rights given to the men and women who serve in the Army and Air National Guard.”

Farthing said his two careers complement each other, and he is thankful to have two professional organizations to call home.

“I am thankful to be a part of this organization,” Farthing said pointing to clinic staff, “And I am thankful to be part of this organization,” he said pointing to 176th Wing leadership in attendance. “And I am able to do both at the same time.”

For information on how to submit an employer for an award, call Arsenault at (907) 428-6576 or email at