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Waipio shop given Pentagon award


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POSTED: Sunday, October 26, 2008

FORT HOOD, Texas » A Waipio Gentry business leader is one of 15 recipients of the Pentagon's prestigious presidential "Freedom" award that recognizes the support of employers whose workers are members of the National Guard or Reserves.

The award was presented to Bob Barrett, vice president of Coastal Windows, who also met with President Bush at the White House last month.

Sixty-two people work for Coastal Windows. One of them is Mike Echiverri, 58, who also is a sergeant in the Hawaii Army National Guard's 1st Battalion, 487th Field Artillery. It was Echiverri who nominated Barrett "because he takes care of my family when I am away."

"He's a loving boss," said Echiverri, who already has been sent to Iraq twice — first with the 100th Battalion in 2005 and then with the Army Reserve's 657th Aerial Support Group for 12 months last year. He will again deploy to Kuwait next month with Hawaii Army National Guard's 29th Brigade Combat Team for another year.

"My boss always had a big heart," said the 1976 Waianae High School graduate, who has six children and four grandchildren. "I wanted to give something back to him."

Hawaii Air National Guard Col. Ann Greenlee, who commands the 154th Mission Support Group at Hickam Air Force Base, said Barrett's company was the first to win the award in Hawaii and joined 15 other winners — five public-sector employers, five large companies and another five small companies. A record 2,199 National Guard and Reserve members or their family members from across the country nominated their employers for their outstanding support. A national selection board comprising senior Pentagon officials and business leaders selected the recipients.

  Echiverri was invited to attend the Sept. 19 White House ceremony, but had to decline because he was in mobilization training here near Waco, Texas. The 29th Brigade completed its last two months of training Monday and will begin leaving for Kuwait at the end of the month.

Echiverri, a 29-year member of the Army Reserve and the Hawaii Army National Guard, will be with Bravo Battery and is assigned to Camp Patriot at the Kuwaiti Naval Base.

Barrett said Echiverri, who has been with his company for 10 years, is a dedicated and hard-working delivery driver.

"When he leaves I have to replace him with two other workers," Barrett said.

Barrett said he doesn't remember exactly what he told Bush during the 20-minute meeting.

"But he (Bush) did say that the thing that he will miss most," Barrett added, "is the military. 'Being president is a hard job, but it's the best — the best job. My job is to take care of the American people. ... I do what is best for the American people.'"

Echiverri transferred from Army Reserve at Fort Shafter to the Hawaii Army National Guard in March knowing that it was going to be sent away for 12 months.

During Echiverri's last deployment, Coastal Windows periodically called on his family, sent family members the company's newsletters and invited them to company functions, like its Christmas party. Barrett also asked Col. Bruce Oliveira, commander of the 29th Brigade, during one of their briefings what the soldiers miss most from the islands. He said his company wants to send care packages to the soldiers.

  Barrett said that besides allowing Echiverri to accrue vacation and sick pay while the soldier is away, the policy of his company is to subsidize any deployed soldier's pay to ensure that he doesn't lose any money.

Last week Barrett was among the more than dozen business and civic leaders invited by the Hawaii National Guard to observe the 29th Brigade's training before deployment.

Also making the Texas trip was general contractor Alan Shintani, who has a staff of 85 employees including Staff Sgt. Damien Laryiosa, a carpenter apprentice, who is on his second deployment with the 29th Brigade.

"I think that Damien is an integral part of our team," said Shintani, who served in the 82nd Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. "But he is responding to a greater calling and we support his effort."