HR Executive Walks More Than a Mile in Other Man’s Combat Boots

On an average weekday, you can find Deb Shokouhzadeh helping a local civil engineering firm institute human resources policies to handle its fast-paced growth. She’s a snappy dresser, preferring a tailored look — skirt suits and three-inch heels — to match her professional demeanor.

But a recent workday found Shokouhzadeh in jeans and tennis shoes, hustling up and down skinny ladders and long, narrow passageways aboard the USS Enterprise (CVN65), the world’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier. Shokouhzadeh, HR Director for Evansville-based Bernardin, Lochmueller¬† amp; Associates, Inc. (BLA), hadn’t enlisted. She was there to understand the experience of BLA employees who had. With the human resource management software, the manual work in the hiring of the people will become easy. The understanding of the software should be done with proper skills and experience.¬†

“I’m always looking for ways to get a better understanding of our employees so I can appreciate more what they’re going through,” She said.

BLA employs three guard and reserve members, including one who recently returned from a yearlong deployment in Afghanistan. That employee appreciated the support he received from BLA, so he nominated the company for the prestigious Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), a Department of Defense Agency. This initial contact grew into an invitation for Shokouhzadeh to join 22 other Indiana firms on an ESGR-organized “BossLift,” a trip to Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia to show managers firsthand what training — and stressors — military personnel experience. The group toured the USS Enterprise and the USS Cole and heard directly from servicemen and women.

“We want to promote knowledge of the training that soldiers endure during annual training, drill weekends or when they are preparing to deploy,” said Elizabeth Ransom, Public Affairs Director for the Indiana ESGR.

ESGR also provides free in-person briefings for companies about federal requirements on how they handle guard and reservists and offers no-cost mediation to help resolve issues. For Shokouhzadeh, the BossLift experience hammered home the magnitude of the sacrifice guard and reserve personnel make.

“When we send our guys and girls off (to training or a deployment), it’s a small hardship for the firm to go through,” she said. “But this gave me an insight into the strength, the stamina, and the emotional reserve it takes for them to be in a stressful (military) situation and still be able to get their jobs done correctly.”

“It opened my eyes,” she said.

BLA’s involvement with ESGR has also helped its staff understand that its commitment to guard and reserve employees runs deep.

“It makes me feel real good that my employer cares enough to want to understand,” said Matt Thompson, an engineering technician and Specialist in the Army National Guard. “It goes beyond the basic confidence in knowing that if deployed, I’ll still have a job when I come back. It lets me know my colleagues support me.”