Betsy Dyer (left) and Karen Davis, owners of the Therapeutic Learning Center, pose for a photo with a foamboard cutout of their employee, Katie Ford. Ford is a sergeant with the National Guard and is currently deployed in Arizona. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / BDN

MILFORD, Maine — Speech language pathologists are rarely speechless, but Karen Davis and Betsy Dyer had trouble finding the words to express how they felt upon learning an employee had nominated them for a national military honor — and they’d won.

Together, Davis and Dyer run the Therapeutic Learning Center, a speech therapy center in Milford. The pair were given the Patriot Award from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a United States Department of Defense program.

The ESGR was established in 1972 to promote cooperation between service members and their civilian employers.

Katie Ford — an occupational therapist and sergeant who is currently deployed in Arizona with the Maine Army National Guard — nominated her bosses for the award.

Ford said she felt Dyer and Davis were deserving of the recognition for many reasons, but especially because they supported her military calling.

Service members aren’t required to disclose their military obligations to potential employers, but Ford said she felt comfortable sharing that with Dyer and Davis during a job interview two years ago.

Immediately, the two shared their own connections to the military with Ford.

“They reassured me that my military obligations would always come first,” she said.

Service members are protected against employment discrimination and retaliation under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act. This means that service members who temporarily leave a civilian job for military duties — such as deployment — retain the right to re-employment upon their return home.

While bound by law, Dyer and Davis both come from military families and wanted to go the extra mile to show they supported Ford’s service obligations.

“We feel very strongly that the military is important and we will always support that,” Dyer said.

Dyer is particularly close with Ford. She knew her as a student at Ellsworth High School and watched her graduate school, move on to college and join the Maine Army National Guard.

When Ford’s unit was moved to Houlton, Dyer spent a day driving her north and then headed back home to Surry — a more than five-hour drive roundtrip.

Betsy Dyer holds up their Patriotic Employer award from the Department of Defense. Dyer and Davis own the Therapeutic Learning Center in Milford together. Credit: Nina Mahaleris / BDN

The rest of the learning center team is also supportive of Ford’s military service, Dyer and Davis said. Colleagues have taken on some of Ford’s clients and sent her letters and care packages during her deployment.

“Deployment is not easy … but there’s no bosses, no companies more deserving of this award,” she said.

ESGR sent the businessowners a framed certificate of recognition, along with a letter from the Maine Committee chairperson. Bethanie Mazzaro, a representative from ESGR, read parts of Ford’s nomination letter aloud during a virtual award ceremony Thursday afternoon.

Mazzaro said she was impressed with how Dyer and Davis supported Ford throughout her various military obligations.

“Karen and Betsy are a true form of what a great leader is,” she said.