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Zurich manager David Shluger is honored for giving his team member ‘incredible flexibility’ to fulfill his duties with the Air National Guard.

Air Guardsman Jaren Painter had been working as a Senior Cyber Risk Engineering Consultant at Zurich North America for just a few months when the Air Force called him up for a last-minute overseas deployment of six months. Painter notified his manager David Shluger, Vice President of Cyber Risk Engineering, right away.

“Dave took it all in stride,” Painter said.

Shluger quickly mobilized Zurich’s cyber team to cover critical work for Painter, who serves as a Cyberspace Operations Superintendent in the West Virginia Air National Guard.

“David allowed me an incredible amount of flexibility in schedule and was willing to communicate with me outside working hours to make sure that our handoff was smooth,” Painter said. “Then, 48 hours before I was supposed to leave, the Air Force said, ‘Never mind.’ I called Dave and said I’ll be back to work on Monday. Dave took that in stride too. He has been very accommodating. I’m very grateful for him and Zurich.”

Painter, who has been away for weeks of Guard duty on other occasions, nominated Shluger for the Patriot Award, Zurich’s second in recent years. Retired Col. Renato Bacci, Military Outreach Director for the Department of Defense’s Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), presented the award to Shluger recently at Zurich’s headquarters in Schaumburg, Illinois. Painter, members of Zurich’s VETZ employee resource group and other colleagues attended.

Shluger thanked Painter and Bacci for the award and praised his team, noting the value Painter brings to his country and to Zurich customers. Through his Guard role, for example, Painter participated in Locked Shields, an international cyber war games exercise with NATO member countries, helping him further hone his cyber defense skills.

“I see with customers that Jaren’s cyber military experience is a clear credential,” Shluger said. “That translates to them feeling better served. For what we do, which is help customers improve cyber resilience, there really is no better match for military experience. Jaren is able to bring that and put that to work for our customers.”

Military experience is valued

Shluger estimates that about half of Zurich’s Cyber Risk Engineering team has military experience, and it is something Tom Fioretti, Head of Zurich Resilience Solutions in North America, values for roles across various specialties in Risk Engineering.

“As soon as I told Tom about Jaren being called up, Tom didn’t hesitate to say, ‘God bless, good luck; tell him whatever he needs, we have his back,’” Shluger said.

Painter said Zurich’s reputation for supporting veterans was important to him when he was seeking his next role. Military Times has named Zurich a Best Employer for Veterans several years now.  

What is a challenge coin?
When Sirena Arnaout presented Col. Renato Bacci and David Shluger with a VETZ Challenge Coin, Bacci smiled in recognition of a military tradition.

While there are many stories about the origin of the challenge coin, Bacci cites World War I.

"Units would give each of their members a special coin so if they got stranded somewhere and were trying to get back to their line and someone questioned whether they legitimately belonged to that unit, then they could present their challenge coin and come back into the unit.”

The tradition evolved so that if a member of the military is ever asked for their coin, and they don’t have it with them, then they have to buy that person a beverage.

“You don’t ever go into a military club without a challenge coin,” Bacci said. “You could be asked to buy the whole bar a round.”

“I had other civilian jobs prior to Zurich that were much less accommodating of my service,” Painter said. “There are, of course, laws that say you have to offer me my job back after I’m deployed, but I had one manager at a previous job say he couldn’t cut me directly for a deployment ‘but just know that if anything happens when you come back, that will be it.’ My service is still a priority for me. I have been in for more than 10 years, and there’s a direct nexus between what I do on the military side and what I do at Zurich. The ability to overlap the two keeps me engaged in both.”

In 2020, Andrew Groninger, an Army National Guardsman who works in Infrastructure & Operations at Zurich, nominated his manager, Jay Mueller, for the Patriot Award. Groninger said Mueller, Collaboration Services Lead at Zurich, worked to ensure Groninger’s family's benefits coverage would continue when Groninger was deployed to assist in the COVID-19 emergency response with less than a week’s notice. (Read more about that here.)

Groninger recently returned from a monthslong deployment in the nation’s capital, during which he received several commendations, including a Meritorious Service Medal, for leadership of his teams. It’s the third deployment Groninger has had as a Zurich employee, and he said support from his Zurich manager and teams has been unwavering.

Colleagues who care

Supporting veterans is a passion for Sirena Arnaout, VETZ co-chair and a Talent Acquisition Specialist at Zurich. She attended the Patriot Award ceremony and presented a VETZ token of appreciation, called a Challenge Coin, to both Bacci and Shluger.

“My dad was born in Iraq and came to the U.S. in the ‘70s and signed up with the American Army, serving as a translator in Baghdad from 2003 to 2011,” Arnaout said. “My dad was so all American, and I didn’t realize, until I got into transition support for veterans, how much I cared about his experience. It’s really a pride point for me.”

When she interviewed for her role with Zurich, she shared her passion and was told that Zurich empowers its people to do work in their communities.

“I went home and said I hope it’s half as good as they say. And it has been more than that,” Arnaout said. “If you are performing and meeting goals, you have the autonomy and flexibility to spread your wings and take a deeper dive into your passion. I talk about that a lot in my conversations with college students. If you want the place where you work to be a community, this is a great culture. All of our different ERGs offer you opportunities to explore and grow. It really is a form of its own education.”

Arnaout does her part to raise awareness with transitioning military about the opportunities at Zurich.

“You don’t leave the Army or Navy thinking, ‘I’m going home to work in insurance,” Arnaout said. “But almost every business unit at Zurich has an area where veterans’ expertise is valid and valued.”

Bacci, in presenting the award to Shluger, said Reservists appreciate the support from civilian employers.

“If you’re helping someone who works for you to be involved in Reserve components, then you are a patriot,” Bacci said. “You are as much a patriot as they are, because if they have a problem [with their employer], then they aren’t going to be able to fulfill their obligations with the military. And having a Reserve component is part of our national interest.”