GI and the joe

John Sookikian (left) and his boss at Consolidated Electrical Distributors, Mike Goss, will trade their work clothes for tuxedos tonight for a banquet in Washington, D.C., during which CED will be presented with a Secretary of Defense Employer Support Fre

For Mike Goss, it started with a simple question to a valued employee who was about to serve his second tour of combat duty in Iraq: "Do you need anything?"

For Army Reserve 1st Sgt. John Sookikian, who in civilian clothes is a sales representative for Goss at Consolidated Electrical Distributors in North Charleston, some Starbucks coffee would be a nice reminder of home.

"If all it takes is some Starbucks coffee, hey, I can do that," said Goss, who is manager of the business.

The seemingly simple follow-through to that request has earned the Meeting Street Road distributor a 2009 Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which Goss will receive at a black-tie banquet tonight at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington, D.C.

California-based Consolidated's 11-worker local shop is one of 15 employers being honored for going above and beyond the call of duty to support workers who serve in the National Guard or the Reserves.

Jill Biden, Vice President's Joe Biden wife and mother of a Delaware National Guard officer, will present the awards.

The company's busy itinerary today includes rubbing shoulders with some powerful political figures.

A tour of the Pentagon is to be followed by a chat with Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Afterward, and if his schedule allows, President Barack Obama will greet the Consolidated entourage, including Sookikian, in the Oval Office, Goss said Tuesday.

"I guess he's a pretty busy guy these days," Goss said of the president.

Consolidated is the first South Carolina employer to earn a Freedom Award in the 13-year history of the national recognition program. Sookikian, who has served a total of nearly four years on active duty while working for the company, including two combat tours, nominated his employer.

"This company is just fantastic," said Sookikian, who has been with Consolidated since 2001. "It makes it really, really, really easy to be loyal to them."

After the first coffee shipments went out, Goss said all employees at North Charleston chipped in to send 10 pounds of Starbucks every two weeks, along with other comforts of home.

"It got to a point where we started to do it on a regular basis," he said.

Also, the company continued Sookikian's health coverage and provided him with raises and other benefits while he was on active duty, though it was not required by law to do so.

Sookikian's nomination letter for the award drew a visit from the National Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, which manages the award program, and Goss said the company later learned that it was being considered as a finalist.

Little did he know that more than 3,200 other employers also were in the running.

He said he was shocked when he learned Consolidated had been picked.

"It's quite an honor," he said, adding that the glory should go to Sookikian.

"He did all the heavy lifting," Goss said.

Chuck Crumbo of The State contributed to this report.