Purpose from heartache
Aug 22, 2019

A group born out of tragedy marks its 10-year anniversary at 3M this year, and the need that served as its impetus – supporting the families, friends and coworkers of military service members – continues a decade on.

For retired 3Mer Sandy Masterson, the fact that the Military Support Network (MSN) persists is a comfort.

It was the death of her son, Army medic CPL Conor Masterson, that in part spurred Sandy and more than a dozen other 3Mers to start the MSN in June 2009.

“Most people go through their daily lives without ever thinking about those who serve. Yet, we have families with children, spouses, other loved ones and neighbors, deployed and in harm’s way. When the MSN was launched, a key objective was to help raise awareness of this,” she says.

Sandy had no way of knowing years ago that her family’s misfortune would lead to the group that now has 19 chapters and more than 1,000 members across the country and provides active support and outreach, professional development and hiring services to 3M military veterans, their families and other military members seeking to join 3M.

“We know why we were founded and what our mission continues to be,” said Kevin White, Operational Excellence Manager, Environmental, Health, Safety and Sustainability, and MSN chair. “Sandy’s inspiration has maintained our core mission to support the extended military family.”

Taking the calls

Tim McElroy, a digital leader with Corporate Marketing-Sales, says he remembers back in 2006 when Sandy would need to abruptly leave their team meetings – her son was calling from Afghanistan.

“The first one or two times, Sandy’s apologizing, but we said, “Don’t worry, we’ll take over,” says Tim, whose own son was serving at the same time.

Sandy said she always had the support of her immediate team.

“All I would have to say is, ‘It’s Conor calling from Afghanistan,’ and everybody instantly accommodated me,” she says. “When you receive a call, you take it, because you don’t know if that could be the last time.”

For Sandy, that last call came Friday, April 6, 2007.

“I remember where I took the call – it was in Building 220, by a set of stairs that used to be there,” she says.

Two days later, on Easter morning, April 8, Sandy was in her basement about to do her daily exercises. Her significant other, Mike, was upstairs.

The doorbell rang.

“I remember thinking, ‘That’s really strange. It’s Easter morning. Who could it be?’” Sandy recalls.

She could hear footsteps, Mike answering the door, and then Mike coming down the stairs to the basement.

There were two military officers that wanted to speak with her.

“And, of course, I knew. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that flight of stairs, going to where the front door was,” Sandy says. “I couldn’t move fast enough, because I needed to know. On the other hand, I didn’t want to get there.”

Conor, 21, had been killed-in-action just hours before by an improvised explosive device while riding in a Humvee.

“Life changes in an instant, and there’s no going back,” Sandy says. For Sandy, that meant dealing with her new, constant companion, grief. The next two years she spent trying to cope with it. Outside of work, Sandy organized a recognition program for teachers at Conor’s high school in Woodbury as well as an ongoing ice cream social and 5K run fundraiser, Scoops for Troops.

But at work, it was hard to become fully productive again.

“For the first six months, everybody carried me,” Sandy says.

It was hard to see his friend and coworker suffer, Tim says.

“I felt like Sandy just couldn’t get to 100%,” he recalls.

She might have been organizing events in her private life, Sandy says, “but at work, it was more difficult.  I was doing my best, but there simply wasn’t a connection between my work, my grief, and moving forward.”

Then Chaplain John Morris came to 3M.

Honor & Care

Morris was one of the two military officials to notify Sandy of Conor’s death, and he was now at 3M imploring employees to support the families of military members.

“He told us that those deployed were receiving significant support, but the families were largely forgotten,” Sandy says. “He challenged us. He helped us see that at 3M we have the skills and resources to help these families.

“It resonated with me and so many others, and we decided to take on the challenge,” says Sandy.

Within two days, the MSN had a core team of 18 and an executive sponsor – CEO George Buckley.

“To be able to integrate my loss of Conor with my work helped me become fully productive again,” Sandy admits.

The logo for the group is a crest featuring a parent and child, Building 220 and a saluting Armed Forces member, with the words “Honor & Care” and three initials – “C.G.M.” for Conor Gerard Masterson.

Sandy retired in 2017 after 35 years at 3M. She came back this June, though, for a flag ceremony at Global Headquarters in honor of Conor.

At the ceremony, John Banovetz, 3M Chief Technology Officer and Senior Vice President, Research & Development, commended Conor and his mother for their contribution to the company: “Thank you, Sandy, for sharing Conor’s legacy with us, and for inspiring so many here at 3M to continue his legacy of service to others. And thank you for the privilege of celebrating his life and sacrifice here today.”

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