Photo by Shawn Arrajj
Plant manager Jeff Muller oversees Graco Awards’ production of military medals, like the Purple Heart.
Over the last decade, Graco Awards was behind some of the most notable awards bestowed upon U.S. servicemen and women. In 2011 alone, Graco was commissioned to make more than 2.5 million military medals. They produced the Medal of Honor for Dakota Meyer, the Marine who rescued 12 wounded soldiers from likely death in Afghanistan in September 2009. After the war in Iraq began, they were the company the government turned to when they needed Purple Hearts, and after 9/11—Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor.
“A lot of passion goes into making this stuff,” said Jeff Muller, Graco’s plant operations manager. “A lot of our employees have family members in the service. Some of them are veterans. They all know what the Purple Heart [stands] for.”
Graco Awards was founded in 1981 by Lee Graves of Spring to produce medals and ribbons for units in the Texas International Guard. At the time, there were not any manufacturers who would do orders that small. Soon after, the California National Guard showed interest in purchasing some awards.
“It was just a domino effect from there,” said Muller, who has been with the company for 19 years.
In May 2011, Graco awards was purchased by its current owner, Northwest Territorial Mint. The facility in Tomball has been around for 15 years and employs about 60 people, according to Muller. They mainly work with the federal government through contracts, but they also sell to distributors, wholesalers and manage some retail sales through their website.
Right now they are working on an Air Medal contract of 34,000 medals for jet fliers who are sent into combat. They are also working on a Bronze Star contract, a Defense Meritorious Service Award and an Army Achievement contract.
“Business has been strong,” he said. “We predict that, with all of these officers coming back, business is going to pick up even more.”
Muller said it is not uncommon for his employees to tear up while working on the awards. Some will gather and say prayers over certain awards, like the Purple Heart, he said.
Working for Graco is a source of pride for its employees, Muller said. His company was recognized with a certificate from Donald Rumsfeld after 9/11 for producing more than 500 Public Safety Officer Medals of Valor at top quality in 30 days—a record-breaking time.
“I feel honored to work for this company and make the medals for the men and women of the armed forces,” Muller said. “With all the sacrifices they have to make, I’m glad I can be a part of rewarding their services.”
Graco Awards, 723 S. Cherry St., Tomball, 281-255-2161, www.gracoind.com