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Deployments create challenges for midstate agencies

More than three dozen Middle Georgia police officers, deputies and firefighters are serving their country on military deployments, creating staffing challenges for the departments they left behind.

@MA BodyRR:More than 30 public safety employees deployed work in Macon and Bibb County.

Macon-Bibb County Fire Chief Marvin Riggins said seven firefighters are on military leave, a number that’s doubled since 2007.

“I think it’s a noble duty,” Riggins said. “They’re protecting us so we can protect our community.”

To meet minimum staffing requirements, firefighters are called in on overtime to fill the gap, Riggins said.

While deployed, public safety employees’ jobs remain vacant awaiting their return, said Bibb County Sheriff’s Office Lt. George Meadows.

Meadows said 10 Bibb County deputies are on military leave. Nine of them work in the jail while one is a communications supervisor.

Two of the 10, Corrections officers Karim Glover and Paul Digby, are deploying with the Georgia National Guard’s 48th Infantry Brigade, he said.

Like the firefighters, deputies work overtime to cover the deployed deputies’ shifts, Meadows said.

Sheriff Jerry Modena said it’s no surprise to him that law enforcement officers participate in reserve and guard units. Many of his deputies were on active duty before being hired at the sheriff’s office and the work they perform while deployed can be quite similar to their patrol duties at home.

Modena said the sheriff’s office makes an effort to look after the families of those deployed.

Modena said deputies at home offer emotional support to spouses and children of deployed deputies, and help perform household tasks such as carpentry.

“You worry about them and worry about something happening to them while they’re gone,” the sheriff said of his deployed staff members.

At the Macon Police Department, 18 Macon police officers are deployed, 10 more than in June 2008, said Sgt. Melanie Hofmann,

Hofmann didn’t have a list of personnel deploying with the 48th Brigade on Tuesday, but she said at least one officer, detective Joseph Vamper, is leaving with the group bound for Afghanistan.

While many public safety departments do not pay their employees while they’re on military leave, Hofmann said, Macon police officers are paid for 144 hours of military leave per calendar year if they return to work during the same year they leave.

Baldwin County Sheriff Bill Massee said one of his deputies is preparing to deploy with the 48th. Another has been away on special training for more than a year.

“One of the hardest things is when the person leaves a key position, you put someone else in that key position. Then when they return, you have more than one person in that slot,” Massee said. “You end up with more than one person in those promotional positions.”

During the Gulf War, however, there were twice as many deputies called up for military duty, he said.

Baldwin County Sgt. Shannon Resha, an Army National Guard reservist, has been deployed to Bosnia and Iraq since he joined the department in about 2000, and will head to Afghanistan next month.

Massee, a retired guardsman, said the military training can help a deputy adjust to the protocol at the sheriff’s office.

“Baldwin County has taken the position that when we quit hiring people that are active and reservists, that’s a bad position to be in,” he said. “They normally are very good deputies. They understand the rank structure, report writing, responding to calls. We have had a very good experience employing soldiers.”

In Warner Robins, the police force is down by one patrol officer with deployment of the 48th Infantry Brigade, said Maj. John Wagner.

A patrol supervisor also is deployed in Iraq and two other patrol officers — one with the Army National Guard and the other with the Air National Guard — are pending deployment, Wagner said.

“We support them,” said Wagner, who served in the first Gulf War with the U.S. Marine Corps before joining the Warner Robins police. “We’re a military town, but we bear the sacrifice as well with the loss.”

Activation of reserve and guard units in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks left the Warner Robins police down between eight and 10 officers, the highest at one time, he said.

Staff writers Ashley Tusan Joyner and Becky Purser contributed to this report. To contact writer Amy Leigh Womack, call 744-4398.

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