Michael Thompson said he was glad to serve his country when he was called to active duty in November 1990 as the United States braced for war with Iraq.
Thompson, of Lexington Park, was a 20-year-old Marine reservist and Maryland State Police cadet. Because he had been designated as a member of the police academy class that was scheduled to begin last January, he felt he was well on his way to becoming a full-fledged state trooper.
He went to war, certain that he would return to the class and become a trooper -- as long as he came home from the Middle East alive.
He made it through the war, but his job didn't survive the governor's budget cuts.
State Police careers for Thompson and three other Persian Gulf War veterans have ended, at least for now. The four were members of the 102nd class at the State Police academy who lost their places in the class and were put in the 103rd.
Unfortunately, that class of 24 police trainees was dismissed last October when Gov. William Donald Schaefer cut costs to avert a budget deficit. Other veterans who lost their trainee positions with the State Police are Samuel G. Garrett Jr. of Columbia, Corey Ricks of Edgewood and Michael Duears of Frederick.
"I've got to be honest with you. I expected a lot more," said Thompson, who helped chase the Iraqis from Kuwait as a member of Delta Company, the 2nd Light Armory Battalion, out of Quantico, Va. He says he is trying to land another job in law enforcement but remains bitter toward state officials and the State Police.
"Everyone in the 102nd class, which I was supposed to be in, still has a job," he said yesterday. "The 103rd was terminated, and I don't have a job. Why? Because I went overseas and went to war."
Garrett, 24, called it "a raw deal."
"If you activate somebody and pull them out, you've got to guarantee them exactly what they had before," said Garrett, a Marine reservist with the Fourth Combat Engineers. "If the military told somebody that you face a risk of losing your job if you get activated, nobody would join the reserves."
Garrett joined the reserves for a six-year stint in 1987. He worked as a pharmacy clerk at Giant Food before he was accepted into the State Police academy.
Unlike Thompson, he has found another job. He's working for the Maryland Transit Authority police in Baltimore, which provides some consolation, but not the fulfillment he was seeking as a state trooper.
"It's a good job. Good people," Garrett said. "The first thing I wanted was to be a State Police officer. That's what I was trained to do. That's what I wanted to do. The people at MTA worked with us. I can't complain, but it's not exactly what I want to do."
His lawyer, Robert G. Landolt, said he is optimistic that Garrett will be given an opportunity to become a state trooper without having to take legal action. He said he has gotten support from the Maryland State Troopers Association and Howard County Councilman C. Vernon Gray, who was contacted by Garrett's family.
"No one feels good about it," Landolt said. "Everyone feels that anyone from the academy in Desert Storm who served their country should be given the same opportunity as their classmates."
Gray has contacted the governor's administration. He has written to Joel G. Lee, a former aide to the governor, to ask whether some provisions could be made for the four veterans. Gray said yesterday that they should be offered state trooper jobs.
Lee, now deputy director of thestate's Department of Economic and Employment Development, said that while still in the governor's office he had begun looking into the possibility of having the veterans become state troopers. He said his successor is following up on the matter.
Thompson, however, said he's not so sure he wants to become a state trooper now. He said the close bond he once felt has been broken.
"It's not the same," he said. "In some respect, what made me love the State Police is gone now. As far as I'm concerned, they've taken away a lot of the pride and esprit de corps. It's not the same agency it was."