Government officials, employers brace for call-up of reserves

Workers leaving to help military could have widespread impact

September 20, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

As Marylanders from police officers to public school teachers prepare to be called into military service, government officials and employers around the state have started planning how to fill the void.

At the same time, Gov. Parris N. Glendening and local officials are assuring those who might be called to military duty that their jobs - and benefits - will be there when they return.

Glendening said yesterday that the state would cover the health care premiums of state employees called to active duty. He said this would allow the employees and their families to keep their physicians instead of transferring into the military medical system.

"We wanted to alleviate people's [anxiety] right now," said Glendening spokesman Michael Morrill, who said health care was a major concern of those facing military duty.

The governor urged private industry and the state university system to follow the state's lead, as thousands of workers in the state could be affected by the largest call-up of Reserve and National Guard units since the gulf war.

The president has authorized calling up to 50,000 reservists and Guard members. Pentagon officials expect to soon begin calling about 35,000 of those to active duty, 13,000 of them Air Guard and Reserve pilots and ground crews for possible combat air patrols.

Although officials say they wouldn't be called all at once, 6,500 soldiers serve in the state's Army National Guard and 1,800 in the Air National Guard.

"Realistically, the Department of Defense would be calling in airmen and soldiers depending on what specialties they needed," said Lt. Barbara Maher, a spokeswoman for the Maryland National Guard.

Reservists have been called to help with security details. Annapolis police Officer Eric Crane, activated last week, stands guard at Andrews Air Force Base with the D.C. Air National Guard 113th Flight Wing security forces squad.

His fellow police officers are covering his patrols, leading community meetings for him and juggling his phone calls as well as theirs.

"It's hard," said Crane, who goes into police headquarters every day before he reports to the base. "I feel an alliance to both the Police Department and the military. My military duty has to come first right now. But it's like I tell everyone, `My heart belongs to Annapolis Police Department. My butt belongs to the military.'"

Officials in the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services estimate 225 employees could be called to military duty. That includes several dozen pretrial, parole and probation officers and 182 correctional officers who might have to be replaced - at least temporarily - by employees from other posts or on overtime, said Public Safety and Correctional Services spokesman Leonard A. Sipes Jr.

"That's about all we can do," he said.

However, Sipes said, because of additional money in the state's budget beginning July 1, the department started hiring more workers who could have a "mitigating effect."

But in smaller agencies and smaller offices, the impact might be more substantial.

According to Victoria Goodman, Howard County communications director, 70 to 80 Howard employees are Guard members or reservists.

"Whenever we're missing anybody it's a problem, but we'll make out without them, if need be," said Fire Capt. M. Sean Kelly.

Baltimore County government officials said up to 200 county employees - including police officers and firefighters - could be activated. But officials expect no disruption in services, saying they are confident other county employees will fill in where needed.

Spokeswoman Ellen Kobler said county officials began surveying agencies to determine the number of county employees who could be activated.

State Department of Transportation officials also began counting this week all aviation, motor vehicle, port and highway employees who might be called.

In the University of Maryland Medical System, an e-mail was sent to all department heads yesterday to determine how many nurses, doctors and support staff could be sent to active duty.

In Anne Arundel County - where seven police officers have been activated and 40 others could be called for duty - officials began this week figuring out how to ensure trash gets collected and 911 calls are answered if certain reservists are called.

Many police departments, which have among the highest number of reservists, began counting the number of officers they could lose last week.

Maryland State Police said fewer than 10 troopers had been called. But their departure is having an effect. Four of the 94 troopers who staff the Westminster barracks are gone, according to acting barracks commander Sgt. Andrew Mays. Two more troopers are on standby.

"It cuts us down to bare bones," Mays said. "We just have to pull together and pick up the slack. ... It has affected us, but it hasn't diminished our capacity to do our jobs."

The force could lose 55 of 1,650 troopers, said state police spokesman Lt. Bud Frank.

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