Duty calls, state braces

Government leaders, employers prepare to lose workers

Job assurances given

Guard, reserves total thousands in Md.

impact uncertain

Anne Arundel

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 may be called to military duty that their current 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 current 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.

President Bush 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, there are 6,500 soldiers in the state's Army National Guard and 1,800 members of 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.

Already, some 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 still 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 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 may be more substantial.

Harford County Sheriff's Office spokesman Lt. Edward Hopkins said that some units, including school and community policing units, may have to be shut down and officers moved around to fill in for those called to duty.

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 as many as 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 exact 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.

Baltimore schools chief Carmen V. Russo said she asked this week for a list of staff who could be called.

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 make sure 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.

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