County official to head to Iraq

Singer leaves for training in N.C. at end of this month

May 13, 2007|By Laura McCandlish | Laura McCandlish,Sun Reporter

Maj. Edwin F. "Ed" Singer III, director of the Carroll County Health Department's environmental health division, will put his work on new state water and wastewater restrictions on hold at the end of this month as he prepares for a year-long deployment in Iraq with the Army Reserve.

Having finished a year-long tour with an Army reconstruction team in Afghanistan in July 2005, Singer has become accustomed to setting his civilian job aside to take on difficult work in a combat zone.

What is most trying, Singer said, is leaving his family behind, forcing his wife, Michelle, to assume full responsibility of their young son and daughter.

"It's toughest on my wife, getting ready to be a single mom again, managing the kids' homework and activities," Singer said. "They know this time how long it's going to be."

During Singer's absence, deputy director Charles L. Zeleski will oversee the 29-employee environmental health division, as he did when Singer was deployed to the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.

The environmental health division oversees almost everything that affects public health, including food safety, soil contamination, air quality, rabies and other diseases such as the West Nile virus, on top of the water issues that have become so pressing in Carroll County.

"The issues are just endless that influence health from an environmental perspective," said James E. Slater Jr., Carroll's environmental compliance officer who has worked on projects with Singer since the early 1990s. "Everything you do that affects the air, the water and the soil has the potential to affect your life and your health."

When water shortages froze development for more than six months in Westminster last year, Singer stopped signing building permits and recording plats for new subdivisions, following state mandates.

Though some development has been allowed to move forward since officials lifted Westminster's moratorium in April, Singer said water capacity and stricter pollution controls on discharged wastewater will remain issues in Westminster and the county at large.

Conservation will become integral to these efforts, Singer said, which is a goal of the new countywide water advisory committee.

"If we can come up with a way of not using as much water, then we don't have to find as much water," Singer said.

Singer is the second government employee working on water issues in Westminster to be called to active duty in the Middle East.

Thomas B. Beyard, Westminster's veteran director of planning and public works, left city government in June 2006 for more than a year-long deployment based at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait with the Maryland Army National Guard.

Beyard, who is in town for a brief visit, expects to return to Westminster later this year. From Kuwait, he said his work regularly takes him to Balad, Iraq, and Bagram, Afghanistan.

As the Iraq war continues and further strains troop levels, it's a matter of when and not if reservists like Beyard and Singer will be deployed.

"It doesn't seem to make a lot of difference now whether you're reserves or active duty," said Singer, who became a reservist upon graduating with an ROTC scholarship from what was then Western Maryland College in 1987. "A lot of folks are getting mobilized."

With his briefings on contamination from the gasoline additive MTBE, Singer has become a presence at the monthly meetings of the county's Environmental Advisory Council.

He has even sparred with advisory council member Sher Horosko, who had criticized the Health Department for not acting swiftly enough to determine the source of the contaminants.

Though they have had their moments, Horosko said she and Singer have learned to respectfully disagree.

"The relationship we now have with the Health Department on MTBE is probably the strongest in the state," Horosko said. "I will miss Ed Singer. He approaches [his job] with humor and grit. He will leave a void here."

Singer mobilizes to Fort Bragg in North Carolina May 30 for a couple of months of training before deploying to Baghdad. His last day of work is May 22.

He plans to enjoy Memorial Day weekend with his family, including his two kids, Natalie, 10, and Edwin IV, 11.

This month, Singer has juggled other supplemental training here and there. This week, he'll head to Fort Jackson in South Carolina. Two weeks ago, he was training in Prince George's County.

In the meantime, Singer is attending as many of his children's concerts, lacrosse and baseball games as possible.

Since he enjoyed his work on sanitation projects in Afghanistan, Singer said he is eager to help improve government functions and humanitarian relief in Iraq. His unit is made up of memberswith various civilian skills, including his team sergeant, who is a police officer, Singer said.

"We'll try to get things running the right way over there," Singer said. "You always run into some uncomfortable situations when you're in a combat zone. But I really enjoyed what I did in Afghanistan.

"The vast majority of people were very favorable towards the American people. It seems like the majority of folks in Iraq still need the support of the American people to make things work over there."

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