By Ed Brock and Diane Wagner
The massive call-up of Reserve and National Guard forces is tapping public safety departments in Henry and Clayton counties, but officials say other police and firefighters are stepping in to fill the gaps.
"Even if you have a handful of people out, it affects your staffing and manpower allocation. Especially coupled with the fact that we have openings that are unfilled," Henry County Public Safety Director Rob Magnaghi said. "But we're making up for it with overtime, so the level of service has not diminished."
Guard and Reserve member call-ups could have an impact on the already understaffed Clayton County Sheriff's Department where two employees have already been activated and six more are on standby.
The impact will be significant, Chief Deputy Shelby Foles said, but not bad enough to threaten the safe operation of the county's jail.
"Anyone who's not here is sorely missed," Foles said.
According to Henry County Public Information Officer Larry Stanford, eight firefighters, 10 police officers and seven sheriff's deputies are military reservists.
Twelve of the 25 men are on active duty now, but Magnaghi said that could change quickly.
"We're getting notices almost on a weekly basis about someone getting called up," he said.
Stanford's information, gathered early in the week, showed two firefighters on active duty. But Fire Lt. Sabrina Puckett said Thursday that two more had been activated. Their slots will remain unfilled.
"Those are their jobs," she said. "They will come back to them."
Firefighter Damion Vaughan had just finished his probation period with the department when he was mobilized in September 2001. He remained on active duty 14 months, and returned to his Henry County position this past November.
"Once the (World Trade Center) towers fell on the 11th, we just waited for the phone call," Vaughan said. "It came within four hours."
As a staff sergeant in the Air Force reserve security forces, Vaughan participated in Operation Noble Eagle. The homeland security operation is something he can't talk about, even now.
"All I can say is it involved the protection of the United States and certain things we have in place," he said. "They moved us to Kuwait, the Al-Ahem al Jaber Air Base, in March 2002. We took care of guarding aircraft, personnel and the airbase itself, and worked with the Kuwaitis to train them."
After two months in Kuwait, Vaughan was rotated back to guard Warner Robins Air Force Base?"I was one of the lucky ones, I ended up passing a kidney stone," he said with a wry smile?but several Henry County employees are still with the unit overseas.
"It was an adjustment," Vaughan said about his return to civilian life four months ago. "To go from being a firefighter to a military job, your mind shifts into another gear. Then I had to switch to the other side and start doing this again."
He and his wife Susan are expecting their first child in September.
HENRY COUNTY MUNICIPALITIES
All nine of the McDonough Fire Department's firefighter slots are filled, according to Firefighter Robert Wright, although one of its 12 volunteers is on active duty with the military.
Neither the Hampton nor Locust Grove police department has any reservists on staff.
"But we're still trying to fill a vacant position," Locust Grove Police Capt. Ken Swanson said. "It's hard to find qualified people these days."
CLAYTON COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT
The Clayton County Police Department has nine members in the National Guard or Reserves who have been called up for duty or are on standby. They are Lt. Gary Ivey and Officers Alfred Clayton, Scott Smith, Ronald Stern, Michael Wilson, Donnie Foster, Brian Brakefield, Timothy Sperry and Timothy Lively.
"Even though we're honored by their service to their country we miss our brothers and sisters," Clayton County Police Chief Darrell Partain said.
CLAYTON COUNTY SHERIFF DEPARTMENT
Foles withheld the first names of the department's personnel in the Guard and Reserve for security reasons. Clerk T. Myles and Corrections Officer P. Englett have already been called to active duty while Corrections Officers J. Dubois, L. Barber, D. Lawrence, M. Sullivan, Y. Johnson and Deputy V. Anderson are on standby.
"We certainly hope they come home safely, not just for returning to their jobs but for their families and loved ones," Foles said.
RIVERDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Riverdale police Officer Robert J. Webber, a more than three-year veteran of the department, left on March 15 for active duty with the Army National Guard.
"Officer Webber without a doubt will be greatly missed," Riverdale police spokeswoman Officer Debra Johnson said. "We know this is for a good cause but we hated to see him go. He is our brother and I believe a little of each of us went with him."
Johnson, who worked with Webber for about a year, also said Webber is a very dedicated officer who "would give his life for one of us and we would for him."
LAKE CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT
Lake City police Officer Rex Duke is on standby to be called up.
"Knock on wood, he hasn't been activated yet," Lake City acting police chief Capt. David Colwell said.
MORROW, JONESBORO POLICE DEPARTMENTS
The Morrow and Jonesboro police departments have not had any call-ups.
"We're at 100 percent," Morrow Police Chief Kenny Smith said. "We're protecting our homeland."
CLAYTON COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT
Having suffered a broken leg while on duty for the Army in Afghanistan, Clayton County Firefighter/Paramedic Darcy Blow is back in Clayton County but still not back on the job. Other members of the department who have been called or will be called are Firefighter/Paramedic Lee Roberts, Firefighter Steve Bookman, Firefighter/EMT Lars Kuhr, Firefighter/Paramedic Keith Gray, Firefighter/EMT Michael Berry, Firefighter/Paramedic Paul Oliphant, Firefighter/EMT Jesse Lopez and Firefighter/EMT Roger Casco.
"From an employer standpoint, we love hiring reservists, because we get an extremely disciplined individual with a great work ethic," Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas said. "On the other hand, it does put a strain on our operations back home. Right now, our thoughts and prayers are with them because we're worried they'll be put in harm's way n we certainly hope they return safely."
MORROW, JONESBORO, RIVERDALE AND FOREST PARK FIRE DEPARTMENTS
Morrow Firefighter/Paramedic Patrick Kelly, a member of the Army Reserves, has been called to duty, Lt. Carl DeMarco said. Firefighter Jimmy Haskins is in the Reserves but has not been called to active duty.
The Jonesboro Volunteer Fire Department has temporarily lost a firefighter trainee, Adam Burns, to the Army and may have to say good-bye to another trainee, Guard member Karen Corsetti, Fire Chief Jimmy Wiggins said.
A rookie at the Forest Park Fire Department, Firefighter/EMT Lowell Loggins, has also been called to active duty.
"He'd only worked two shifts," fire Maj. Paul Beamon said.
The Riverdale Fire Department has not had any members called to service, Fire Chief Billy Hayes said.