By Jason A. Smith
Some are busy patching up accident victims now. Others are arresting dangerous criminals. Many who donned military attire to serve their country, continue their roles of service at police and fire departments throughout Henry County.
Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services Deputy Chief Andrew Condrey has worked with his department for 22 years. He said public safety personnel and military service persons share a common bond. "I believe that our policemen, our firefighters, and our armed forces exemplify what is best in our society," he said.
Prior to his career in fire service, Condrey was in the U.S. Marine Corps. He joined at the age of 17, out of a desire to be "part of something bigger than myself," he said. "I was planning to make a career out of it, and my girlfriend at the time -- now my wife of 22 years -- convinced me otherwise. The concession that I made .... was that I would leave active duty and find another career in uniform."
He was serving in the Marine Reserves in 1991, when he was among a group of servicemen called to active duty as part of Operation Desert Storm.
The deputy chief said he was trained to have respect for the military, by watching the examples of his loved ones. His grandfather served in World War I, and others in the family have served in the Army or Marines. "I come from a long line of veterans," he said. "Military service was almost considered a rite of passage in my family."
His 20 year old son, Scott, is an infantry marine at Camp Lejeune, N.C. "His battalion is scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan in July," Andrew Condrey said.
He expressed sadness when discussing the upcoming observance of Memorial Day. Memorial Day, according to Condrey, has lost some of its true meaning in the minds and hearts of many Americans. "Contemporary American society is intoxicated on the freedoms provided by others," he said. "At times, I feel frustrated that we celebrate pop culture, and follow the lives of celebrities, while the people who provided our freedoms, fought and died, or continue to serve today, [do so] in anonymity."
Many from the military are among police units in Henry, and the rest of the state.
Locust Grove Police Sgt. Alvin Bearden served in the Army from 1988 to 1993. Bearden chose a career in law enforcement six months after his release from the military. He worked with police departments in Griffin and Forsyth, Ga., before coming to Locust Grove in 1999.
Sgt. Bearden said police work appealed to him, because it carried a structure similar to that of the military. Like Condrey, Bearden said he was taught to revere members of the armed forces, and has worked to instill a sense of "civic responsibility" within his six children.
"When you talk about Memorial Day, people look at it as another holiday, or another 'act wild' day," Bearden said. "But, they don't really understand the meaning that people fought and died, for what we have here in America, and what holds us here. All of that was given by the military that fought for us, and gave for us. That's what it's about," the veteran said.
Henry County Police Detective Wayne Bender also is a military veteran, who migrated to public safety. He served in the U.S. Army from June of 1975, to September of 1996. One of his first duties, he said, was working as a counter-terrorism agent.
"At the time, jobs were at a premium, and I wanted to go to college," said Bender. "The military offered both. I enjoyed the structured life, travel, camaraderie, and got a bachelor's degree in criminal justice."
Bender ventured into the law enforcement in 1999, working as a patrolman with Henry County Police. He currently serves as a detective. "I went to the department, because I was quite familiar with the job, and wanted to do my part in keeping the community I live in safe," he said.
As Memorial Day looms, he said, his experiences in the Army, and the police department, cause him to reflect on the sacrifices of military personnel. "My travels have taken me to many faraway lands where I have learned never to take for granted the freedoms we enjoy, because of these brave men and women," said Bender. "I fear that the carefree, and naive attitudes of our current generation will erode the freedom we currently enjoy, and bring this great country many died preserving, to an end."
Sgt. Mike Ireland, Bender's co-worker, joined the Army in 1980, serving primarily in the intelligence field. He said although he initially signed up for the military as a way to see the world, his mindset toward military service eventually changed, giving him a sense of pride, and honor.
"After about four years enlisted, I realized that I like the concept of the military," Ireland said. "Honor, respect [and] duty to country goes a long way."
He joined the Henry County Police Department in 2000, working in the agency's Uniform Patrol Division and, later, as a detective. Ireland is currently assigned to the Criminal Investigations Division. The sergeant said he sees a number of similarities between military service and working in law enforcement.