At the Rock Hill Police Department, there is an empty locker nobody currently uses. The department saves it for the guy not using it.
The locker belongs to a patrol officer named Ray Murphy. For the fourth time in the past 13 years, Murphy has traded in his handcuffs and badge for his U.S. Army National Guard uniform. Murphy left in June for Afghanistan, again, in his part-time job as sergeant in the Army.
It is employers such as the police department in Rock Hill, and many other employers large and small, who lose people to wartime deployments.
This week, the nation celebrates something that gets little recognition but without it, would have meant far different wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: Employer Support of the Guard and Reserves Week.
Since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, D.C, and Pennsylvania, the Rock Hill Police Department has had eight officers called to active duty with the military.
“Most of those have been activated more than once,” said department spokesman Mark Bollinger, “and several as many as three or four times.”
Rock Hill Police Chief Chris Watts said, “We support our officers who have served and continue to serve in our nation’s armed forces.
“We do recruit and look for military personnel because they have a sense of duty and service – which are great qualities in a police officer,” Watts said.
Part-time guardsmen and reservists turned full-time troops represented almost half of all the deployments in the wars overseas. Hundreds of soldiers locally from armories in Rock Hill, Chester, Fort Mill, and Lancaster have served. Hundreds more are attached to units in North Carolina and other parts of South Carolina that have been sent to the war zones.
Almost 19,000 men and women in South Carolina are members of the National Guard and reserves.
Federal law requires all employers to keep the job of anyone called to active duty. But many employers go far beyond the requirements.
“There isn’t a more patriotic thing an employer can do than support the person who works for them who is sent off to war,” said Dr. Perry Hopkins of Clover, vice-chairman of the South Carolina Employer Support for Guard and Reserves – a Department of Defense organization that makes sure federal laws are followed for military employees who leave civilian life for active duty. “These troops come home and they deserve the best we can give them.”
Hopkins knows what he is talking about: He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and dozens more medals for his combat service in Vietnam.
Since 9/11, hundreds of area troops in guard and reserve units have been deployed for months, even years at a time. Many have been law enforcement officers, but guard and reserve soldiers come from all walks of life. Employers such as the city of York, Chester Regional Medical Center, Piedmont Medical Center, Duke Energy and others have been honored for their commitment to troops who are called to active duty from civilian jobs.
“These employers show with their actions a commitment to the employee, the military and the nation,” said Clover Police Capt. David Dover, chairman of the Area 5 Employer Support for Guard and Reserves chapter. “Many employers go above and beyond what is legally required.”
When Clover officers were deployed overseas in recent years, not only did the town take care of them as employees, there were community events for the cops turned soldiers.
“The idea of supporting a citizen soldier while deployed is what being an American is all about,” said Hopkins.
Several deputies and detention center officers at the York County Sheriff’s Office have been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and other duties around the world since 9/11. Sheriff Bruce Bryant and his command staff have made sure those officers are able to balance the job of protecting the public at home in York County with duties with the military, said Capt. Allen Brandon.
“We take great pride in having so many officers who care about community and country,” Brandon said.
At the Rock Hill school district facilities shop, Sgt. Johnny Beverly who runs a company with the 178th Combat Engineers National Guard unit in Rock Hill has been deployed three times – including currently.
Brian Vaughan, director of facilities for the school district, said that as an employer of someone such as Beverly, it is an “honor” to employ soldiers.
“What they give to our country, their service, we all should appreciate it,” Vaughan said.