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Charleston Police praised for support of veterans

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Charleston Police Department Cpl. Jeff Setser was driving down the road when he was told he'd been called to active duty with the West Virginia National Guard.

"It was a week before Thanksgiving when I found out," said Setser, who is also a major in the Army National Guard.

He would spend the next year in Iraq, putting his police job on hold.

Although federal law requires employers to make accommodations for National Guard members and military reserve personnel who are called up for active duty, some employers balk when their workers are called to serve their country.

Others, like the Charleston Police Department, welcome and encourage guard members and reservists. The police department is one of three state employers chosen as a semifinalist for the national Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) Freedom Award given to employers who show unusual support for their workers in uniform.

Joe Holley, chairman of the West Virginia branch of ESGR, said employees themselves make the nominations for the awards.

"Just to have your name in the hat lets me know your employer does things other employers do not, and that your employee recognizes that," he said. "Freedom Award nominees like the Charleston Police Department distinguish themselves by implementing both formal policies and informal initiatives that go above and beyond in assisting and encouraging National Guard and reserve service."

Sgt. Nick Null, a former member of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, was called to Iraq twice while serving as a Charleston police officer. Both times, police administrators and fellow officers were supportive, he said.

Null said fellow officers sent care packages overseas for officers who were deployed. Administrators were liberal in granting leave time and making sure reservists got what they needed. He said the attitude extended from Mayor Danny Jones -- a Marine Corps veteran -- on down.

"It's just the whole city," he said.

Charleston Police Chief Brent Webster said those with military backgrounds tend to make good police officers.

"The military background provides a lot of structure and training that stresses service," he said. He also said officers coming in with a military background are used to discipline and tend to be able to follow orders and react quickly in stressful situations.

Webster said police administrators give job applicants with military service extra credence when hiring new officers. On hiring examinations, applicants with a military background get five extra points, and those who have served during an armed conflict get 10.

Setser said the entire culture within the Charleston Police Department is supportive of officers who are called to active duty. He said officers who aren't deployed work together to cover for those who are.

"It's an extended family," Setser said. "Your co-workers understand. There's no flak. No one's ever had a gripe."

Webster said that at the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Charleston Police Department had as many as 12 officers deployed.

He said it was important to support men and women in the National Guard and military reserves.

"We don't have the draft any more," he said. "If someone's going to volunteer their time to serve their country, we need to give them some leeway for that."

Reach Rusty Marks at rustymarks@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1215.

 


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