by Donna McCollum
Sgt. Bill Baker has traded in his fatigues for his old deputy's uniform with the Nacogdoches County Sheriff's Department. For almost the last year, he's been in Iraq, enforcing military police law. "You take a lot of small arms fire, and there were more rounds on a weekly basis and, of course, the IEDs are out there. So, yeah, it's a different place to be," said Baker.
Baker got his old job back of protecting county citizens with no trouble, but he's now the extra deputy. "It turned out, when I came back, that they had to create a new position for me. That's one of the things you don't really think about when you do this. You just hope that your employer understands and that, when you come back, they'll make amends," said Baker on his second day back.
With a son in the military, personnel director Blanche King realizes the importance of the job protection law. She also knows the difficulty of planning around it. Baker's position was so important that it had to be permanently filled soon after his departure, and the county won't let the substitute go.
"You can't do that. You just have to, in our case, amend the budget, [and] accept that person back at his regular job, [with] his same pay and benefits. You have an extra person, which is great, but then, the next year, you have to figure out what you're going to do in the budget also," explained King.
Baker said, "I didn't really call anyone until I got back to the United States, just because you just never know, and once I came back, there was talks we would get extended." Right now Baker feels pretty confident he won't see deployment orders for at least another year.
With talk of increasing military presence in Iraq, more employers will have to learn of the employment rights act. The military fulfilled a duty, so it's only fair they return to job security. There have been so many questions from county governments about the act, the association county governments belong to is now planning a seminar on the topic.