News: Police family welcomes soldier home
Story by Sgt. Angela Parady
AUGUSTA, Maine - The Augusta Police Department is happy to be welcoming one of their own investigative patrol officers and the commander of the 488th Military Police Company back to work Monday morning after a year-long deployment to Afghanistan with the Maine Army National Guard.
Capt. Eric Dos Santos said he felt like a kid on the first day of school, as he was greeted with hugs and welcoming smiles as he returned to his office. Jared Mills, Deputy Chief of the Augusta Police Department removed the blue star from the Augusta Police Department sign and gave it to Dos Santos and his family. The star was hung in December as a symbol of unity with the deployed service member who is also part of the police department family.
Sgt. Christian Behr, a patrol officer for Augusta and retired Maine Army National Guard soldier, said that hanging the star outside was their way of saying, that similar to the mindset of the military, it is family first and then everything else.
“The family orientation of the blue star is in line with the fact that we try to adhere to a rule of family first,” said Behr, who lives in Winthrop. “We have many people who have served that work here now, and have been deployed. It is a cooperative effort between the city of Augusta, and the Guard.”
Dos Santos, who is a resident of Augusta, said that knowing the department was supportive of him, gave him added reassurance during his time overseas.
“To me it reaffirmed that this isn’t just a place to work, it is a community within a community,” said Dos Santos about the blue star. “These are men and women I can rely on, I can trust. If I have an issue at home, even though I am away, I need taken care of, they can help too. It made me feel more comfortable being away knowing that I had all my brothers and sisters here to help me.”
Similarly, knowing he had a job waiting for him, one that was very accommodating to his service also helped ease some of the transitional stress as he returned stateside.
“Knowing that you have stable employment when you return is very reassuring for you and for your family,” he said. “I knew there would be no change. This is actually my second deployment since I have been with Augusta, so they have now put up with two tours in Afghanistan, and they aren’t fatiguing at all. They have been fantastic, very supportive.”
While it is a legal requirement that an employer hold your job while you serve military time, it is not always easy for the employee or the employer to fulfill that obligation.
Behr was Dos Santos’ 1st Sgt. when the 286th Combat Sustainment Battalion deployed to Afghanistan in 2009, and is familiar with how the city departments and the Guard work together. He said that in recent years, with more and more National Guard soldiers deploying, employers have become more familiar with the process and the system.
“It was an older model of thinking that if I hire this person they may leave,” said Behr about hiring soldiers. “Today, especially since Sept. 11, it is just a way of doing business. It is expected that today that will happen. The person working for you could possibly be taken away from you for deployment or training purposes.”
However, as deployments for the National Guard became more frequent, the public education about the rights of service members became much more talked about, said Behr.
“There is also more education these days in the rules governing the rights of service members and how that is applied at work,” said Behr. “So over the lessons learned and education and experience with doing this for 12 years, we have gotten better at it.”
For the police department, the experience the men and women bring back, is invaluable.
“They bring a level of maturity,” said Behr. “Going to a deployment zone, or a hostile fire danger area can really open your mind to some of the realities of the world. Officers that have that experience will sometimes be able to impart to the younger officers, the living conditions of where they were deployed, and what they have seen.”
When they come back to Augusta, or any city for that matter, there may be some areas that aren’t as developed as other areas, but now they know it’s not the worst conditions either. They can share that information with those officers who haven’t seen actual poverty or poor conditions, said Behr.
Dos Santos said he agreed. He and his soldiers came back more mature and more responsible.
“They have a broader set of life experiences that they can draw upon when making decisions for their employers,” said Dos Santos. “It is not that we bring back an acquired skill that we can teach others, our skills are intangible. But our experience, our broadened horizons, these are valuable and we need to share them and have them recognized.”