CAMDEN, Maine — Police Sgt. Patrick Polky has served two tours in Afghanistan as part of the Maine Army National Guard. The support he received from his chief and department, however, helped ease his mind while he was overseas and again upon his return to work in Camden.
That support has been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense, which has named Camden as one of 30 finalists nationwide — and the only one in Maine — for the U.S. Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.
In 2004, three of the officers in the 11-person department, which includes the chief and two administrative employees, were members of the Guard and Reserve. Two of them — Patrolmen Jason Hall and Allen Weaver Jr. — were deployed to Iraq, before they returned to the Camden Police Department in 2005.
Polky was deployed to Afghanistan in 2006 and again in 2010.
Chief Randy Gagne said that having officers deployed does present challenges to the department.
“It took a lot of creative scheduling,” Gagne said.
The deployments required the remaining officers to work overtime shifts and led to the hiring of temporary full-time officers.
But Gagne said he was not expecting an award.
“What we had to go through was nothing compared to what the men who went to Iraq and Afghanistan had to go through,” Gagne said.
Gagne said the Camden community has always been supportive of its military members. Dispatcher Diane Moody put together care packages that were sent to the officers while they were deployed.
Polky also stressed that the transition back to the police force was made much easier by the department. The department would send updated law books and updated policy manuals overseas so that the officers could remain current on the training they needed for their profession. The department also worked with town officials to make sure that if the military pay was less than what the guard members had been earning with the police department, the town would supplement the pay to make up the difference.
And the family members of those who were deployed were not forgotten. Polky said the chief kept in contact with family members and offered support.
Polky is now a member of the 286th Combat Sustainability and Support Battalion based out of Bangor. He said his next deployment could come in 2014.
The Freedom Award is the Department of Defense’s highest recognition given to employers for exceptional support of Guard and Reserve members, a news release from the department stated.
A review board composed of military and civilian leaders selected 30 finalists from the 3,236 nominations received earlier this year from Guard and Reserve service members, or family members acting on their behalf.
One hundred and sixty employers have received the Freedom Award since it was established in 1996.
“The 2012 Freedom Award finalists demonstrate that outstanding support of Guard and Reserve members is not limited by an employer’s size, industry or region of the nation. These 30 finalists span the diversity of America’s work force and prove every employer can go above and beyond for our citizen warriors,” National Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Chair James Rebholz stated in a news release.
The Department of Defense will announce the 15 recipients of the 2012 Freedom Award early this summer following completion of a national selection board composed of senior Defense Department officials, business leaders and prior award winners. The 2012 recipients will be honored with the 17th annual Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award in Washington, D.C., in September. Past recipients of the Freedom Award have met privately with the president and vice president of the United States, and the secretary of defense.