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Supporting our troops

WINDSOR – They are warriors, and they are also citizens.

And, thanks to the Employers Support for the Guard and Reserve (ESGR), those military members who put themselves in harm’s way serving as soldiers/sailors/Marines/airmen also have protected worker’s rights once they remove their uniform and return to civilian life.

In North Carolina there are 24,000 members of the National Guard and Reserve, 12,000 in the Guard with the other 12,000 divided up between the other five branches of military service.

ESGR understands the unique talents and skill set members of the National Guard and Reserve’s service members can bring to the civilian workforce. To make this arrangement work, both employees and employers work together to protect these workers so they have jobs once they return from military duty.

Bertie County Sheriff John Holly (3rd, right) received the Patriotic Employer Award from the North Carolina Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve on Jan. 22 at the Sheriff’s Office in Windsor. Holley was nominated for the honor by Bertie Sheriff’s Office Maj. Matt Roebuck (left), also of the Headquarters 690th Brigade Support Battalion headquartered in Kinston. Joining at the ceremony are (from left): Bertie County Chief Deputy Kenny Perry, Maj. Carrie Holowiti and MSgt. Randy Ly of the 690th, and Ken Oppenheim of the ESGR office in Raleigh. Staff Photo by Gene Motley

One employer honored last week was Bertie County Sheriff John Holley. In a surprise ceremony, that included local dignitaries, Holley received the Patriot Award, which is given by the ESGR to those employers who support their working Guard members with measures like flexible work schedules, time off, and leaves of absence.

“We owe it to the citizens of Bertie County just because if all of us would work together, we can make this a better county,” a visibly emotional Holley stated in accepting the honor.

Holley was nominated by Maj. Matt Roebuck, a deputy within the Narcotics/Investigations division, and sergeant in the National Guard who has served three deployments. Roebuck serves with Headquarters 690th Brigade Support Battalion (BSB) out of Kinston.

“I thought it fitting once I found out employers can get this type of recognition that I would submit (his name) for his service on my behalf,” said Roebuck. “I’m proud of my service both with the Guard and with the Sheriff’s Office, and to have the Sheriff’s support is just tremendous.

“Regardless of whether it’s school or active duty on a moment’s notice, the Sheriff has always supported my role with the National Guard,” Roebuck acknowledged.

Roebuck said Holley supports what the Guard members in his department accomplish, even when it means a shortage of manpower.

“I’ve never felt intimidated or threatened that my role and responsibility with the National Guard would cost me a promotion or cost me lost time; and, even when we go past our 15 days a year, the Sheriff allows us to use vacation time, comp time, even work extra to make up the hours we may have lost due to Guard duty,” Roebuck explained. “Not every employer does that.”

Roebuck says for him, and fellow deputy Perris Wesson – who is currently serving a tour of active duty in the Middle East with the 230th BSB from Goldsboro – it doesn’t matter if it’s annual training or three-day drills that may run over into work time.

“It’s never an issue of who’s going to cover for me,” Roebuck noted. “That extra burden’s never been placed on me or Deputy Wesson whenever we’ve had to meet our military obligation. I felt like he (Holley) should be recognized for that.”

Roebuck estimates that at one time, some 30 to 40 percent of the Bertie Sheriff’s Office were connected with the military in some way.

“Either they were retired military, veterans, or served in some type of Guard or Reserve component,” he said.

Roebuck had another surprise for the assembly. He re-enlisted for another tour of duty as a Guard member, with his commanding officer, Maj. Carrie Holowiti, administering the oath.

Also attending the ceremony was retired NC Wildlife Officer Jim Hardy, who is now a Bertie deputy.

“It’s easy to distinguish those who carry the discipline, which have that pride, it’s easy to pick out the service members at the Sheriff’s office, or elsewhere,” Roebuck stated.

“In 2016 we had so much going on: hurricanes, floods, riots in Charlotte, multiple homicide investigations, there was no 72 hour stops,” he said. “In that one year we had to literally stop what we were doing and report to Charlotte on orders of the Governor at the time.

“I don’t believe every employer would support it as well as Sheriff Holley has and I recognize that leadership, his consistency, and his fairness. I believe when people support you like that, they deserve the recognition,” Roebuck said.