Deputy had job in waiting

Curry County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Brockett checks the information of a driver after pulling him or her over for speeding Friday on South Prince Street. (CNJ photo by Eric Kluth)

By Darrell Todd Maurina: CNJ Staff Writer

When Curry County Sheriff’s Deputy Michael Brockett gets ready for work, he puts on a dark blue-black uniform to patrol the streets and back roads of the county.

That’s a different color from what he’s been wearing in recent months. As a sergeant in the New Mexico National Guard, Brockett spent much of the last year wearing green while mobilized into federal service to help provide security at Cannon Air Force Base.

That mobilization didn’t come at the best time, said Sheriff Roger Hatcher. Hatcher hired Brockett to fill a vacancy in October 2001, put him through 20 weeks of the state police academy, and shortly after Brockett became a fully certified law enforcement officer, Hatcher saw his newest deputy called into a year of federal service beginning in January, 2003.

“We only had one person deployed, but when you have only 14 people, it hurts,” Hatcher said.

Federal law requires employers to hold positions open for reservists and National Guardsmen called up for military service, but even before learning that, Hatcher said he had already decided to do whatever it took to keep Brockett.

“I had determined to hold his position open until he came back,” Hatcher said. “Michael is a good quality deputy and I wanted to make sure we treated him right. I never even considered whether it was in the law or outside the law, it was just something we wanted to do regardless.”

Keeping the job open wasn’t all Hatcher did. He also opened a channel of communication with Brockett’s family to give them emotional support.

“I had almost monthly conversations with Michael’s mom in regard to her fears of her son possibly going overseas,” Hatcher said. “My daughter was in the Texas National Guard, she’s now on active duty, and I tried to share my experience.”

Hatcher’s attitude led to the sheriff receiving an award Tuesday afternoon for his support of the military from the Committee for Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Headed by a retired Marine Corps reserve general who spent most of his career combining his full-time duties as a civilian aircraft pilot with his part-time duties as a Marine aviator, ESGR is a special division of the Department of Defense that works to improve relationships with the civilian businesses that employ reservists and members of the National Guard.

For the Clovis Police Department, the current war on terror has led to at least five patrolmen, detectives and dispatchers being called to active duty. At least one police detective is still on duty at Cannon Air Force Base, and others were called to active duty in other parts of the country at various times since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

Police Chief Bill Carey, who spent 12 years in the Air Force before becoming a civilian police officer, said seeing his officers called up to active duty is a minor price to pay for recruiting police officers who come from a military background and choose to remain in the reserves or join the National Guard after leaving active duty. Carey said many of his officers who are reservists or National Guardsmen are senior noncommissioned officers who bring years of experience to their civilian police jobs when he hires them.

“We’ve got good officers who will do whatever needs to be done to support these guys when they get deployed,” Carey said. “I think it goes with just being a good citizen that you support your Guard and reserves. They have a job to do and we understand that and know that.”

Brockett said his National Guard training helped him become a better police officer. A 1999 graduate of Clovis High School, he enlisted out of a desire to be involved in worthwhile service.

“I like to help people and make a difference,” Brockett said. “I was a medic with the Guard, and having that background has helped in certain situations.”

Brockett said he particularly appreciated Hatcher’s concern for his well-being during a deployment, despite the fact that his deployment left the sheriff’s office short-staffed.

“During my deployment I made contact with my boss several times,” Brockett said. “He did whatever he could, and I’m not going to forget that.”