National Guard duty stresses families, business and careers | NevadaAppeal.com

National Guard duty stresses families, business and careers

by Sally J. Taylor

Wayne Wheeler, a Carson City Sheriff's Deputy, stands at his post at the Nevada National Air Guard at Reno Tahoe International Airport Friday. His active duty status has been extended for at least one more year. Photo by Brian Corley

As National Guard squadrons prepare for a second, full year of active duty, the normally part-time soldiers and their civilian bosses prepare for another year of absence.

The Carson City Sheriff’s Department has two of its 40 patrol officers with the 152nd Security Forces Squadron of the Nevada Air National Guard.

The unit was among the first to be deployed to Afghanistan last year and now provides security for the Nevada Air National Guard air field in Reno.

“It’s impacted our patrol division,” said sheriff’s spokesman Scott Burau. “We’ve held those two positions open because of their active status.

“There’s only one way to make up the difference: Bring in additional personnel (to work overtime).”

Deputy Wayne Wheeler is one of Carson City’s deputies-turned-soldiers.

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“This has been out of the ordinary for us. We usually just do training and base security,” said Wheeler, who has lived in Carson City and worked for the sheriff’s department for 3-1/2 years.

Wheeler supervises nine people providing “security for our assets, which are our aircraft,” he said.

Carson City sheriff’s Deputy Gary Underhill also is serving full-time providing security at the air field.

For now, the deputies are close enough to head home when off duty. At any time, they could be deployed to another part of the world, as they were a year ago.

Wheeler, who grew up in Reno, joined the National Guard in 1992 after three years in active duty with the Navy. His dad suggested joining the guard as a stepping stone into a civilian law enforcement career.

In times of peace, National Guard volunteers put on the uniform for one weekend a month plus two weeks a year for training activities.

“That’s what I expected from the Guard and never expected this type of thing would happen,” Wheeler said, comparing it to a lesser degree to the long-term Guard deployment during World War II.

A year-long — now probably two-year — stretch of active duty creates extra strain on careers and family life. Wheeler and his wife, Shannon, have four children from 8 years to 5 weeks old.

“It’s a hardship for all of us,” Wheeler said. “The guys that have different careers and family, their whole life and what they’re used to and settled into, it changes.

Child care, finances, even insurance is affected.

“If deployed again, my wife has to deal with that alone. It’s stress we’re not really prepared for.”

Even though the work done in the National Guard is similar to law enforcement, Wheeler and Underhill still experience stagnation in their chosen careers.

“A career in law enforcement requires us to have constant training and to be proficient and current with all the changes in legislation and weapons,” Wheeler said. “We lose a big percentage of all that not doing it every day.

“The hardest thing is going backward in my chosen career by not being proficient.”

To make the load easier for its two patriotic deputies, the sheriff’s department augments their salary.

“We’ve had an agreement with the city for the last year because of the difference between their pay compensation (in the Guard), to augment it,” Burau said. “Otherwise it would be an extreme hardship on them and their families. Our budget is absorbing the amount required to make it 100 percent.”

Serving in the National Guard creates many stresses, expected and not.

However, the hardships aren’t enough for Wheeler to leave the Guard. He’s served a total of 14 years in service to his country in both the Navy and National Guard. Last year he signed up for another six years in the Guard.