Anne Arundel County government has made sure Richard Mullins has oneless worry when he leaves for the Persian Gulf Friday.
Before a crowd of county workers adorned with yellow lapel ribbons and waving little American flags, County Executive Robert R. Neall announced yesterday that employees called to active duty in the gulf will keep their health insurance benefits for at least one year. "They won't have to be concerned about paying medical bills or changing doctors. We thought that was the least we could do," Neall said.
So far, 16 county employees have been called to active duty, including County Councilman David G. Boschert, D-Crownsville, who is in Washington, D.C. serving as a media specialist for the U.S. Marine Corps.
Mullins, a 25-year-old county firefighter from Dorchester County, is a staff sergeant in the 512th Military Airlift Wing of the U.S. Air Force, where he also works as a firefighter. He has been on military leave of absence from his county job since Jan. 19, when he wascalled up. He must be in the gulf by Feb. 20.
Yesterday's announcement that his health benefits will be extended while he's away comesas a relief, Mullins said. The insurance he gets through the military covers his wife, Rhonda, and his 2 -year-old daughter, Kristin, but only if they use medical facilities in Dover, Del., where the 512th MAW is stationed.
"Our house is an hour from Dover. If my wife hadany medical emergency, it's nice to know the county would pick up (the cost)" if she wanted to use medical facilities closer to home, Mullins said.
"I think I have been treated great, compared to some other reservists I've talked to. The county's gone out of its way," he said.
The county originally planned to extend the employees' benefits for three months, said county personnel director Richard Mayer. But Neall decided the county could afford to provide the coverage for a year.
"After a year, I think we'd have to re-evaluate it," Neallsaid. "If (the war) goes beyond that, we've got to make some extended arrangements."
The coverage, which includes health, dental and vision benefits, will be under the same plan and at the same level as before the employee was called to active duty.
Besides extending the coverage, Neall said the county is creating a panel of benefits and social services professionals to handle problems relating to employees' wartime service. A member of the personnel department is being assigned to work with the families of each active duty employee.
Under the federal Veterans Re-employment Act, all county employees on military leaves of absence are assured of getting their jobs back without loss of seniority or a reduction in salary, Mayer said.
Yesterday's press conference, conducted in the lobby of the Arundel Center,was an opportunity for county government to honor the employees who are serving in Operation Desert Storm. In addition to Boschert and Mullins, they are:
Paul L. Bruce, public works; Samuel Hubbard, county police; Franklin Lee Jr., detention center; James P. McDermott, police; Eric Owens, police; Kenneth L. Pardoe, fire; Eric L.M. Scott, police; Morris W. Shreves, detention center; Arthur J. Thomas, parks and recreation; Ronald C. Ward, inspections and permits; William T. Wild III, police; James O. Williams, risk management; George Willoughby, parks and recreation; Michael P. Wood, utilities.
Operation Desert Storm T-shirts, painted by Brownie Scout Troop No. 177 of Cape St.Claire, were presented to a family member or the employer of each ofthe 16 workers. Students from Annapolis Elementary School made valentines the active duty employees. Senior citizens at the Glen Square Apartments in Glen Burnie made yellow lapel ornaments for the press conference, and Hecht's donated yellow ribbons.
A huge banner honoring the troops, made by Gable Signs and Graphics Inc. of Pasadena, will be hung outside the Arundel Center, Neall said.
Also attending yesterday's event was Michael King of Randallstown, originator of the "Maryland Letters to the Troops Campaign." Neall presented him with bags full of about 700 valentines collected by county employees. The valentines, designated for "any soldier, Operation Desert Storm," willbe distributed by the U.S. Department of Defense.