May 29, 2003
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Photo by Lauren Heaton
Yellow Springs police officer Gerry Greene, building a bass guitar in his home workshop.



After serving tour of duty, officer returns to police beat

On most mornings Yellow Springs police officer Gerry Greene can be found in his Xenia Avenue garage drilling, sawing and sanding maple wood for his custom made bass guitars. It’s a good routine for him while his daughter, Evelyn, is away at kindergarten. But as a member of the Air National Guard 178 Security Forces Unit, Greene knows that his routine is always subject to change.

Change came a month after Sept. 11, 2001, when Greene, along with thousands of other guard members around the country, was called to active duty and away from his family and his job. He trained in homeland-security measures and had to be prepared to travel anywhere he was needed, including in the Middle East. No one could say how long he would be gone.

Now, 19 months later, Greene is back home with his family, his guitars and his police badge, saying he is ready to give up the military and stay for good.

That’s partly because his last tour of duty was a long and uncertain one. He was first posted on an air base in Alabama for 90 days of training and guard duty. From there, he had no idea where he was headed.

’It would drive me nuts not to know, but I was ready for it,’ Greene said. ’It was a matter of, they’re going to send you where they’re going to send you.’

Though Greene had been gone for months at a time before, his wife, Talitha, was not looking forward to being a single parent, she said. She said that Evelyn has a saying for the times when she saw her dad packing his guitar just after being notified he would not need to wear his navy blue police uniform. ’But Daddy, they told you not to bring your blues,’ Talitha recalled her daughter saying.

The Yellow Springs Police Department also prepared for Greene’s absence, since the police force did not replace Greene while he was gone, said interim Police Chief John Grote, who filled many of Greene’s shifts while he was gone. It was the first time in at least 30 years that an officer was on paid leave for an extended period, according to Peggy Alexander, the Village personnel officer.

Greene supported homeland-security forces at military bases in Texas, New Jersey and Georgia. As it turned out, his tour of duty did not require him to leave the country, and he spent a good deal of his service guarding the Air National Guard base in Springfield. But his frequent absence from home and complete leave from the Police Department didn’t make it any easier on his family and coworkers

Talitha continued working at Rita Caz, and Evelyn contented herself knowing she could visit her dad and collect seashells on the beach in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Police Department was spread thinly, sometimes covering shifts with one officer instead of two, which is a goal of the department. And all the officers took a little less vacation time, Grote said.

Though the Village was required by law to hold Greene’s job, it was not required to give him paid leave. However, Village Manager Rob Hillard initiated an ordinance, which Village Council approved, allowing Greene’s family to receive supplementary income equal to his salary as an officer, Alexander said.

The Village also extended health and life insurance for the family and continued Greene’s accrual of vacation and sick leave during his absence. The ordinance said, ’Village Council is desirous of supporting and assisting those Village employees and their families who may be financially burdened by the employee’s call to active military duty.’

The support the Village provided the family was overwhelming, Talitha said.

Grote was glad it happened that way.

’Number one, it was just the right thing to do; he had another job to do with the National Guard,’ Grote said. ’Also, it’s kind of a family thing.’

Greene returned to work at the department on April 26, assigned to work with another officer for a few weeks to get back into the groove, Grote said. Greene is now back on his regular shifts from 2 to 10 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.

’I gotta learn all the kids’ names again since two years have gone by,’ he said. ’I like the afternoons because I get to talk to people a lot.’

He is also glad to be home with his family.

’I didn’t like being gone for so long from my daughter,’ he said.

Greene didn’t always dread being shipped out. One of the reasons he joined the service 23 years ago, he said, was to travel and see the world. Over the years he’s been to England, Germany, Spain, Hawaii and other places he wouldn’t otherwise have visited.

But the appeal of rootless excitement faded, and when Greene joined the Police Department in 1999, his focus was on his family and building guitars in a little wood shop at home in Yellow Springs.

Greene has wanted to be a police officer ever since he was little, when his dad, Carl Greene, volunteered for the Lions Club with the late Jim McKee, the longtime Yellow Springs police chief. He has also always wanted to play music, starting a band as an adolescent with local musician Roth Patterson and later focusing on music at Central State University in the early 1980s. And he has always wanted to work with wood after watching his dad build furniture in the ’60s.

Returning home, Greene has returned to his roots. Not that he regrets his service in the National Guard.

’I’m glad I did it,’ Greene said of joining the military. ’Or I wouldn’t have what I have here.’

’Lauren Heaton