At any given time, a half-dozen employees of the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office could be deployed for military training or duty overseas.
The law enforcement agency, one of Minnesota’s largest, has close links to military culture. Out of 775 employees, 100 have served in the military.
The level of support offered by Sheriff Rich Stanek’s office goes well beyond baked goods sent to a base. Six years ago, Stanek formed a volunteer initiative called the SMART program — the Sheriff’s Military Activation and Reintegration Training program.
Deputy Scott Frazer, who has been deployed overseas three times, noticed that his Air Force communication squadron in Kuwait had several base station radios that had no microphones. Knowing how military supply channels can get bogged down, Frazer said he remembered that the Hennepin County jail was receiving new base stations.
The replaced microphones would work with his squadron’s equipment. He e-mailed the SMART program coordinator, and three weeks later, seven microphones were boxed up and shipped to Kuwait.
“The SMART program is unique,” Frazer said. “I haven’t heard of any other employer doing what we do, to the degree we do.”
Once installed, the microphones will give the base stations in Kuwait more coverage and eliminate some dead zones, he said.
When Frazer was deployed, the SMART program stayed in touch with his family members and let them know they could reach out for any reason, he said.
“I know they have my family’s best interests at heart,” he said. “I do not have to worry about any employment issues if I’m gone, keeping that stress from affecting my job performance.”
The program has sent coolers full of food to soldiers, given Christmas presents to their children, and mowed yards and shoveled driveways for families here at home. Representatives have visited schools and had children write dozens of letters sent overseas week by week.
Any salary that isn’t covered during an employee’s deployment is made up by the Sheriff’s Office, Stanek said. When an employee returns home, the sheriff makes sure he or she gets as much time off as needed to reintegrate into the job and home life.
Stanek said his office is always looking for ways to re-purpose older equipment, such as the microphones. For instance, firefighting equipment from the jail was sent to Liberia.
The Sheriff’s Office often recruits employees from the military, Stanek said. They have already had thorough background checks and valuable life experience, and have good tactical skills, he said.
Frazer has been with the Sheriff’s Office for 17 years. As an Air Force reservist, he was a security forces member for the 934 Security Forces squadron stationed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve.
He entered the military in 1986 on active duty and served four years as a security forces K-9 handler before switching over to the reserves. Since 2009, he has been deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.
Frazer took a long break from service until 9/11, “when I knew I needed to serve again,” he said. He plans to retire from the Air Force next year.
Stanek said the program’s model has been shared with other law enforcement agencies and businesses.
“This program is the least we can do for their public service,” he said. “I feel strongly about it.”