A group of veterans and lawmen appeared before the Pike County Board of Supervisors on Thursday, making an impassioned plea to return service member Raven Ashley to the job she held before deployment.
Ashley was working as deputy fiscal officer under former sheriff Kenny Cotton last year when she was deployed to Qatar as a member of the Air Force Air National Guard.
When she returned this year, a new sheriff, James Brumfield, had been elected and offered her lower-paying positions of deputy or jailer. She declined, citing state and federal law indicating she must be returned to a job comparable to the one she left.
Last week supervisors rejected her request on a 3-2 vote.
On Thursday, former state Rep. David Myers said society is obligated to allow service members to return to their jobs after deployment.
Myers spent 21⁄2 years overseas, retiring from the military six months ago. As an elected official his job wasn’t protected, but the state paid his salary anyway.
Had he been an employee, the law says he would have had the right to return to it after deployment, he maintained.
Myers noted that Memorial Day is coming up Monday, and reminded supervisors of the monument in front of the courthouse.
“I know that you guys want to do the right thing,” Myers said.
“Look at it from the standpoint of us veterans, alleviating the pressure off us.”
Myers predicted many more people will be deployed in coming months and will wind up facing the same situation in returning home.
“The impact is beyond today,” Myers said.
“At some point in the future you will employ soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors who are going to get called up. We just ask that you support us when we get back,” Myers said.
“My job should not be one of the things I worry about when I go to serve. I plead with you to think about that and about those who have served.”
The issue involves much more than Ashley’s case, Myers said.
“It’s way bigger than this airman. At some point we all know someone who has served, who’s a veteran. With Memorial Day coming up, please think about the sacrifices we have made.”
He noted that service members must pledge never to leave a fallen comrade behind on the battlefield. “That promise stretches into where we are today.”
Summit Councilman Joe Lewis said he served 30 years in the Air Force, including stints in Iraq and Panama, and has a daughter in the military.
“They get training to keep America great. The United States of America is free because of veterans,” Lewis said.
He said Ashley’s right to her job is protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act.
“We are asking, do the right thing,” Lewis said. “Look at the law, use your common sense and think about that.”
Summit police officer Chris Bell, who worked alongside Ashley at the sheriff’s office, called supervisors’ earlier decision a mistake that needs correcting.
“She didn’t have to go. She came back and she was supposed to have a job,” Bell said.
“This is a female in distress. She doesn’t have a job. Not having a job is stressful to anybody today.”
Former sheriff Cotton, who hired Ashley, said he’s not criticizing Sheriff Brumfield, but he supports veterans like Ashley.
“People like her are the reason we have peace,” Cotton said.
If the sheriff can’t find her a job, another county department should be able to, Cotton suggested. “The law allows you to do that.”
Supervisors thanked the speakers but did not discuss the matter in open session Thursday.