WEST POINT — She places her life on the line almost every day with the West Point Police Department. Starting Saturday, Sgt. Tunya Brown continues that commitment while wearing a different uniform and serving her country.
Brown was set to deploy with the Alabama Army National Guard’s 214th Military Police Company out of Alexander City, Alabama. She will be one of 140 soldiers that will head to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and more extensive training before deploying to an unknown destination overseas, according to a press release.
Brown said she expects to be gone at least a year.
While she has been an active member of the National Guard for more than five years, Brown said this is her first deployment.
“Now that it’s close, I’m nervous and I’m anxious,” she said. “The biggest thing is I’m going to miss my dogs. I know I’m going to miss them a lot.
“I’ll miss being the PIO (public information officer) and interacting with the community,” Brown continued. “I’m going to miss the bike patrol, especially since it was just starting to get off the ground. I’m going to miss Sgt. Kevin Carter (bike patrol partner) and my dispatcher. I’m going to miss talking to those people on a daily basis.”
“I’m very proud of her,” said Carter. “I’m happy she’s going for the reason she’s going, although I hate to say goodbye … but I’ve seen her grow in the profession and I’m proud of her.”
Brown has no family that lives close by, which, in her words, has forced her to depend on other people — mainly her boss, West Point Police Chief Tony Bailey.
According to Brown, Bailey consistently worked around her schedule during monthly weekend exercises and annual two-week training sessions with her National Guard unit without complaint. He also took care of her dogs during those times and while she is deployed, he will temporarily adopt them into his home.
In addition, Bailey is storing her motorcycle and car, plus taking care of her home and lawn while she is gone.
Brown said when Bailey learned of her impending deployment, he attended every “Yellow Ribbon” meetings for soldiers and their families. Those sessions told loved ones and friends more about the deployment, how to prepare for it, how to help their soldiers prepare for it, what the deployment will be like for families while the soldiers are gone and what to expect when they come home.
“I’m very proud of her. It was important to me that she doesn’t stress and she focus on the mission ahead,” Bailey explained. “I didn’t want her to worry. That is a big sacrifice that she is making … she doesn’t need to worry.”
Brown said she could not leave without showing the chief how thankful she was for all his kindness and support.
On Friday during her goodbye luncheon, Brown surprised Bailey with a special honor. A representative of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, or ESGR, a Department of Defense office, drove from Atlanta to West Point and presented the chief with the Patriot Award.
According to the representative, it is one of the highest honors an employer can receive. The certificate recognizes bosses, businesses and companies that develop and promote supportive work environments for service members in the reserves.
Brown wrote a letter to the ESGR office and nominated Bailey for the award months ago — without his knowledge. After learning Bailey would receive the distinction, she requested it be presented to him before she deployed.
“He has gone above and beyond anything he has or needs to do as an employer for someone in the service,” she explained. “I felt like he was deserving of the award.
“We — the military, guard and reserves — can’t do what we do if we don’t have employers that support us,” Brown continued. “Chief Bailey has done all that. He has laid the ground work. I tell him I have training coming up one weekend and he’ll say, ‘We’ll make it work.’ It’s all about the support of the military.”
Bailey said he was surprised and humbled by Brown’s nomination and the award.
“I’m surprised, but then again, I’m not surprised because this sums up her personality,” he said. “Here she is facing a deployment and she’s still thinking and worrying about other people … She’s got a servant’s heart. She’s always serving others.”
“I’m not one to depend on other people,” Brown replied. “But when you’re going on deployment, you have to let that guard down … to have someone take care of your house. To me, I feel like I’m being a burden, but I’m very thankful and very grateful for all he has done.”
But Bailey’s kindness will not end at Brown’s goodbye luncheon. He has one last mission as her boss, friend and member of her now-extended West Point Police family. Bailey will drive Brown to Alexander City early Saturday morning with two other staff members and be a part of Family Day with her National Guard unit before they say their final farewells for at least a year.
“It’s not going to be the same without her,” said Carter. “But instead of saying ‘goodbye,’ I’ll say, ‘See you next time.’”
Added Bailey: “I’m so excited for this opportunity for her. I have all the confidence in the world in her. But we are all going to miss her. We’re going to pray for her and keep her in our thoughts and prayers while she’s gone … and then celebrate when she comes home.”
Melanie Ruberti is a reporter at LaGrange Daily News. She may be reached at 706-884-7311, ext. 2156.