By Bryan P. Sears
As a county employee, he said, he knew Baltimore County government would take care of them.
Comeau, an assistant county attorney and National Guard reservist, served six months in Afghanistan this year and was called to duty again this fall to assist with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts in Louisiana.
He said knowing that his wife, 17-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter could keep his county benefits made doing his reservist duties easier.
"A lot of us soldier-types, sometimes we don't pay attention to these things," said Comeau, who grew up in Parkville and graduated from Parkville High School in 1974. "But our wives and families want to know."
Comeau, 49, is one of approximately 90 county employees who serve in the National Guard or one of the military reserve branches.
Baltimore County pays the difference between the county employee's reserve pay and county salary and covers the employee's health and life insurance premiums.
The county passed the law in January 2003 in response to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was expanded this past October to cover county government employees who are reservists called up for disaster relief.
For Comeau, a lieutenant colonel in the Judge Adjutant General corps, the difference between his salary as an assistant county attorney and his military pay was minimal.
Being able to allow his family to continue seeing their own doctors rather than going to military clinics as required by military health insurance was a "great relief," he said.
For most soldiers, the difference between their civilian and military pay can be "hundreds a week and thousands a year," according to Maryland Air National Guard Col. Benjamin Jablecki, executive director of the Maryland committee of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.
"That's often a car payment," he said.
The county's support for reserve troops has not gone unnoticed.
Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, a 33-year-old volunteer organization within the Department of Defense that promotes cooperation between the reserves and civilian employers, presented County Executive Jim Smith with an award for his support of reservists employed by the county.
Smith initiated both the original law and its revision, which were passed unanimously by the County Council.
"This is what we should be doing," Smith said. "Maybe we shouldn't even get an award for this."
The state, Howard County and private employers including Home Depot, Lowes and Verizon offer similar benefits to their employees.
Federal law passed in 1994 requires government agencies and private businesses to hold jobs for employees called to active military duty.
Comeau and military reservist advocates praised Baltimore County for going a step further.
Retired Brig. Gen. Arthur Pulket, vice chairman of Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve organization in Maryland, said such benefits are a comfort to reservists.
"They have to think of their families first," Pulket said.