by Jim Boyle
Sherburne County Attorney Kathleen Heaney has been given a Patriot Award.
It comes from the Minnesota Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR). She was nominated for the award by Deputy County Attorney Sam Wertheimer, who doubles as an Army Reservist with 27 years of experience. He has been the deputy county attorney for Heaney since October of 2004.
“She and her office have been unwavering in their support of my second career as a soldier,” said Lt. Col. Wertheimer.
Wertheimer praised her and the entire county attorney’s office for its support and commitment in providing the necessary time off and other work-related coverage when he has had to be excused for military training or deployment. That includes a recently completed deployment to the 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.
Wertheimer is a member of the 214th Legal Services Organization at Fort Snelling. He served as chief of military justice at Fort Riley for the one-year time period.
He was one of seven lawyers who prosecuted both general and special court marshals that often led to bad conduct discharges. The majority of the cases he prosecuted were allegations of criminal sexual misconduct, thefts of property, soldiers who went AWOL or deserted and drug offenses.
But he remained connected to the Sherburne County Attorney’s Office, too. He would get e-mails from Heaney and others in the office to see how he was doing and be asked questions about matters being worked on in Elk River.
“Having support from fellow employees makes being away from home a much more bearable situation,” Wertheimer said. “I felt like I was part of the office even though I was 600-some miles away.”
Heaney said it was hard to fill Wertheimer’s shoes, but thanks to teamwork of the folks in her office and an assist from Hennepin County, it worked surprisingly well.“I knew about a week into it how hard it was going to be,” Heaney said. “It was amazing how much he did, and I didn’t realize it.
“On the flip side, everybody pulled together. The real credit goes to the group I get to work with. Everybody was willing to do a little more and be more flexible.”
Heaney also created an innovative job-sharing agreement with Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, where one of his employees worked in Sherburne County and assumed the role of acting chief deputy county attorney during Wertheimer’s absence.
“This commitment is extraordinary — especially in light of budgetary and staff shortfalls,” said Retired Lt. Col. John Kingrey, who presented Heaney with the award.
Kingrey, who is the executive director of the Minnesota County Attorney Association, worked with Wertheimer for more than 10 years before he retired. He remains an ombudsman for the ESGR.
The Patriot Award is given to employers who proactively support their National Guard and Reserve employees. To receive this award, an employer must be nominated by one of its citizen-soldiers for extraordinary service.
The ESGR is part of the Department of Defense with the mission to gain and maintain employer support for the Guard and Reserve by recognizing outstanding support, increasing awareness of the law, and resolving conflicts through informal mediation.
There are currently over 94,000 National Guard and Reserve members on active duty.