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Sheriff wants to serve in Iraq


Calaveras County might lose its sheriff to the war on terrorism — for a year, anyway.

Sheriff Dennis Downum has accepted an offer from the U.S. State Department to help build and train the police force in Iraq.

On Monday, Downum will ask the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors for a year's leave. If he gets the OK, Downum will leave for Iraq on Dec. 28 for training, return to Calaveras County soon after, then leave again for the Middle East.

Once he goes back a second time, Downum said, he doesn't know how often or if he'd get to come home. His commitment in Iraq would end Jan. 2, 2005.

But he's ready to go, and he wants to go.

"I believe very, very strongly that if we can make any kind of democracy over there, it's going to benefit us in the future," said Downum, who's almost a year through his four-year term as sheriff. "I'd be very proud to have a small part in that."

Downum will ask the board to appoint Undersheriff Randy Grasmuck the interim sheriff while he's gone.

"If it wasn't for Randy Grasmuck being there, I wouldn't even be considering this," Downum said.

Downum said he's spoken with all five board members about his decision and they all seem to support him.

As part of his leave, Downum would still earn $100 per month. He would communicate with the county via conference calls, faxes and e-mail to discuss pertinent sheriff's department issues.

Downum's retirement and insurance benefits would be unbroken by his leave.

"If people want to fulfill a dream or a desire, whether it's a new job, which it is for him — he needs to do what he feels he needs to do, and we need to be supportive," Supervisor Merita Callaway said yesterday. "I'm all for that."

Downum said he applied for the program through the State Department in April, after hearing about it from a former Oakland Police Department colleague. Downum was an officer in Oakland from 1968 through 1989.

He soon decided that if he qualified, he would go.

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