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Police chief home after year in Afghanistan

January 31, 2006|by ERIN CUNNINGHAM

HAGERSTOWN

erinc@herald-mail.com

One year and one day ago, Hagerstown Police Chief Arthur Smith stepped off an airplane in Afghanistan.

He returned to work Monday after spending nearly one year working closely with the military for the U.S. Department of State.

"I was in a variety of different places (in Afghanistan) trying to help that country get back on the right foot," Smith said.

He spent his first day back in Hagerstown trying to catch up on what he had missed during the past year.

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He hadn't met the Hagerstown City Council members elected last spring. The Police Department is looking to fill at least six vacancies.

And most recently, a correctional officer was killed by an inmate being treated at Washington County Hospital.

"That was certainly a low point," Smith said.

While he was away, he had some communication with the department but said he trusted Capt. Charles Summers, who was acting chief.

While in Afghanistan, Smith was a contractual employee for the State Department. He signed a confidentiality agreement with the department, agreeing not to talk about his specific duties.

He did say that his work was police-related.

"It was what you can imagine they would want someone with 30 years of police experience doing," Smith said.

The people in Afghanistan have experienced a lot of setbacks in the past 30 years, and he was part of a team helping them move forward. He said he developed good relationships with the people he met and worked with in Afghanistan.

"It's a good investment to get (the country) back to a good level of function," Smith said. "We saw what happened when we weren't trying to help them."

Smith said he spent a lot of time in tents, and also stayed in military barrack, and said he was often moving to a different place.

"It is like going back in time, being over there," he said. "We were trying to bring the people over there up to speed."

Smith said Monday he had returned to Hagerstown a few days before and had nearly recovered from the jet lag he had after adjusting to the nine-hour time difference.

"It was quite a mental readjustment," he said. "Everything was kind of a blur today. It will take a few days to get back into the swing of things."

Smith said he will spend some time catching up, but he was already working Monday to fill some of the department's vacancies. He spent a few hours Monday afternoon interviewing candidates.

"We're operating quite a few down," he said.

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