Maryland's newly named House majority whip, Anthony G. Brown, said yesterday he could well be deployed to Iraq with his Army Reserve unit in coming weeks and, as a result, miss his first session in Annapolis in a pivotal leadership role.
The Prince George's County Democrat has not received formal written orders to deploy, but he leaves with his unit today for the first in a sequence of out-of-state training missions that he said strongly indicate his unit is heading for Iraq.
"The unit is completely geared up to go," Brown said.
Brown, 42, is a lawyer who holds the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve. He was recently attached to a civil affairs unit responsible, in general terms, for what he called "nation building."
Brown has taken several steps to prepare for his extended absence, including seeking advice from the Maryland attorney general about the fate of his House of Delegates seat should he be deployed overseas during the 2005 legislative session, which starts in January.
In an interview yesterday, Brown said he was advised that, under both the Maryland Constitution and federal law, "a reserve officer being activated does not lose his seat."
House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel), who promoted Brown to the leadership post last week, said yesterday he will hold it open as long as necessary.
"We're going to support Anthony Brown 100 percent," Busch said. "He's made a commitment to his country. So whatever happens, we're going to honor his positions here in the House, and we will work around his absence."
Brown, who lives in Lanham, said yesterday he is spending his time now trying to prepare his 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son for the coming year.
"Naturally, I have some anxiety about ensuring my family is ready for the possibility of my extended absence," Brown said. "But I'm honored to be serving. I can think of no higher calling."
Brown, a graduate of Harvard University and Harvard Law School, ascended to majority whip in his second term -- an extremely rapid rise. He has been frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for statewide office, including as a possible running mate for Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan (D) or Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D), both of whom are contemplating a run for governor in 2006. His colleagues from District 25 said yesterday they will handle his constituents' concerns in his absence.
"I'm an Air Force brat, so I have a great appreciation for what's involved in this kind of sacrifice," said Del. Melony G. Griffith (D-Prince George's).
Brown is not the first Maryland lawmaker to be called up for duty during his tenure. Sen. John C. Astle (D-Anne Arundel) is a retired Marine colonel who was deployed for five months during the Persian Gulf War. He said the duty will take a toll on Brown's family and put the delegate in harm's way.
But it can only benefit his political career, Astle said. "That he's willing to undertake this marks the kind of person he is," Astle said.