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Suwanee man honored by State Defense Force

LAWRENCEVILLE -- Bill Weeks takes his job as a citizen soldier seriously.

That's why the private first class was named the Brigade Soldier of the Year for 2009 by the battalion commander of the Georgia State Defense Force.

From the time the Suwanee man volunteered in July 2008, he has been an exemplary soldier, causing him to become a runner-up for the prize later that year.

"It's attitude and heart," that sets Weeks apart, said Capt. James Siniard, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Brigade. "He loves it, like most of us do. It's a terrific way to volunteer."

Weeks, a Baltimore native, began volunteering at the age of 16 as a firefighter. When he moved to Georgia in 2004, he began searching for a niche and he found it while taking a class on community emergency response, where he learned about the State Defense Force.

"I was looking for something as a hobby," Weeks said, explaining that his wife Sarah was working extra hours when he began to volunteer. "It turned into something I really enjoyed and I plan on doing this for many years."

While similar to the National Guard in that soldiers are lead by the governor and are part of the Georgia Department of Defense, the State Defense Force is an all-volunteer outfit. The members even pay out-of-pocket for their uniform and other expenses.

The soldiers are reserved to take care of Georgia, while Guardsmen can be deployed overseas. Father to 6-month-old Liam, Weeks said going without pay is a fair trade-off to stay home.

The force specializes in search and rescue and disaster assistance. Prior to Weeks' joining the group, the brigade participated in searches for slain hiker Meredith Emerson of Buford and missing college student Justin Gaines.

Weeks said the group is also currently on stand-by to help if victims of Haiti's earthquake are brought to Georgia.

"It allows me to serve and to give back," said Weeks, a senior credit manager with RBS WorldPay in Sandy Springs who admitted he had dreamed of working in law enforcement. "It was right up my alley."

Weeks volunteers as part of the force's color guard, which he said allows him to support guardsmen during send-offs and other ceremonies, including funerals.

"It's no fun, but it's probably the most meaningful thing we can do for the families," he said.