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And so I volunteered ... a journey in another Airman's footsteps

Staff Sgt. Abraham Pena, security forces craftsman, radios information on a traffic violator to the security dispatcher. Sergeant Pena returned to active duty with the Wing in mid-July after serving nearly six months in Iraq.

Staff Sgt. Abraham Pena, security forces craftsman, radios information on a traffic violator to the security dispatcher. Sergeant Pena returned to active duty with the Wing in mid-July after serving nearly six months in Iraq. (Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jordan Jones)

TUCSON, Ariz. -- If you saw someone blow through a stop sign and almost hit you, what would you think?

Would you be irritated and angry, or thinking that the person is in distress? Would you be yelling at the other driver who can't hear you, or wondering if the driver is planning another Fort Hood?

In a job where the biggest challenge day-in and day-out is to remain vigilant and alert, it's easy to take those who do the job for granted - to assume the job is an easy one.

But is it really? Take a few moments with me as I recall briefly the six months I spent working with the members of the 162nd Security Force Squadron and you'll be surprised at how that seemingly simple question has an almost surreal answer.

It began in January when 31 members of the 162nd SFS deployed to Iraq. Leadership sent out a call for 15 volunteers to backfill key positions. An expectant father, recently married, working to complete a four-year degree my personal needs were many.

A full-time job was one of them. My regular job for the 162nd as a DSG Public Affairs specialist entailed primarily of writing news stories, responding to civilian inquiries, and escorting tour groups and members of the media around the base.

The job with SF would be full-time, and so I volunteered on a moment's notice not fully realizing the depth or complexity of what it meant to be a SF cop - I volunteered to walk a six-month journey in the footsteps of another Airman.

At the beginning of every 12-hour shift the cops would be briefed on security incidents that happened at other bases around the nation; some were malicious in nature while others were due to carelessness and complacency. And soon after I started there was the nationally-televised incident at Luke Air Force Base where the military police were forced to shoot individuals being pursued by the local law enforcement.

The knowledge of those incidents helped us maintain a strong situational awareness about current threats that we might face here. So while most of my time during the six months was spent watching and waiting, I would be waiting for what I hoped would never happen here.

And to train us on how to effectively respond to a crisis, the flight leadership would conduct exercises. Each exercise was unique; one exercise entailed a fake bomb planted on the flightline, another was stopping and apprehending an individual who was driving while under the influence of alcohol.

The most memorably exercise to me was when I was considered a hostage, or under duress as law enforcement would say. A mannequin sat in the passenger seat of my vehicle during the exercise, and the mannequin held my M-16 rifle. A merry chase was on, but soon my fellow police officers had my vehicle stopped and I was laying face down on the pavement while they proceeded to clear the vehicle.

Army Spc. Jesse Ryan, a Purple Heart recipient, carefully opened the passenger door where the mannequin sat with one arm propped through the open window. As the door opened, the mannequin's right hand fell off to the ground. In the blink of an eye the exercise changed from a hostage situation to a medical emergency.

It was then I learned that no matter how many years you've been a cop, or what you've seen, there's always something else unexpected that can happen. There are so many unknowns, and each unknown requires making a split-second decision to determine if the unknown is a threat. Making that decision is the hardest part of the job -- and often the decision will take or save a life.

Thankfully, the unthinkable didn't happen here during the six months I served as a cop. And if you are stopped by a police officer, either on base or off, remember, even if he knows you he does not know what you are doing in the vehicle or what your intentions may be. To him, you are an unknown. So help him find the answers; be compliant whenever the cop is doing his job.

But the part that showed me just how great it is to work here came during the days that were freezing cold or squelching hot (everyday it seemed). There were a few kind-hearted individuals who would bring us hot cocoa on the cold days and frozen Eegee's on the hot days - thank you.