FORT POLK — Civilian and military law enforcement officers chatted over coffee, eggs and pancakes at a National Police Week Breakfast held May 15 at the Showboat Theater. Brig. Gen. Patrick D. Frank, commanding general, Joint Readiness Training Center and Fort Polk, was the guest speaker.
Civilian guests included Vernon Parish Sheriff Sam Craft, DeRidder Police Chief John Gott, Leesville Police Chief Greg Hill, New Llano Police Chief Danny Hunt, Capt. Jason Smith of Louisiana State Police-Troop E, Capt. Curt Belton of Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries, and Pineville Police Chief Capt. Doug Washington. Several members of Fort Polk’s command group and military police community were also in attendance, including Fort Polk Chief of Police Bobby Lungrin, Deputy Director of the Directorate of Emergency Services Leo Stolfi, Chief of Plans and Operations for the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security Mark Leslie, 519th Military Police Battalion commander Lt. Col. Sonja Whitehead, Fort Polk Chief of Staff Col. Christopher Moretti, Garrison Commander Col. Jarrett Thomas II, and JRTC and Fort Polk Command Sgt. Maj. David Bass.
Frank said all of those wearing camouflage were “in the presence of heroes — heroes that wear a blue uniform,” referring to the civilian officers and chiefs. “In the U.S. Army, we receive a great deal of attention for our deployment operations. Our fellow law enforcement officers are often unsung heroes within our communities. That is why we are gathered at this first-ever Fort Polk Peace Officers Memorial Day and Police Week appreciation breakfast.”
Frank said it was important to recognize the “tremendous service and sacrifices that law enforcement professionals make each day” in service of their fellow Americans.
Frank then read a message from the Pentagon, addressed to installations, buildings, grounds and Naval vessels throughout the Unites States and abroad, released by the Department of Defense May 14.
“At the direction of the President of the United States, as a mark of respect honoring Peace Officers Day and during Police Week, we acknowledge the incredible service and sacrifice law enforcement professionals make each and every day for their fellow Americans. The flag of the United States shall be flown at half-staff (May 15). Sixteen years ago, on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, as black smoke poured from the twin towers (in New York City), it was our police officers and first responders who were the first to act, fearlessly leading innocent civilians through fire- and smoke-filled hallways to safety,” Frank read. “It was police officers that surrounded and protected President (George W.) Bush as he told the American people from ground zero: ‘I can hear you. The rest of the world can hear you. And the people that knocked down these buildings will hear from all of us soon.’”
Frank said that as the military picked up the mission after 9-11, so too did law enforcement assume the responsibility of protecting and serving the families waiting back home.
“Our great partners in blue passed the fight to those of us in the camouflage uniform as our nation would defeat terrorists in multiple regions around the globe. As our Soldiers deployed over the last 16 years, they were able to focus on their battlefield missions, fully knowing that their families in the communities surrounding Fort Polk were safe,” he said. “It is you, the local and regional law enforcement officers, who have welcomed our Army Families within your neighborhoods.”
The impact of local law enforcement was highlighted as Frank read messages from Soldiers and Family members aloud. These included:
• From a non-commissioned officer in 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division — “A city police officer assisted my Family when our SUV broke down at the grocery store. A tow truck was called and my Family was escorted home safely — a relief for me during my deployment to Iraq.”
• From the child of a Soldier — “Today two police officers visited our classroom. They taught us how to look out for each other and to trust policemen in keeping our school safe.”
• From the parents of a Soldier — “We were visiting our Soldier for the week. While we were in town we were very impressed with how friendly and engaging the local police officers were. What a supportive and caring community.”
• From a Soldier going through a JRTC rotation — “As I was heading into the box, my HMMWV broke down on La. Hwy 28. Not only did the VPSO (Vernon Parish Sheriffs Office) stop to assist me, the state police pulled over to help me also. I wish I got this much help back home.”
Frank said these were just a few of many stories about unsung local and regional law enforcement heroes.
“This (shows) how our (civilian) police officers make a positive difference in the lives of Fort Polk Soldiers and Families. Our Soldiers are the strength of our Army, and our law enforcement officers represent the strength of our nation,” said Frank. “All of us from Fort Polk thank you and your families for the sacrifices you make for our safety. The Soldiers of JRTC and Fort Polk salute you and your exceptional service. You are always welcome here at the Home of Heroes.”