By Tom Gresham
In light of its perpetual struggle to maintain full staffing, the Williston Police Department has advertised its recruitment efforts far and wide. One recent hire inquired about a job from some 5,800 miles away.
Jason Brownfield was in the midst of a combat-heavy, 11-month tour of duty in Iraq with the National Guard when he learned of the openings for officers in the Williston department. Brownfield was serving as a military police officer in Iraq, escorting motor convoys down some of the country’s most dangerous roads. He thought law enforcement work would be a natural step into civilian life.
Brownfield, who resides in Jay with his wife and two children, phoned the Williston Police Department from Iraq to express his interest. Shortly after his return home from Iraq on Feb. 23, he interviewed for the opening and was hired. He started work with the department last week.
Williston Chief Ozzie Glidden said it was a surprise to receive a phone call from around the world from a prospective officer, but it was a pleasant one. Glidden said former military personnel can be ideal additions to police departments.
Williston also recently hired Christopher Simays, a member of the Coast Guard police force, to join its department. Kris Fullington, who resigned last month after seven months with the department, came to Williston after a career in the Navy.
“(Veterans) often are mature and ready to go,” Glidden said. “They are used to working within a chain of command. They just make great candidates. That’s why we’ve been recently trying to attract them to come here.”
Glidden said he has begun to target his recruiting pitch at organizations that can circulate the word among potential applicants with military backgrounds. He mentioned the offices of Sen. Jim Jeffords and Gov. Jim Douglas, the American Legion and the National Guard as places he has contacted in hopes of reaching the ears and eyes of Vermont-based military personnel reaching the end of their service.
“We’re hoping it gets us some strong candidates,” he said.
Brownfield, 29, was attached in Iraq to the First Battalion 86th Field Artillery, the National Guard unit with an armory next door to the Williston Police Department. He learned of the openings in the Williston police department from a superior officer in Iraq. Glidden had contacted the National Guard about the open positions, and an officer had sent an e-mail message to Iraq.
“I knew it was something I wanted to do,” Brownfield said.
Brownfield’s military career was eventful. He served more than six years in the U.S. Army as a forward observer. His service included stints in Kosovo, Bosnia and Afghanistan. He was in Afghanistan for a stretch between 2001 and 2002 and saw combat there.
He transferred to the National Guard in October 2003 and soon was activated for duty in Iraq. During his stretch overseas, Brownfield provided security for convoys traveling either to the Baghdad National Airport or to LSA Anaconda, a U.S. air base north of Baghdad.
The approximately 300-mile journey to LSA Anaconda typically took about 15 hours round trip, he said. Brownfield said the convoys included security personnel in two or three Humvees and then about 30 trucks carrying supplies like fuel, ammunition, vehicle parts and water.
The convoys were frequently targeted by insurgents. During Brownfield’s tour overseas, his convoys were rattled by 11 roadside bombs — an average of one a month. Seven of the bombs directly hit vehicles. Brownfield also was caught in multiple ambushes, including one firefight with insurgents that lasted more than three hours.
“We did almost start to get used to it,” Brownfield said. “There would be an explosion and we’d say, ‘Yep, there’s another IED (Improvised Explosive Device).’ Nothing else sounds like a roadside bomb.”
Brownfield earned the Bronze Star for his overall service in Iraq and the ARCOM (Army Commendation Medal) with Valor award for his performance in the firefight.
Brownfield acknowledges there will be significant differences between the duties of his new position and the responsibilities of his old one. However, he said, both circumstances are driven by the ability to effectively work with the public.
In Iraq, Brownfield frequently sought out Iraqi citizens for information, and he did not always have the benefit of a translator. He said he would occasionally ask Iraqis where roadside bombs might be planted or whether there were guns around by mimicking the sounds they make. Even the convoy drivers rarely spoke English and required creative communication.
“It was a really big task,” said Brownfield, whose first day in a Williston police uniform was May 9. “We had to use some pretty innovative means to learn what we wanted. I had to learn to read between the lines.”