As the first reports of the most recent shooting incident at Fort Hood crept across the bottom of my television screen days ago, my attention was immediately captured. When I learned that an alert and obviously well-trained Military Police officer had confronted the shooter and brought the tragedy to a close avoiding an even worse outcome, some closely-held memory cells came to vivid life.
When I enlisted in the newly-formed U.S. Air Force in 1950 having just turned 17 and with the Korean War underway, I had visions of a hoped for assignment in the flight crew of a B-29 bomber, realizing thereby a lifelong goal to somehow get into the air. Fate – or perhaps misadventure depending on one’s point of view – intervened and I ended up with what I thought was a temporary diversion into an Air Police Squadron undergoing training for a combat support role. I surprised myself when, six months later, I turned down the dreamed-of acceptance in Airborne Gunnery School to remain in military law enforcement. For reasons still unclear, I had found a “home” amid the unique sense of pride and comradeship which bound together such a “band of brothers”.
Nowhere in the civilian world, - I realize now - would a 17 - 18-year old “kid” of that day find himself entrusted with such a wide variety of everyday tasks and duties bridging such a range of responsibilities and specialties. Along with such mundane and unfulfilling duties as the guarding of lonely outposts in miserable weather conditions or directing traffic on a busy installation where traffic signals were non-existent, there were those random moments of spine-tingling exhilaration when pursuing an escaped prisoner through the dark and dangerous warrens of some abandoned building or affecting the arrest of a subject whose state of mind and willingness to cooperate are just some of the unknowns.
Along with on-the-job training in fingerprint analysis, crime-scene management and interrogation technique, there were hours devoted to live-fire familiarization with virtually every kind of military weaponry from the .45 caliber side arms we wore every day to the heavy-duty ordnance I would soon come to find important in a far-off land. (And I must confess to a particular fondness for the classic Thompson sub- machinegun I got to carry when guarding the transport of a multi-million-dollars-in-cash-payroll in a mad dash from railway station to base!) In time, I gravitated into the field of Criminal Investigation and the intricacies of the Military Justice System from field work to courtroom, with the first homicide in my case file by age 19.
This background will help to explain why an incident in my own experience leaped into my mind so easily in the wake of the news from Fort Hood last week.
In the course of supervising an Air Police Security unit in a combat zone in Korea, I once found it necessary to deal with an emotionally-disturbed airman whose behavior had become erratic and worrisome; to the point where it became advisable to restrict his duty assignment to an office environment where he would not be carrying a weapon. The first indication that his condition had escalated began with his disappearance along with that of his “confiscated” .30 caliber M-2 carbine and at least one 30-round magazine of ammunition. When, shortly thereafter automatic weapon fire began to shower down on us from a nearby hillside it was obvious that our worst fears had come to pass. We faced a “rogue” American who, because he was one of us, posed the worst kind of threat.
My memories of the incident are still with me 62 years later: the sense of betrayal that one of our own would turn against us, the feeling of helplessness as live rounds pinned us down, and sadness that we had clearly been unaware of the extent of estrangement in which our tent mate found himself; but most of all, grateful that we were finally able to disarm our friend without injury, and see him safely strapped into a MASH ambulance and beginning the long journey home.
I am also proud to have served as a “Military Cop” at a time of national need as I continue to be for those who similarly serve their country today in every branch and wherever stationed.
Members of the 105th Security Forces Squadron of the New York Air National Guard attend an honor ceremony for a comrade – Staff Sgt. Todd Lobraico, Jr. – who gave his life defending others while deployed in Afghanistan in September, 2013. U.S. Air National Guard Photo