In February 2017, Somerset Police Officer Elgin Pettus swapped out his police uniform for Army duds before his deployment to the Middle East as a member of Kentucky National Guard 207th Engineer Company, based out of Hazard. He returned to his civilian life in early November.
Pettus is one of countless law enforcement officers across the Commonwealth who serve or have served in the various branches of the military. He and others said their military background has built a robust foundation for their law enforcement careers.
“There’s really not that much difference between law enforcement and the military,” Pettus said. “The rank structures are similar. There is always the tactical aspect both require, which makes up each career.”
Buck Adkins has been in law enforcement for 14 years, most recently as an officer with Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control. Simultaneously, he has carved out a 17-year career in the Army Reserves, and currently serves with the 372nd Military Intelligence Battalion based out of Cincinnati.
Adkins’ military and police duties have a few things in common, including the ability to read people.
“I am a senior human interrogator,” Adkins said. “As a civilian investigator, things such as your Constitutional rights govern me. The military is a little bit different. When you’re dealing with foreign entities, they have rights as well. The military adheres to those rights; they’re a prisoner of war, where they have Geneva Convention rights, or they would be considered an enemy combatant. That is what we’re dealing with nowadays with ISIS. They can’t say, ‘No, I don’t want to talk to you because I’m evoking my Miranda rights.’”
In western Kentucky, Paducah Police Officer Nick Rolens spends his days as a patrol officer with the PPD, a position he’s held for two years. Rolens also has served for four years in the National Guard with the 438th Military Police Company based out of Murray.
Like Adkins and Pettus, Rolens said there are many similarities between the two careers, with perhaps the biggest being comradery.
“There is a certain sense of a family-like bond with both,” Rolens said. “In both fields, my fellow soldiers and officers both know that if we had to, we would lay our lives on the line for each other, and that is a bond you cannot force – it just happens. Both the soldiers I serve with and the officers I work with go at it hard every day to keep the members of our communities safe and secure.”
Adkins said self-discipline is a telltale sign of military and law enforcement.
“Soldiers and police officers are wired to do their job,” Adkins said. “It’s very important to them. They feel good about what they do and they enjoy their job.
“I can see a real difference with individuals who have spent time in the military,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter which branch of service. They’re disciplined and they have the ability to push on when others would say, ‘That’s enough. I’m done with it.’ [Military personnel] have that drive.”
Both careers involve a high-level of training, which are oftentimes interchangeable.
“I am able to use some of the things I learn at my full-time job here at the police department when I am at drill teaching certain aspects of law enforcement,” Rolens said. “The same goes for my work at the police department. I am able to take my tactics and skills the Army has taught me and incorporate them into my job.”
In addition to training, Pettus said both occupations require a person to be situationally aware at all times.
“You have to keep your head on a swivel (when deployed),” he said. “Watching people and assessing if they are a threat or not. It’s the same in law enforcement. When an officer goes to a call, they have to be alert and assessing who is a threat and who is not a threat.”
Police and military work also requires high levels of physical fitness, all three officers agreed.
“I’m required to stay in shape, and I’m required to maintain a certain physical appearance and present myself in a manner that is flattering to the military and the police world,” Adkins said.
Each year, military members have a fitness test they must pass, Rolens said.
“I am required to meet a certain standard on the test,” he said. “I also need to stay in shape for my duties as a police officer. This is for obvious reasons of physical confrontation or if someone decides to flee on foot. Physical fitness is also important in the mental health of officers and those in the military. So I make sure to get to the gym regularly.”
Being in shape both physically and mentally are keys when gaining the balance between the two careers.
Juggling Careers and Family
Serving in the military offers different challenges, including the obvious – being away from family and your everyday life.
“The adjustment from civilian life to military life is kind of like going to jail,” Pettus joked. “What I mean is you go from being the boss of yourself to being told when to get up when to go to sleep, how long you have to do things for yourself when you eat, what you eat and where you eat. So there is a bit of humbling that comes with going from civilian to military.”
Post-deployment is also a challenge.
“It’s a little bit difficult to get back in the groove,” Adkins said. “Everything I knew before I left is the same, with the exception of some minor changes here and there. The key is getting into the flow and working the cases again and catching up with any policy changes.”
The agency itself also goes a long way in making the adjustment easier on both ends.
“The police department as a whole and my supervisors do a good job handling me being gone for any military reasons,” Rolens said. “They work with me, and never complain about (military obligations). This year, I’ve been gone more than normal, but they’ve not missed a beat and have handled everything professionally.”
Perhaps the biggest adjustment is family, Adkins said.
“Just like with work, the family has to take a more active role in what is going on (in everyday life),” he said. “I’m fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful woman, Susan. We have two kids, and they seem to not miss a beat. My wife has to pick up those things I would normally do when I’m here. She has her lane that she’s in, and she’s working it perfectly.”
Serving both the community and country boil down to some essential things for Rolens.
“The residents of Paducah and the people I encounter with my military service make it easy for me to do what I do,” Rolens said. “The same can be said about my brothers and sisters in blue and my brother and sisters in the Army Combat Uniform. These people make me the officer and service member that I am, and for that, I am thankful.”