News: Cheyenne Police foster culture of military service
Story by 1st Lt. Christian Venhuizen
CHEYENNE, Wyo. – As a police officer for the city of Cheyenne, Mike Webster knows his community, the good and the bad.
He’s a patrolman, meaning he navigates the city’s streets. He wears his body armor under his pressed uniform. His badge, a polished seven-pointed star, is worn on his left breast. His country’s flag is displayed on his right shoulder.
Webster is also a loadmaster on a Wyoming Air National Guard C-130 cargo plane.
His responsibility is to ensure the safety and delivery of the plane’s cargo, both human and not. He wears a baggy, flame-resistant flight suit; flight helmet and gloves. Besides his potential combat and humanitarian missions, there are hundreds, if not thousands of acres he helps protect from wildfires burning across the United States.
Webster and fellow loadmaster, and Cheyenne Police officer, Chad Wellman both recently returned from fighting fires with the Modular Airborne Firefighting System operated by Wyoming’s 153rd Airlift Wing.
It’s the dual roles they and 11 others of their fellow officers and Guardsmen share, that play a key role for their city, state and nation.
“Serving in the Guard, you not only serve your country, but, as a Guardsman, you serve your state and your communities,” said Mark Ehlman, one Cheyenne’s newest police officers and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. As a Guardsman, Ehlman is a field artilleryman, operating the Army’s latest rocket and missile launchers, the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.
No less than one of every 10 law enforcement officers in the Cheyenne Police Department is a National Guardsmen. All but one of the 13 officers is assigned as either soldiers or airmen in the Wyoming National Guard. The one trains across the Wyoming state line as a member of the Colorado Air National Guard.
“The Cheyenne Police Department, they’ve been great, as far as giving us time off (for military duties),” said Webster.
“Basically, it’s no questions asked, we’re good to go,” said Lisa Koeppel, a canine handler for the police department, who spends her military duties with the Wyoming Air Guard.
The city of Cheyenne provides Guardsmen and other military reservists 15 days of military leave, per year.
“You have to give the (other officers) credit though, because they do, they have to pick up the slack,” Koeppel said.
Not only does the department have more than 10 percent of its force currently serving, but a number of other officers have military backgrounds, said Sgt. Rob Dafoe, the public information officer for the police department.
Webster said the total military presence in the police department helps educate other officers and employees about the reasons for absences. “Then somebody else who’s prior military can say ‘Hey, you know, it’s kind of an important thing that he’s doing,’” Webster said. “It really helps with the department being supportive of all of its military people.”
The Wyoming Air National Guard allows its airmen some flexibility when it comes to scheduling their two weeks of annual training, meaning the two weeks of annual training can be used at different points during the year, depending on the unit, mission and Airman.
The Wyoming Army National Guard has demonstrated a willingness to work with its soldiers to ensure communities are protected. That includes state missions, like flooding in 2010 and 2011, where various soldiers from law enforcement and public works offices remained with their civilian duties.
“We try to pick days, or try to pick different trips, or whatever, that’s not (during) the busy season for us,” Wellman said, noting his first obligation is to the city. “We try to compromise a little bit for both.”
Wellman, assigned to CPD’s canine unit, said the benefits of his dual roles are twofold: life as a Cheyenne Police Officer affords him a wide array of positive opportunities in his community and professional career, and serving in the back of a C-130 brings experiences that allow him to continue to serve in unique and challenging capacities.
“That’s kind of the nice thing about it though, is you spend this whole time being police officers, and it’s kind of a nice break to do something else,” Wellman said, noting he and Webster spent two weeks this year protecting homes, lives and whole communities from fire.
Officer Matt Solberg agreed about not wanting to overload himself with law enforcement, though the officers joked about how hard it is not to talk shop, even while on military orders.
Solberg began his military career with eight years of active duty service with the Air Force. He was assigned with Security Forces, Air Force military police, but switched to providing logistical support with the Guard, after he established himself as a civilian police officer.
“I’ve been here since (1998) and this is definitely home,” said Solberg about Cheyenne and his civilian employer. “It’s everything about this job, being in the police department, except for the paperwork, maybe.”
As an Airman, Solberg said his military duties help with his law enforcement job in the areas of community policing and helping residents resolve issues peacefully.
“This is a military town and I have contact with a lot of military,” he said. “So having that backdrop, you understand where they’re coming from, too. You understand their side of things.”
Koeppel said there are definite perks to both jobs. As a police officer, she enjoys the tactical nature of her job. In the military, she’s a medical technician. “On the Guard side, I get to fix people,” she said. “The karma evens itself out.”
For Webster, similarities between his military and civilian careers produce the excitement. He said the relative unknown is a draw to law enforcement and, “When you’re deployed as a loadmaster, it’s the same thing, you never have the same day twice. You always have a different day. You never really get bored of it.”