Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Columns

December 16, 2012

Tammie Hetzer-Womack: Underlining the thin gray line: 12/17/12

ASHLAND — I write a new chapter — one that’s uncertain and perhaps chancy at any moment — but it’s an episode seldom seen by civilians like me. So I mercifully enlist.

I’m eager — and not too scared — so far.

The first-person police story is customarily for the unquestioning cadet reporter new to her beat, a gutsy girl hoping make a name for herself. For me, it’s a lifestyle of my 14 journalist years. I’m what law enforcement terms “10-12,” a person along for the ride.

I see images of bloodshed, ferocity and mayhem. I set eyes on warmth, reassurance and empathy. Sometimes I burst into tears along the way. Even scream.

If I decide to get “inked-up,” my brash new tattoo will sport some saying about scores of lights and sirens nights which shaped and toughened me. Speed amplified my tiny voice.

Recently I committed myself to a new series of plainspoken profile stories. For the next year, I’ll stowaway as a passenger with Kentucky State Police’s preeminent road units — each of the bold and brave who patrol highways and country hollows in Ashland’s Post 14 district of Boyd, Greenup, Carter and Lawrence counties.

By my math, that’s close to 30 troopers who warrant a real pat on the back — and once in a blue moon get one.

I’m honored and thankful to become constant companion to these heroes — through my eyes offering readers a behind-the-scenes rendering of the superhuman tales we often never hear. See, on the whole, troopers don’t say much and never request laurels.

That’s where I come in. My desire is to bring gray into the light.

There’s a stern persona to the state trooper who travels your street. He’s large and in charge, but these guys are genuinely just like you and me. Take time to introduce yourself and share a friendly crime tip or two.

I request prayers of shelter and steadfastness as I tender these KSP stories, starting today with Fairview High’s own, Sr. Trooper Zachary B. Thompson, assigned to Boyd County watch. I met up with the (very courteous) Thompson last Friday, hours after the evil Connecticut school shooting. He has a dear friend who lives in that area and phones him to ensure his grandkids are safe and sound.

That’s the sort of mannerly fellow Thompson is. He’s well brought up by his parents, Carolyn Thompson and the late Jonas Thompson — and is influenced by their godly guidance.

The 31-year-old visibly reacts, speaking of the Newtown catastrophe. Many of his family members and friends are educators. Near Bear Creek, he spots a broken down, vacated school bus and is quick to inspect it.

“It’s a tragic event and something that’s on your mind while working. We often train on how to deal with these types of events with other departments and agencies. I hope there are things we learn from this to make our response and training better,” he pauses. “I’ll continue to keep their community in my thoughts and prayers.”

Thompson’s a graduate of Kentucky Christian University, where he majored in history and biblical studies — while also playing on the men’s basketball team. He’s bright — and signed on with the state police in July 2005. An avid gun collector, he’s the firearms and range instructor for Post 14 and an investigator for Internet Crimes against Children.

“Some of the worst crimes I see or think I could witness are ones involving children. It takes a special kind of evil person to harm a child. Since I qualified for ICAC, I know evil lurks in our world.”

That’s why Thomp

son’s faithfully fulfilling a lifelong dream of service. He remembers wishing to become a trooper, from boyhood days, growing up in Michigan.

“I saw a cruiser at an accident scene. It was different than the others. I asked my dad why it looked different and he explained he was a trooper,” he smiled, adding his father’s buddy was a retired Michigan State Police sergeant, while his aunt’s neighbor was a trooper. He grew to admire the heroic duo.

“I like structure and order and bringing help to the helpless. I’m passionate for the rule of law. …Being a Trooper is something I aspired to do my whole life. I feel I make a difference and help people. Sometimes people don’t see that or think that; but, I’m so thankful to be part of the proud Thin Gray Line and our family. I made some of my closest friends in the agency. They’re my brothers and sisters.”

It’s not easy getting here. The 22-week state police academy is physically and mentally grueling — even for an athlete like Thompson. He shares advice with youth …

“For those wishing to get into this, know it’s more than just a job. It’s a career and part of your life. It’s hard at times on your family and sacrifices must be made. This isn’t a job for everyone, and there’s no shame in those who can’t continue to do this,” Thompson continued.

“I also recommend doing what makes you happy. If you want to be a trooper, it’s never too early to learn. Start by staying away from trouble and those who do wrong. Follow the rules and have compassion. It’s more than just enforcing the laws. Always have a backup plan.”

He awaits speeders on U.S. 23, near the Lawrence County line, speaking of a trooper’s constant dedication to learn and improve. Conversation turns to his fiancée and her unremitting love and support.

“Before my fiancée and I started dating, I advised her of how hard the career is on a family and relationship. Loved ones have to want this for you because your schedule is always subject to change,” Thompson reminds. “A lot of times you’ll be on your way home, five minutes before your shift ends — and something can happen or you’ll roll up on an accident or a DUI.

“These types of things obviously have to be taken care of, so we take care of them right there. …This profession changed my life. I look at and see things much differently now.”

He’s historically influenced by President Theodore Roosevelt, a former Big Apple police commissioner. Thompson quotes him.

“No man is above the law and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”

He trusts there’s still good in the world. Recently a man found $4,000 on a Gate City gas station parking lot — and called state police hoping to find the cash’s rightful owner. After an extensive investigation Thompson ultimately found the elderly man who lost it, several hundred miles away.

“He was happy,pdf to say the least. That’s one of the better things I’ve been a part of recently,” finished the steady Thompson, his shift ending at midnight.

“We need more people like the Good Samaritan.”

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