During my visit to New York City for the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, I had the pleasure and the honor of attending an awards dinner put on by some of the guys from the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE) Federal Law Enforcement Committee. We gathered at the historic Pete's Tavern on the Lower East Side for the camaraderie between old friends and newly-made, to enjoy a great meal together, and to recognize the achievements of Doug Deese, AFGE’s Police Officer of the Year.
This was only the second year AFGE has bestowed the award — last year’s recipients were Sgt. Kimberly Munley and Sgt. Mark Todd, the civilian police officers who stopped the active shooter Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood. While Munley and Todd earned their accolades for actions taken during a single, horrific incident, Deese was recognized for a body of work over his entire law enforcement career up to now.
Deese, who had served as Conservation Officer with the Department of the Army on Fort Richardson for three years, is currently a Lead Police Officer with Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) outside of Anchorage, Alaska. While serving as Conservation Officer for the Army, Deese played a major role in the 300 percent increase in enforcement activities with more than 2,100 law enforcement contacts, 295 citations and debarments for Conservation violations, more than 200 wildlife nuisance calls, 310 response hours, and covered more than 28,000 land miles using patrol vehicle, ATVs, snowmobiles, and foot patrols.
A Passion for the Job
Deese has spent most of his adult life learning about myriad nuances of wildlife conservation as it relates to law enforcement. Deese first began as a conservation officer during his time in the United States Air Force — sort of an off-duty, volunteer thing — when his full-time “day job” was an F-15 Crew Chief. He now teaches MPs and officers from nearby local agencies how to stay safe — from the hunters as well as the hunted — out in the Alaska wilderness. Deese spends countless hours studying images from Google Earth, and putting that study to work, patrolling (on foot, as well as ATVs, snowmobiles, and four-wheel-drive vehicles) the mountains, rivers and lake shoreline, railroad tracks, dirt roads, and narrow footpaths that exist on the 100,000+ acres of JBER.
Because of his intimate knowledge of the area, Deese led first responders to the tragic scene last summer when a C-17 Globemaster — with one of Deese’s close friends aboard — crashed into a remote wooded area on the base.
“As soon as that plane crashed, I’d seen the smoke and I went there. Just from looking at the smoke I could tell where it was on the base. I constantly look at Google Earth photos and learn where everything is in relation to everything else on the base, so when I saw the smoke I just took one little dirt road here, one other little dirt trail there... I knew these little back roads, so we were driving close to a hundred miles an hour to get there. We ended up going onto Elmendorf property, and because of my experience, I knew where we were going and how we’d get there. The police were following us — they trusted that I knew where the hell I was going.”
That day in late July 2010 — like every other day he was out on patrol on duty or off duty at home taking calls from MPs he’d trained who had a question like “OK, so what do I do now?” — Deese simply did his job with aplomb. When he was pulled off the C-17 crash site to work on another aspect of the incident, he truly did not want to leave. As he retells the story you can see it in his eyes and hear it in his voice—he did not want to leave his fallen friend or his colleagues working the scene, but his expertise was needed elsewhere, so he went and performed at the highest levels.
For example, during his career as Conservation Officer, Deese has:
• Monitored and protected endangered species such as Beluga Whales, Bald Eagles, and a variety of migratory birds
• Been an integral part of JBER security, acting as coordinator with JBER agencies and local organizations, resulting in increased efficiency of base perimeters and traffic patterns
• Uncovered and corrected dozens of potential security breaches near entry points on JBER, including vehicle and foot trails leading off the installation
• Spearheaded the repair and improvement of perimeter fence holes, broken gates, trespassing barriers, and installation of “Keep Out” signs
• Led the effort to install new fences and gates, insuring minimal trespassing and maximum safety around military live-fire training areas
Lance Parcell — the AFGE Law Enforcement Committee Member who had invited me to attend the dinner in New York — said in an announcement about Doug Deese, “Through his actions, contributions, and aggressive work tactics, Officer Deese has proven his selfless dedication to the safety of JBER and its wildlife inhabitants. His tireless dedication to duty, selfless service, and diligence has added to the quality of life of the residents of Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson and has inspired fellow officers and employees.”
Humble, Knowledgeable, and Admirable
Having met and spent some time with Doug Deese, I would venture to say that describing him as being totally committed to law enforcement and natural conservation is to put mildly his passion for both of those things. Following my return from New York, I’ve connected with him a few times (via phone and email), and in each contact I’ve been increasingly impressed with him — rarely will you meet a man who is at once incredibly knowledgeable and incredibly humble.
For example, when I pressed him about being named Officer of the Year, he said, “Compared to last year, the two officers who were involved in the Fort Hood thing, I don’t even come close to that.”
Which, perhaps, is why Deese’s being given the recognition this year is even sweeter than I had anticipated when I first accepted the invitation to dinner.
Any individual police officer can make a massive contribution in an instant, or over the course of many years combined. Neither is better than the other — or bigger than the other — they’re just different from one another. Most cops fall into the latter category. Probably 99.99 percent of cops are not going to get into a gunfight... to stop an active shooter... who’s attacking an army base. I’m really reluctant to say that a Fort Hood type of incident is a-once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but in point of fact it really is. Putting in your time in an honorable, admirable fashion... all day, every day, day in and day out... every year over the course of a long career... is not necessarily something that makes headlines. In the case of Doug Deese, it does, but mostly, those officers’ great contributions go unknown to all but themselves and their fellow officers.
It’s nice when your “average” cops gets noticed for what he or she truly is — way, way above average.