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Face of Defense: Airman Serves Nation, Community

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin
62nd Airlift Wing

YELM, Wash., Jan. 27, 2014 – Air Force Master Sgt. Phil Ryan received the call early in his shift.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Master Sgt. Phil Ryan takes notes in his office at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., Jan. 17, 2014. Ryan is the 62nd Airlift Wing inspector general complaint resolution superintendent and a reserve police officer in Yelm, Wash. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Sean Tobin

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The emergency concerned a young man who was sleeping in a car in a grocery store parking lot. The man's mother and girlfriend were concerned for his safety. They feared that due to his prior drug abuse and his state of mind, the young man was in danger of hurting himself or someone else.

Ryan, the superintendent of complaint resolution for the 62nd Airlift Wing's inspector general's office at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash., responded to the call and located the vehicle in the crowded parking lot. As he stood by the open door of the vehicle talking to the young man in the back seat, the array of weekend grocery shoppers, busily going about their errands, slowed to a group of curious onlookers, craning their necks to see what was going on.

Ryan remained focused on the task at hand. After a lengthy discussion, Ryan persuaded the man to leave the back seat of his own vehicle and get into the back seat of the patrol car. From there, it was a half-hour drive to the hospital, where Ryan helped the man get checked in to be evaluated by medical professionals.

If this sounds a bit beyond the scope of the Air Force IG's mission, there's a good reason for that. Ryan was not responding to the call as a member of the Air Force; he was responding under his role as a sworn peace officer, working for the Yelm Police Department here.

While not conducting investigations for the IG, the master sergeant spends dozens of hours of his free time each month as Officer Ryan, patrolling the streets of Yelm as a reserve police officer. He has about 800 hours of experience patrolling the streets after spending about 400 hours training at the police academy -- all without pay.

Ryan said his Air Force career has both helped and been helped by his experiences in law enforcement.

"I find the two jobs complement each other well," he said. "Like law enforcement, working in complaint resolution involves investigative work."

Both jobs require the ability to quickly assess a situation and determine the best approach when it comes time to speak with someone who may or may not want to be spoken to, he said. That experience came in handy, as evidenced by his ability to talk the lone man from the grocery store into calmly going in for a medical evaluation.

After ensuring the young man was in good hands at the hospital, Ryan returned his attention to the streets of Yelm. He spent a good portion of the early afternoon making traffic stops for infractions such as speeding, license plates not being affixed properly and illegal cell phone use -- which he called his “pet peeve.”

"Studies have shown that drivers distracted by their phones are 23 times more likely to be in a collision than undistracted drivers," he said.

Ryan let off the majority of drivers he pulled over that day with a warning. But even if he doesn't feel the need to give a citation, he said, it's important to get out of the patrol car and talk with people.

"It's just good community policing to be interacting with as many people as possible during a shift," he said. "Besides, you never know what you may uncover during an otherwise routine traffic stop." That approach to community-based policing came to fruition later, when Ryan's shift drew to a close.

While speaking to the driver during a routine speeding stop, Ryan immediately determined the driver was under the influence of alcohol. The driver was arrested and placed in the back of Ryan's patrol car. As Ryan drove the suspect to be booked into custody, the suspect expressed his confusion as to why he was being placed into custody.

"So I was driving under the influence," the suspect said. "What's the big deal? It's not like I killed someone."

The irony of the suspect's statement was not lost on Ryan.

"He doesn't even know what he doesn't know," Ryan later said. "That's the whole reason I'm out there -- to stop [drivers] like him from killing someone."

Ryan said he plans to work as a full-time police officer once he retires from the Air Force.

"This wasn't always something I wanted to do," Ryan said. "But after nearly 800 hours of patrol, I've learned that this is what I was meant to do."


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