LPD ESGR award 2017

Lincoln Police Officer Andrew Gallagher and Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister pose for a photo in April after the chief received an award on behalf of the department for outstanding employer support for service members this spring from the Nebraska division of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

Courtesy photo

Army Reserve 1st Lt. Andrew Gallagher didn't expect his first day back on the job as a Lincoln police officer to include a visit to the chief's office.

He'd recently returned from a corrections mission with a military police unit in Kuwait and hadn't met the new chief, Jeff Bliemeister.

Their 45-minute chat that day in November 2016 further demonstrated to the young officer that his department had his back when he was deployed.

On Gallagher's nomination, the Lincoln Police Department received an award for outstanding employer support for service members this spring from the Nebraska division of the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

In the lead-up to and during his 10-month deployment, the patrol officer's Center Team supervisors helped him and his family tremendously, even if they only saw themselves as doing the little things that are part of the job, Gallagher said.

"Those are the little things over and over and over that add up to big things," for reservists like him, Gallagher said.

More than 50 Lincoln police officers served in the military or were in the reserve, according to the department's latest internal survey in 2015.

Law enforcement officials in Lincoln say they're grateful to have veterans and reservists among their ranks. Their experience is an asset, and veterans agree.

"That’s just the mindset," said Sheriff Terry Wagner, who guessed Friday he has about 10 veterans and reservists among his ranks. "They have a service mentality where they want to serve their community and their country."

President Richard Nixon had ended the draft for the Vietnam War when Wagner was of-age. He joined the sheriff's office in 1976 and was among many Vietnam veterans on the force.

"You always appreciated all that they went through," Wagner said. "That was a trying time."

Sometimes military service directly translated for his department, he said.

In his time as sheriff, a reservist who was deployed helped Wagner's office procure an armored vehicle through a military surplus program, he said. And a reservist at another Nebraska law enforcement agency trained his staff on how to operate the rig, which deputies have used to evacuate people from flooded areas and in SWAT situations.

Wagner will never forget the days following 9/11, when about 10 percent of his force was called up to active duty. The sheriff now had a shortage he needed to fill to maintain staffing levels, but those who remained understood they "must weather the storm."

In the last year, 53 employees of Nebraska's prisons system have been gone on military leave, according to the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services.

“Many NDCS team members have devoted a significant part of their lives to military service,” Director Scott Frakes said in an email. “Others continue their commitment in the military reserves while simultaneously attending to our department’s needs. They serve our country, and they share their skills, knowledge and abilities while serving NDCS. Our freedom comes from their sacrifice.”

Sgt. Duane Winkler joined Lincoln police in 2000, following active service in the Army Rangers and three years of reserve duty.

Then 27, he found it comforting to know other people in the department who had seen things similar to what he witnessed during his military service, he said.

He was drawn to police work and to the Army by a desire to do challenging work and to protect people, he said.

"We don’t really see it as a sacrifice," said Winkler, now a drug investigator. 

"We see it as a role that we’ve been appointed by fate. We'd prefer that it be us than someone else."

His time in the Army shaped him and helped him see the amazing things people can accomplish when pushed beyond their limits, he said.

Gallagher, 29, wishes more of his fellow soldiers, especially those in his military police outfit, would seek law enforcement careers, he said.

Doing so, he believes, would sharpen their skills for the service.

The police department gives a military preference in its application process because current and former service members have training and experience that aids their transition into law enforcement, Officer Angela Sands said.

Gallagher's wife recently asked him why he picks these jobs.

"Well someone's got to do it," he recalls telling her. "Imagine the world we would live in if we didn't."

Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or rjohnson@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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Reporter

Riley Johnson reports on breaking news and public safety issues in Lincoln and southeast Nebraska.

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