In December 2001, Ryan Coe stepped off a C-130 military transport plane in Jacobabad, Pakistan at 2 a.m. and was hit with the pungent smell of burning trash.
He later learned that without a local trash-hauling service, Pakistanis burned tires, diapers, and any other items they needed to dispose of.
“That made me realize how good we have it in the United States,” Coe said.
As a U.S. Air Force police officer, Coe’s primary job was to guard the main entry point for the air base. Every night, insurgents would take a couple of shots at Coe and his fellow military police, but never hit anyone. His biggest fear was that someone would try to drive a car loaded with explosives into his checkpoint.
Occasionally, Coe traveled on aircraft delivering supplies to troops in Afghanistan and stood guard while they were unloaded.
Now the sergeant for the Tustin Police Department’s traffic division, Coe said his path into the Air Force was completely unexpected.
Coe was raised by his grandmother in Castaic and attended Valencia High School, where he played baseball and football. After high school, he decided to get an apartment with his best friend and work construction jobs.
“I quickly learned how hard it was to live paycheck to paycheck,” he said.
One day in 2000, Coe’s friend asked him for a ride to a military recruiter’s office. While reading a copy of Sports Illustrated, Coe eavesdropped on his friend’s conversation with an Air Force recruiter.
The idea of a guaranteed paycheck every week sounded great, he said. And then they started talking about the previous generations who dedicated their lived to their country.
“I had always been a team player rather than into individual success or accolades,” Coe said.
Without consulting any family members, Coe enlisted in the Air Force that same day and was stationed at Edwards Air Force. He knew from his brother’s experience as a car mechanic that he didn’t want to be covered in oil, break his knuckles, and smell like fuel.
Instead, Coe became a military police officer.
The job taught him the discipline he needed to be somewhere at 4 a.m. and his basic training made it much easier for him to graduate from the police academy than someone who hadn’t been in the military.
Coe also learned how to tactically enter a house and unfortunately had to use that skill after a murder-suicide at Edwards Air Force Base.
One of the most important lessons Coe has carried into his police work is the importance of treating everyone he encounters with respect.
“People are free to practice whatever religion they want and you have to treat them tolerantly,” he said.
The same philosophy applies to working with people of different races, genders, and sexual orientations. Seeing how every one of these demographics contributed to the Air Force’s mission gave Coe experience in a diverse workplace.
In 2005, Coe was hired as a recruit by the Tustin Police Department and graduated from the police academy the following year. After stints with the patrol and detective divisions, Coe landed in his current position as the traffic sergeant despite the fact he’d never ridden a motorcycle.
“The motor officers that I have are superstars,” he said. “These guys supported me like you wouldn’t believe.”
Coe also said that the military sharpened his communication skills, which has been useful in addressing Tustin residents’ two most important issues: traffic and parking.
“I think we do a very good job communicating with our community whether that be with social media or just helping people feel like they can approach us,” Coe said.