There are many reasons someone chooses the military, but it seems to draw those with at least one thing common: a commitment to service.
Westminster Police on Wednesday hosted a small gathering to celebrate Veterans Day and thank those at the department who have served.
Deputy Chief Dan Schoonmaker encouraged those at the small gathering to engage those who have served and ask them about their time in the military.
“These veterans didn’t just make the commitment and they weren’t just in the military, they did great things,” Schoonmaker said. “They did great things representing our country and they are doing great things now representing our community.”
For some, their military stories are still being written and their accomplishments continue to grow.
Traffic Investigator Jeremy Fletcher is a drilling reservist for the United States Marine Corps, who serves as a staff sergeant in the Marine Wing Support Squadron 473.
He joined the Marines in 1993 on his 18th birthday.
“If I had to pick two words on why I chose the Marines: dress blues,” Fletcher joked. “No, I think if you’re going to do something, you need to be all in. The Marine Corps has a reputation for being the most difficult.”
Fletcher also said he knew one day he wanted to serve as a police officer and thought a military background would make him more effective in the community.
“I always thought it would be rewarding to help people,” he said. “I always wanted to do something bigger than myself.”
While enlisted, Fletcher served as a Marine firefighter to provide emergency services and first-aid in whatever capacity needed.
He was deployed to Kuwait in 1994 to serve in a peacekeeping mission and train Kuwaiti forces.
When he returned home, he served the last two of his eight active-duty years as a recruiter, which he said most prepared him for law enforcement.
“When I went into the Marines I thought things like demolitions and firearms training would be what would make me a great cop,” Fletcher said. “The reality is … recruiting was more beneficial than anything because I learned to interact with the public.”
After his active duty status was up, Fletcher focused on starting his career in law enforcement. He was hired by Westminster in 2002, but it wasn’t long before he found his way back to the Marines, as a reserve.
“I missed it,” he said.
Reserve to active
Westminster PD Det. Brian Perez knows the feeling of missing the Corps and that nagging urge to return.
Perez took a different route to his years serving the Marines.
After graduating from Cal State San Bernardino with a degree in social science and a minor in criminal justice, he was commissioned in 1998 to join the USMC.
He was interested in the military having watched his two uncles serve in the Marines.
“As I grew up, I saw the camaraderie between those two and I always wanted to be a part of that,” he said.
On Sept. 11, 2001 Perez had loaded up his U-Haul at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina and prepared to get his final orders and return home to Southern California.
Then a phone call came in and plans changed.
“I was set on getting out because it had been hard on my family,” Perez said. “But after 9-11, I came back to California and stayed in the reserves.”
Perez stayed in the reserves until he enrolled in the police academy in 2003.
He was listed as inactive and focused on his career, but returned to the reserves in 2008.
After just two months as a reserve, Perez was activated and called to serve for four years in a variety of assignments.
“You’re a jack-of-all-trades an an officer in the Marine Corps,” he said. “They like to move you around to different things so you don’t get in a comfort zone. Adapt and overcome.”
Perez was first attached to an artillery unit where he oversaw about 150 Marines stationed out of Pico Rivera, then was tasked with overseeing military funerals, an assignment that weighed heavily on him, Perez said.
He worked in logistics out of Camp Pendleton and helped deliver mine detectors and IED-sniffing dogs to troops overseas.
Then came his deployments — the first just four days after his second child, a son, was born.
Perez was sent to Afghanistan on two six-month tours where he tapped into his years with Westminster PD to help Afghani districts establish their own police force.
“They knew I had a solid police background so they put me in charge of a group of MPs (military police officers),” Perez said. “We trained them on tactics and logistics and we were also building police stations.”
A language barrier, cultural differences and the constant threat of violence forced Perez to work much differently than he would on the streets of Westminster.
“It was very challenging,” he said.
When he returned home, he was faced with a major adjustment.
“When I was over there I had a fear of people shooting at me with machine guns,” he said. “There were a couple times when I came home that I realized I was letting my guard down.
“I realized I still have to keep my head on my shoulders because (being an officer) is still dangerous, so I had to overcome that.”
Perez rejoined the PD in 2012 and continues to maintain his reserve status as a major with the Marine Corps, where he works in civil affairs.
He continues to draw on his experiences in the Marine Corps, where he served so many years as a dynamic leader in several capacities.
“Although I don’t have Marines to lead here in law enforcement, when I go out in a patrol car I’m representing the department and setting an example for the community,” he said.
Both Fletcher and Perez said they are proud of their service and believe it’s important to honor those who have served.
“It’s important to recognize veterans because we have made a big sacrifice, especially in the last 10 years, to keep our way of life here,” Perez said.