09/18/07 — Reservist is Raleigh policeman

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Reservist is Raleigh policeman

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on September 18, 2007 2:03 PM

RALEIGH -- An alleged armed robber just broke 100 mph along I-40 West near the Capitol.

As he weaves in and out of traffic, the man has no idea that behind the blue lights flashing in his rearview mirror sits an officer with twice the training -- and twice the desire to protect the home front.

Justin Patton is more than a police officer fresh out of the academy.

When he is not sporting his perfectly pressed Raleigh Police Department blues, the 30-year-old is wearing another uniform that bears the American flag, one issued by the Air Force Reserves' 916th Air Refueling Wing.

The chase continues.

"We got behind him and he just took off," Patton said. "We have a no-chase policy unless it's a big felon, but this guy had just committed three or four robberies so we got to chase him. I was only two days off field training, and the next thing you know, we're doing 100-plus down I-40 -- all through the city, really."

Life on a big-city beat provides plenty of drama, he added -- intense moments that kick your heart into high gear.

But for Patton, clearing the streets of another bad-guy is worth the danger that accompanies each day on the job.

"It's just a feeling I think has always been inside of me," he said. "You don't know why it's there or what drives it. You just want to do right."

Maybe that is why he came back to the Air Force after leaving active-duty life behind.

It was, after all, his vehicle of escape more than a decade ago.

Patton will tell you he was not always called "hero."

Growing up in a "tough" New Mexico neighborhood, a crime-ridden place much the same as the one he now patrols, was hardly the venue in which to set an example, he said.

"I was kind of born into poverty. I grew up in a pretty rough neighborhood," Patton said. "I saw of lot of my friends go down the wrong path. So I didn't do that great in high school -- at least not good enough to get a scholarship-- and we didn't have the money for college."

He remembers thinking there had to be another way out, a way to chase his classroom daydreams of becoming a police officer.

And then the phone rang.

"I got a call from an Air Force recruiter and decided to join," he said. "From there, I went to basic training."

After graduation, Patton was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, working first in aircraft armament for the 4th Fighter Wing's 334th Fighter Squadron before joining the Civil Engineering detail.

During his stint in Goldsboro, he was deployed and went remote.

But he had no idea that with every assignment, he was closer to his dream of law enforcement.

Patton left the active-duty force shortly after his move from Seymour Johnson to Tyndall Air Force Base and made his home back in North Carolina -- where he gained employment in a civilian job with the 4th.

Maybe it was seeing the uniforms every day or hearing the constant roar of F-15E Strike Eagles taking flight that lured him back.

All he knows is that something did -- and that he is glad.

"I just wanted to stay in the military," he said. "I had just enjoyed it so much."

Patton has since been a member of the Air Force Reserves' 916th Air Refueling Wing.

And the military has continued to present this once-poverty-stricken boy with the chance to chase his dreams.

He made friends with a member of his squadron, a Raleigh police detective, and learned the steps necessary to become one himself.

"He knew I had applied with the Highway Patrol," Patton said. "But he said, 'Why don't you just come on up to Raleigh?'"

That was nearly two years ago.

The reservist, now, spends his weekdays responding to domestic violence and breaking and entering calls in the capitol's 24th District.

"It's a harder part of town," Patton said. "District 24 is known for being tough, having a lot of crime, but it's not a bad place. There is just more going on.

"One minute, you're talking to a guy about some other guy parking his truck across the street, and the next thing you know, it's a domestic violence call -- everybody is yelling, everybody is fighting," he added. "And then you get called to a gang fight."

But being on the front lines within neighborhoods like the one he grew up in is worth the risk, he said -- especially if it means providing a positive example for those like his childhood-self.

"It really is a great job," Patton said. "It just suits me."

And he owes it all to the Air Force.

So on the weekends, when he throws on his fatigues and heads toward Goldsboro for another chance to make lives better, he keeps in mind that without a call from that recruiter, he might not have made it out of Albuquerque.

"There's a lot of camaraderie down there, and it feels good when you deploy. Being in the military, it's fulfilling," Patton said. "What can I say, the Air Force has been great to me."