By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneFebruary 28, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- There are days - troubling, tough days - when Madison, Ala., police chief Larry Muncey relies on the "deep down" training he received during his military years.
Those kinds of days don't come often in Madison, a growing community of 40,000 known for its low crime rate, highly educated work force and progressive leaders. This "Mayberry" like town is better known for its high salaries and down-home ambiance, and is still small enough to sponsor such events as a Family of the Year competition and an annual street festival on its historical downtown streets.
But there are days, like last year, on Feb. 5, when a middle school student allegedly shot and killed a fellow student in the hall at Discovery Middle School, when Muncey and his police force of 109 patrol officers, investigators, records employees and dispatchers have to come to grips with sudden tragedy and the horrors of violent crime.
"When things like that happen, you have to dig very down deep inside of you to the things you never thought you could do," Muncey said.
"The military teaches you about that. Like the 20-mile road march that you thought you couldn't do and then you did with a rucksack on your back. Like hell week in the Navy. Like the time I thought I would drown in a dive. But I didn't and I was able to make it. All those things in the military teach you to never give in, to never quit, to never leave something unfinished, and to always, always find a way."
Muncey, who served in both the Army Reserves and the Navy, became Madison's police chief in July 2009. A longtime law enforcement officer, Muncey's association with the area began with Redstone Arsenal.
"In 2004, I was here at the bomb school (Hazardous Devices School) at Redstone," he said. "I was here for six weeks and I absolutely fell in love with the place. I thought this was a wonderful, welcoming town. In this business, you are always looking for job opportunities, but, for me, it would have to be that perfect job that would make me move on (from his job with the Horry County Police in South Carolina)."
Although military training and military values are very much part of Madison's top police officer, Muncey doesn't consider himself a veteran "compared to those who serve today," he said. "Those serving deserve all the praise and glory in the world."
By most standards, Muncey's military career could be considered short. Growing up in the blue collar community of Defiance, Ohio, he served as a combat engineer in the Army Reserves.
"The military probably saved my life. The very best I could do where I grew up was foundry work," he said. "But joining the service exposed me to a whole new world. It was the first opportunity where somebody gave me responsibility for others and entrusted me with that responsibility. I had wonderful leaders who helped to shape me."
Muncey's father served with the Army's Black Lions during the Cuban missile crisis. He remembers looking through his father's pictures of that time and "falling in love with the military."
"My dad was a hard dad. The first time in my life that I felt he was proud of me was when I came home from basic at Christmastime in my full uniform," Muncey recalled. "From the expression on his face at that moment, I knew my dad was proud of me."
His four years as a reservist allowed Muncey to also pursue a career in law enforcement with the Defiance County Sheriff's Department and then as police chief with the Sherwood, Ohio, police department. After four years as a reservist, this land-locked Midwesterner decided to join the Navy.
"I always wanted to be a diver," Muncey recalled. "I loved the ocean. I loved to travel and you sure do travel in the Navy."
He trained to be a Navy salvage and rescue diver whose skills are called on to recover equipment lost off ships, perform maintenance on ships and participate in various rescue operations. He was a distinguished honor recruit and a distinguished honor graduate in the Navy.
But his first wife's sudden death and the three little girls left without a mother caused Muncey to leave the Navy and return home to care for his daughters. He went to college on the G.I Bill and once again pursued a career in law enforcement, taking a job as a patrol office with the Hicksville, Ohio, police department. He then remarried, and the family moved to South Carolina, where they owned a 36-room hotel in Myrtle Beach for about four years.
"But I missed law enforcement so much," Muncey said. "It's hard to get out of law enforcement. It's a constantly changing field and an exciting line of work. It teaches you that you can really change the world, only one life at a time. You can really make a difference."
Back in law enforcement - this time with the Horry County Police Department in Conway, S.C. -- Muncey could once again draw from the lessons of the military and the skills of military service in various jobs. He began his 14-year stint with Horry County Police as a patrol officer and rose through the ranks as an investigator, SWAT team member, narcotics officer, patrol supervisor, investigations supervisor, bomb squad commander, internal affairs officer, narcotics commander and administrative watch commander.
"Law enforcement is a paramilitary organization. They have similar missions. It's a natural fit," Muncey said.
"A good portion of our Madison police force is former military. We have former military police, explosive ordnance disposal and infantry. We can't select them just because they have a military background. But it is former training, especially if they were military police. We can give them credit for that, and then they come to us with the skill set we need. They come with discipline, honor and service. The know accountability and responsibility. All the things you learn in the military you need in this job."
Former military are also used to working on holidays and weekends, and at special events, all similar to police work. And they and their families understand the sacrifices of separation.
"When there are emergencies, like hurricanes or tornadoes, it's hard to leave your family to go out and protect others. This is something the military knows about," Muncey said.
Military experience also gives police officers the mental fortitude to overcome the emotional and psychological strain associated with witnessing senseless and destructive crime, and dealing with people who are out of control.
"The military helps prepare you for combat and sometimes that is what police work can feel like," Muncey said. "It's hard to accept that you have brothers and sisters in law enforcement who have been killed by an assailant. It's tough to live with the horrific things you can see in this job. But, on the plus side, you get to make a difference, and that's what stays with you."
The Madison Police Department, like many others across the country, is in need of police officers. Some of the shortage in police forces is caused by officers who have deployed with their Reserve units or who decide to return to the military. Much of that shortage is caused by a lack of qualified candidates for the job.
Although he continues to enjoy his law enforcement career, Muncey admits he has attempted from time to time to rejoin the military over the years. He tried to go back after 9/11, but was told he would have to re-enter the service as an enlisted Soldier, which would have been difficult for a married man supporting a family of four daughters and a son.
"It's the greatest feeling in the world to serve this country," said Muncey, whose son, now a teenager, is considering a future military career. "There is just something about the military. It's hard to get the military out of you just like it's hard to get law enforcement out of you. It's a life changing experience.
"I don't feel like I have done enough military service. I would like to do more. I am very proud of what little service I do have."