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Vets recall military service, meaning of Veterans Day

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Three Denison Police officers are sharing the stories of their experiences in the military and the meaning of Veterans Day.

This week, Americans are celebrating the sacrifices of those who have served in the armed forces and have fought to protect the country. The day, which falls on Nov. 11 each year, coincides with Armistice Day and the end of World War I on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

The Denison has a few police officers that decided to go into local public service after leaving military service.

"I've asked multiple kids today if they know what today is, and a lot of them are not able to give me an answer," Officer Casey Hunt said Wednesday. "It is kind of sad to a certain extent because I think we should pay a certain respect to those who have served."

Hunt, like many who join the armed forces, started his military career shortly after  graduating from high school. Today, he is the school resource officer for B. McDaniel Intermediate School in Denison.

"When I was about 18 years old, in my senior year, I didn't know what I was going to do and saw the military as an opportunity to do some travelling and maybe pay for my education and just experience things you don't get to experience in every day life," he said. "Believe me, I certainly got that."

For seven years, Hunt served with the 45th infantry brigade in the U.S. Army. This included two tours of Iraq where Hunt served as a mortarman and within the military police. 

Hunt said he grew into an adult through his experiences in the military and serving abroad. Among the lessons he learned was to not take anything in life for granted, including something as simple as a breath of fresh air.

"You take for granted being able to walk outside and seeing trees, grass and the fresh air," he described his tour in Iraq.

Hunt said his second tour, which took place in 2012-13, was harder than his first as he was no longer a single young man and had started a family.

"I didn't have my my daughter on my first deployment. It wasn't as hard being single overseas ... so it (having a family) was a lot more difficult. Not seeing your family is one of the hardest parts of not being in the states."

Upon returning, Hunt eventually found work in corrections Bryan County, Oklahoma where he was later offered work as a deputy. However, by this point in his life, he wanted to return back home.

"I was born here in Denison and I always felt I wanted to come back here to Denison," he said.

Hunt said that there are many similarities between the military and police life. Both require heavy discipline, but beyond that, both  exhibit a kind of brotherhood and camaraderie that isn't seen anywhere else.

A day Veterans Day serves as a remind of the sacrifices others have made in order to protect the American life as we know it, Hunt said.

"It represents our freedoms," he said. "People forget how much veterans actually put in and how much these people have gone through just so we can stay here and see our families every day. There is so much pride in being a veteran and I wish people would show more appreciation."

Flags sit on the lawn of Austin College in 2018.

Like Hunt, Officer Darren Riddick also found a calling as a school resource officer following service state-side in the armed forces. For the past two years, Riddick has served as the resource officer for Scott Middle School.

Riddick graduated from Denison High School in 2001 and was in basic training for the U.S. Air Force just one month later.

While in the Air Force, Riddick specialized as a Milstar satellite operator. He would help establish ground connects with U.S. forces to allow for protected communications abroad.

"My job was kind of important and the training for the job was very tough. However, the job itself wasn't too difficult," he said. "I was 18 at the time I was doing this. It felt like something that was over my head, but that is what I did."

During his time in the military, Riddick worked with North American Aerospace Defense Command, more commonly known as NORAD. Riddick said he would often hear chatter and communications from soldiers abroad through his work with the communications.

Riddick said one of the more notable parts of his career came early on during his training as a communications operator. He was only two days into his training when the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 occurred and eventual led the U.S. into conflict in the Middle East.

I was in California when Sept. 11 happened, and very new to the military at this point," he said. "So, I got to experience a whole different level of brotherhood at that time as I was in the armed forces."

"Of course, it was all code talk, but hearing that, and knowing I had to do my job so that they could continue to do what they needed to do to win the fight, right there, was huge and a huge feeling," he said.

Riddick went on to attend college at Grayson College when he returned from service. This eventually led him to pursue work with the Denison Police Department in early 2006.

"I am a people person, I like people and I am going to do what I can to protect the people I care about," he said, regarding work as a resource officer. "This is the stage right before high school and they are just starting to find themselves and understand. I am really good at mentoring them. I see them all as my kids and I have 700 of them."

For Officer Jacob Shoemate, it was a family tradition that  led him to join the U.S. Marine Corps in 2010.

"My dad's dad's dad was in World War II, my grandfather was in Korea, my dad was in desert storm, so it was kind of a tradition," he said. "Plus my parents said they weren't paying for college, so it sort of forced my hand right there."

Shoemate was assigned to a unit that was already preparing for deployment  in Afghanistan after he completed his basic training as an infantry rifleman.  However, his deployment was cut short when he sustained an injury after stepping on an explosive device in late 2011.

"Initially it shattered the bottom part of my leg," he said. "Then when  I got back, they told me that the leg damage was too extensive because the bones were broken into too small of pieces and I would have to have it amputated."

"I didn't quite know (how bad it was)," he continued. "Obviously I knew I was hurt, but I spent the last 96 hours on my back. All I knew was essentially I was going to a hospital  and something was wrong with me."

Shoemate was eventually medically retired from the armed forces in March 2013. Upon his return to San Diego, he initially attempted to join the San Diego County Sheriff's Department but was not in physical shape at that time.

His fortunes changed when he was contacted by the Military Warriors Support Foundation, a group that assisted purple heart recipients with homes. It helped him acquire a home near Oklahoma City, where he started work with the Department of Corrections.

Then, Shoemate tried to join police departments nearby but was unable to due to rules against tattoos at the time. However, the Denison Police Department did not have these same restrictions.

"I can do anything everything everyone else can do," he said of how he has learned new ways to do tasks. "Sometimes I have to find a different way to do things, but I get it done. Obviously jumping chain-link fence isn't my forte, but I can do the job."