Homeland Security--Why They Serve - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

11/13/02

Homeland Security--Why They Serve

Hand-to-hand training. Hand-to-hand training.

As the senate takes up the debate, agents are already training to extend the fight in the domestic war on terror. Many of them train right here at home, at Brunswick's Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC). They are as diverse as our country itself, but they all share a resolve to protect us from whatever threatens our nation.

To Nitia Harris, September 11 wasn't something that happened on television. She was working in the Capitol parking lot when the world changed.

"I was actually at the Capitol, heard the plane go through the Pentagon," she recalled. "We responded with capitol police, especially since I've grown up on Capitol Hill, and I just want to protect it."

She had to wait for her 21st birthday to enroll in a different kind of army, fighting the battle against terrorism here at home. For her, the months of training here are a prelude to her own war.

"It's the first time I've shot a weapon," she said. "First time I've been away from home this long. But I know when I get back to the Capitol, 400 members of Congress are waiting for me to protect their lives, and I'm willing to do it."

Leaders at FLETC expect 50,000 students next year, each for their own reasons. They'll serve their country as capitol police, secret service, customs agents, border patrol and 70 in other agencies.

"If anything came out of this, it was a sense of patriotism about how people feel about police officers, firemen," said capitol police trainee Craig Daniel.

"If you remember on 9/11, the men and women who went back into the building were wearing our kind of uniform," said FLETC director Connie Patrick. "If that's not patriotism, I don't know what is."

Some exchange one uniform for another. Keith Atkins was a military driver at Fort Meyers, Virginia.

"Right after the crash, we had to secure that area," he recalled. "It makes you think. That was the first time something had happened on our ground, and first thing you want to do is defend it."

For Stephanie Ashton, September 11's attacks might as well have happened in her native Detroit. The 41-year-old mother and IRS agent left home to face the toughest training she could imagine.

"I have nieces and nephews in the Detroit area and don't want anything to happen to them. I feel safer with someone from our family on the border," Ashton told us. "I took the attack personal."

No matter their age, sex, race or region, each student we met shared one goal: protecting their country with the same courage as those who fought with highjackers on the fourth plane that day and kept them from killing even more.

By now, the officers we met have graduated from FLETC. They are now literally all across the country, from protecting our borders to our nation's capital. They said they felt the mission was the same as before 9/11: to protect the country. However, the public image is different. People may have seen national park or capitol security as tour guides or something. Now they know how vital they are.

Reported by: Dal Cannady, dcannady@wtoc.com

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