Former THP trooper now guarding naval base, U.S.S.

By Kathy Helms-Hughes


   The next time you get stopped for speeding by a member of Tennessee Highway Patrol, it won't be Trooper Jerry Proffitt writing the ticket. Four days after terrorists struck the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington, Proffitt received his call to active duty from the Navy.
   Two days later, he and another trooper, Bryan Carters of Memphis, were assigned to the same unit and processed in Memphis, then shipped out to guard a naval base in Pascagoula, Miss. Both are ranked MA1, Master of Arms, or members of the Navy military police.
   "As far as I know, we were the only two troopers that were activated in the state of Tennessee. We got called four days after Sept. 11 by the base commander in Knoxville Reserve Center. I had two days to get ready," Proffitt said Friday while home on leave.
   A lifetime member of Carter County Rescue Squad, Proffitt would have had 28 years in with Tennessee Highway Patrol this June. He served 3-1/2 years in Sullivan County before his transfer to Carter County. He has been a Master at Arms since 1984. Before joining the Navy, Proffitt served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam as a member of the 173rd Airborne Division, airborne infantry, and also served in the National Guard in Elizabethton from 1994 to 1996.
   "I was a paratrooper and was airborne in Vietnam in 1970, New Year's Day," he said. "I was a grunt in Central Highlands which is in the northern area of South Vietnam. The company I was in was on search-and-destroy missions. We stayed in the mountains."
   He had been in Vietnam for five months and 28 days on a special mission when he was wounded in action. He later received the Purple Heart.
   "There were only six of us together and three of us got shot," Proffitt said. "We were securing a landing zone for a platoon that was coming in and had been in this one location for awhile to smoke it over for this platoon when I got shot in the right leg.
   He remained in South Vietnam a couple of days, moving from hospital to hospital. "But I don't remember any of that," he said. "I must have been sleeping real well. I went from there to Japan for more surgery and then came back home and was stationed in the 82nd Airborne until I completed my two years in the Army."
   While there, he received training in weapons and terrorist movement. "I got out of the Army in 1971 and in 1974 the Navy was offering an APG, advanced pay grade, to people that wanted to come into the Navy, but you had to have a background in law enforcement. I already had 10 years in law enforcement and had a military background," he said, so he signed up, going in as an E6.
   Since then, he has trained with the Navy SEALS in Puerto Rico and went through three weeks' training at a Navy prison in South Carolina. He also received training at a submarine base in San Diego and was assigned to a hospital fleet at a Marine base, also in San Diego.
   "We were put into a simulated hostile environment and we had to build mobile hospitals. They put you under a three-day simulated battlefield situation where we had terrorists that would bomb us and try to break in," Proffitt said.
   His unit was the first group ever to defeat the instructors. "They had the black hats, the instructors there, who were always messing with you. It was their job to mess you up to show you how you couldn't do it," Proffitt said.
   But he, Bryan Carters -- the same deputy sheriff now serving with him in Pascagoula -- and his group held strong against the instructors. "They couldn't penetrate our forces; they couldn't come in on us. When you get a bunch of dirty old cops together, you can do anything," he said jokingly.
   This special training, along with his law enforcement career, is probably why he was one of the first called out after Sept. 11, he said.
   Pascagoula is a small naval base, according to Proffitt. "We have three to five destroyers based there and a couple of mine sweepers." The harbor also is where the U.S.S. Cole has been docked to undergo repairs since nearly being destroyed in Yemen by terrorists a little over a year ago. "Osama bin Laden probably had a great input into this," Proffitt said. Members of the military police were put to the test on the anniversary of the U.S.S. Cole attack, when they received word that terrorists intended to sink the ship and complete their mission.
   "We have alert categories, standards like from Alpha all the way up to Delta, with Echo and Delta being the highest. We went into Condition C, Charlie, and closed the base down. No one could get on or off the base," Proffitt said. "I am honored to say I did stand watch on the ship itself for four or five days."
   During the lockdown, the police force worked 12 to 16 hour days, stopping and searching anyone attempting to enter the base. "I don't mean search the driver. You open up the hood, you look under the vehicle, you go through all of the baggage, the trunks and the personnel in the vehicle. We searched over 800 vehicles from 5:30 one morning until 11:30 that same morning. We had bomb dogs, everything that you would use to detect any kind of bomb material," he said.
   Since his arrival in Pascagoula, Proffitt has worked straight midnights, guarding the base along with uniformed police officers from the Department of Defense. When the lead officer is not there, he is responsible for nighttime security of the entire base. "It's helped me a lot, I think, as far as if something would come up," he said.
   Before being activated, Proffitt had full intentions of running for Carter County Sheriff in the August General Election. "That was my main goal this time -- and here I am. But I'm not complaining. What's meant to be is meant to be. There were quite a few people that were backing me and were getting everything together. I've not had a chance to see many of them. A lot of people don't even know that I've been activated," he said. Though his plans are on hold for now, he still plans to seek office next time around.
   Proffitt cautioned the public against becoming complacent in regard to the terrorist threat. "I know everybody feels like it's all over with, but it's not that nice right now. I just get bits and pieces. I'm not really up there (in rank) to where I get the full debriefing of what's going on with America, but a lot of stuff's missing right now that could really do a job on America. They've already shown they can do it."
   The mood at the naval base is one of uncertainty, he said. "No one knows what to expect with the things going on abroad. We don't know what missions the United States is going on next. I have not got the luxury of knowing if I'm going to come home or not. We've been training every day ... We're ready if we have to go to another continent," he said.
   Before going to Vietnam, he said, he had a feeling he was going to get "messed up." But he wasn't really worried about it. And he's not worried now.
   "I've always wondered what it would be like to get that chance to go back to active duty. But I didn't dream I would be doing it, that I'd get my little wish. I get to do it twice, and I feel honored to be able to do that. To see America actually supporting the military for once is worth it. I got spit on when I came back from 'Nam," he said.
   Anyone who wishes to correspond with Proffitt can write to him at: MA1 Jerry Proffitt, NAVSTA Pascagoula, Security Building 5, Pascagoula, Miss. 39595.