Clovis police Officer Dave Wetmore brought back an American flag that was flown over Fallujah, Ramadi and Baghdad during his tour in Iraq. Wetmore was in Iraq from the end of July to the beginning of September. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
When Patrolman David Wetmore returned to the Clovis police department in September after a two-month stint in Iraq with the Air National Guard, he brought gifts.
Wetmore presented the department with souvenirs from his time as a weapons loader at Balad Air Base in Balad, Iraq.
The centerpiece of the display: an American flag flown in an F-16 over Baghdad, Fallujah and Ramadi.
The box of souvenirs also contains squadron coins, a flight suit patch and a picture of several F-16s lined up on the flight line at Balad Air Base.
Clovis Police Chief Bill Carey said the war reminders were placed in a box on the wall at the police department.
“I think it was just a great thing that David did,” Carey said.
Balad was one of Saddam Hussein’s premier air bases prior to the American invasion and subsequent capture of the field, Wetmore said. After it was captured, America began launching military missions from the base, which features two 11,000-foot runways and 39 aircraft shelters, according to an Alexandria, Va.-based military research group, www.globalsecurity.org.
Carey said the souvenirs were good for morale in the department, especially with other officers also serving in the reserves.
“Really, when you get right down to it, it shows that when he was gone, the rest of the guys picked up the slack,” Carey said. “Every department has been hit for reservists.”
Wetmore has served in the reserves for four years, he said, after spending 10 years in the U.S. Navy working in military intelligence.
“I already spent 10 years, so I might as well go ahead and finish up the other 10 and get an extra pension when I get out,” the Toledo, Ohio, native said. “There’s no use in letting all that (time) go to waste.”
Wetmore said he worked 12 or more hours a day while in Iraq, loading bullets, missiles and bombs onto the F-16s at the base. He also performed maintenance on weapons systems used in the harsh, desert conditions.
It was not uncommon for temperatures on the Balad flight line to reach 150 degrees, Wetmore said, and temperatures in the shade would reach the 120s.
During his time in Iraq, the Balad Air Base was subject to more than 100 mortar and rocket attacks, Wetmore said, though everyone in his unit escaped serious injuries.
Wetmore’s unit, from Kirtland Air Force Base, was given two months notification before being called up to go to Iraq. Training intensified in the two months prior to departure, he said. He will be deployed again in 2006, he said, most likely to the Middle East.
Wetmore joined the Clovis police department two years ago on Sunday.
Carey said others have been activated from his department, including Detective Roman Romero and dispatcher Tim Morrison. Both of them have since returned to work at the department.
Another detective, Keith Bessette, resigned from Clovis’ police department recently to take a civilian job training Iraqi police.