It was 5:30 a.m., and a group of American soldiers in Bagram, Afghanistan were on a morning run during their pre-training exercises. Their staff sergeant, Andy Bryant, quickly caught up to most of them, even though he had started the race two or three minutes later.
“The cops are coming!” the troops shouted as Bryant, a Brooklyn South police officer from Staten Island, approached.
Though only for a moment, a New York City police chase came to war-torn Afghanistan.
Officer Andy Bryant, nearly 41, has served in both the Armed Forces and in the police department. Bryant was a Marine during Operation Desert Storm from 1989 to 1993. When he returned, he became a New York State corrections officer, and then a New York City police officer. After 16 years, though, Bryant decided to reenlist in the Armed Forces in 2009, this time in the Army. He returned to New York in June 2011 and rejoined the police force a month later.
Bryant is among many drawn to both police work and the military. Within U.S. law enforcement agencies, about 11,380 full-time sworn law enforcement officers were activated in the military within a year – about two percent of the law enforcement workface nationwide – according to a September 2009 U.S. Bureau of Justice Assistance document. About two-thirds of these officers were from local law enforcement agencies.
Bryant saw clear connections between his military and NYPD experiences – in discipline, camaraderie and service. When he was in Afghanistan, he had a sense of déjà vu of his days fighting crime on New York City streets.
“We would hear, ‘incoming’ and you would have to either respond to your location and grab a weapon and make sure that nothing was coming within your perimeter of a threat,” Bryant said. “It just felt like I was back on the street more.”
Michael Franco, 33, a coastguardsman and New York City police officer, had to apply his NYPD discipline and training when he fought off a soldier who attempted to rape and kill a female soldier in Kandahar.
As he struggled for half an hour, wrestling the attacker to the floor, trying to force him to drop his gun, Franco put his NYPD gun training to use, he said. Franco was caught off guard. He was wearing shorts and a T-shirt at the time and did not have a weapon. His fellow troops, many of them police officers from around the country, were shocked and had mixed reactions.
“The guys who are cops said, ‘you’re crazy for fighting him without a weapon,’” said Franco, who lives in Staten Island and works in narcotics in Manhattan. “The command on both sides – the Coast Guard and Army side – were very grateful for what I did.”
After the incident, the woman relocated to Bagram, where Bryant was responsible for watching over her. The two bonded, and Bryant even taught her salsa dancing.
“It was one of those things where you just look at her like a little sister,” Bryant said.
Bryant formed similar bonds with his fellow servicemen in both the Army and the NYPD.
“If you have a great bond with some of them, you end up knowing everything there is to know about them, from when they’re in a bad mood to what they’re allergic to, to what they love best and what they hate most, and it’s that type of bond that you create with somebody in your family,” he said.
For Franco, whether he was doing narcotics work or serving in the Coast Guard, he knew that he always had a team to back him up.
“You have no idea what’s behind that door, you have to know that the person who is in front of you and the person who is in back of you is going to have your back,” Franco said.
The idea of service also links the military and the police force together, according to Bryant.
“As an 18-year-old kid, when you really start to get a grasp of what you’re a part of, it’s not that impressionable, but as you become older, as you become an older man, a father, and you see, you become part of these people’s lives as soldiers and cops,” he said. “It really is a fantastic thing to serve.”