Thanks again to those who have in person let me know you appreciate this column. I have said this before but with my current lieutenant duties it is hard to manage a column sometimes. Knowing that people read and like this column is truly the only thing that keeps me writing it. Many thanks again. I have found after nearly seven years of doing these type writings the vast majority of those who read them are over 40, seem to read most of the local paper regularly and most of all they will not write a letter or e-mail a question to me. They wait until they see me in person to discuss the column or ask a question. Unfortunately my LT duties keep me in Guymon much of the time so I am not in the local restaurants, the courthouse or at local functions as much as when I am simply working my field assignment which is Cimarron County . Please feel free to ask a question anytime you see me. My LT time is winding down thankfully so in about two months or less I will be back in Cimarron County full-time.
A few people have asked me what my LT assignment is all about so I thought I might try to explain. Long-time trooper J.J. Powell of Hooker served his last two or so years as a lieutenant but retired last May. That left a vacancy for a lieutenant with no replacement who lived in the panhandle. To be eligible for a permanent or temporary position of LT and the ability to move up from there a trooper must have a minimum of five years on the patrol and do well in our promotional testing process to get the LT rank and pay permanently. I have been eligible for five years to test and promote but have never even considered it until this year. Our administration at HQ in Guymon asked me to accept the position as “acting LT” and then to test and try to get it permanently. Partly because I was one of only two with enough time on the patrol and in Troop I to be eligible and living in the panhandle. (local troopers Perry and Brown also have the time but are in Troop S) I'd like to say I was hand picked out of a hundred or so highly qualified troopers but fact is I was one of only two options. I first balked because I knew to get the position permanently it meant I would likely have to move to Guymon since that is what the department wants out of a LT in this position because he would be near headquarters and Texas County is the larger detachment. The other option was that for the next ten or more years until I can retire I would have to drive the 126 mile round trip to HQ almost every day. Neither appealed to me. I did briefly consider testing because it is a pay increase and a retirement boost but I moved to Boise City and Cimarron County because I knew I could enjoy living and working here. After all the years I worked in the rough and highly political atmosphere in S.E. Oklahoma I simply was tired of all that and wanted to slow down and enjoy life more. I have been here over a year now and I know I did not make a mistake. Cimarron County is truly the most peaceful place I have ever lived.
Other troopers, lieutenants, and higher ranking “brass” along with family and many friends have pointed out to me the benefits of more pay and retirement benefits. Many have also pointed to the prestige of being called “lieutenant”. I can honestly say I cringe when called that. I am a “road trooper” through and through and simply wish to work Cimarron County, live in Boise City and worry about my responsibilities as a trooper. All members of OHP including the chief are technically still troopers but being cooped up in an office with mounds of paperwork and a phone that never seems to stop ringing is not for me. I'll trade all that for sitting in downtown Wheeless enjoying the peace and quiet or even working at my own pace on U.S. 287 up North of Boise City any day of the week.
I can say I have a new respect for those who do want to be in administration within the patrol and for those in other professions as well. Managing people of any sort is a challenge. A lieutenant on the patrol might be the most stressful position we have. There is no buffer between you and the troopers and no matter what decision you make there may always be someone mad at you over it. When policy changes come down (especially the unpopular ones) you are the messenger and have to hear all the griping as if you were the one who made the change. Then you must enforce the changes. See where I am going. I know a lot of people from my travels and have found most people in the position of “boss” have the same complaints regardless of the profession. If all those under you or employed by you never griped, never got sick, simply showed up for work and worked hard and seemed to have the best interest of the agency or business in mind then administration would be easy. Since we employ humans and not robots therein lies the challenge. A man I admire once said “A man's got to know his limitations”. I know that to have a chance to live a long life I must keep my stress level at a manageable level. Just living in Boise City and working Cimarron County is well within that level I find acceptable. There have been days I wondered if I would live to see the day I could just be a trooper again. I put a high price on being happy and content. Prestige and money are way down the list. Just being an Oklahoma State Trooper gives me all the prestige I will ever need. The pay isn't bad these days either. It wasn't always like that.....
My apologies to C.F. that this is getting a little long but there is one question which I have addressed recently that continues to be asked of me. First of all, I repeatedly am asked about farm tags and seat belts. If over the age of 12 and riding in a vehicle with a farm tag the law says you do not have to wear a seat belt. I believe the intent of the legislature when allowing this exception to the seat belt law was to allow farmers and ranchers when doing their work tending cattle, crops etc. and constantly in and out of their vehicles in rural areas to not be troubled with constantly buckling and unbuckling their seat belts. I do not think they intended for junior and his girlfriend to cruise around town on Saturday night un-buckled exercising this exception. I have either worked or assisted with well over a thousand accidents in my almost 19 years in law enforcement. I have seen enough people killed that if we brought them all back and populated a town it would likely be about the size of Keyes. I have yet to see a farm tag save a life. I have seen seat belts save many lives. Perhaps the most common argument is that “I might get trapped by the seat belt and burn up”. That is the worst excuse I have ever heard. I know of no documented case of someone being trapped in a burning car in a condition that would allow them to crawl out but not being able to get free of the seat belt. Seat belts cause bruises in crashes. No seat belt means hitting the steering wheel and column at the speed the vehicle is going before the crash. Even at 15 mph this can be bad. If you don't think so imagine running into a brick wall as fast as you could ever run. What would happen to your arms, wrists, and face when you stuck your hands out to try and stop ??? In crashes this almost always means injuries like broken ribs, teeth, sternum and serious internal injuries. A pretty girl whose face went into or through the windshield is very sad to see as well. Her face will bear the scars the rest of her life even if she recovers 100% otherwise. That can hurt a woman more than anything else. It can also mean being ejected. Much more often than not that means hitting something that kills or cripples you or being killed when the vehicle rolls over you. I have worked several fatalities in rollovers where the drivers head came out and was crushed but the rest of their body showed little damage. In none of those cases was the person wearing a seat belt. Bottom line, if your injuries from not wearing a seat belt are so great you are either unconscious or injured too badly to crawl out then having a seat belt on or off won't matter. Seat belts work. Wear them or getting a citation will someday likely be the least of your worries....... Look out when I start working the road again !!!
Trooper Duane Johnson #280
Oklahoma Highway Patrol
Boise City News