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Former, retired Marines stay local, continue serving with Yuma Police

By Lance Cpl. Gregory Aalto | | August 25, 2007

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If you asked a handful of Marines at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., where they would like to go once they are done with active duty, a popular answer would most likely be “anywhere but here.”

However, not all are leaving. Many are continuing to serve and prosper in the heart of the Desert Southwest.

Forty-one of the 165 sworn Yuma Police Department police officers are former Marines, according to Officer Clinton Norred, YPD spokesman.

For at least two Yuma police officers, their time in service helped their transition to the force.

“You just can’t hide!”

“That Coyote pride!”

Officer Tomas Salviejo, YPD police officer, leads Mary A. Otondo Elementary School students through their rally cry at lunchtime to motivate the students and promote school pride.

But when things started getting too loud, all it took was Salviejo’s “V” hand signal to lower the cafeteria volume and the students continued eating quietly.

A Harbor City, Calif. native, Salviejo spent 22 years in the Marine Corps before joining the Yuma police in 1998.

During his time in the Corps, Salviejo rose to the rank of master sergeant and earned the title of drill instructor at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego.

Now he uses those same skills to ensure that all runs smoothly and safely at the elementary school where he now serves as a school resource officer. Forty-eight-year old Salviejo spent two years as a patrol officer before heading to Yuma High School as a school resource officer and continuing on to other Yuma city elementary schools, in the same billet.

“We are out of milk,” said Salviejo, the first one to notice that they were out. He then reorganized the line and was able to expedite things despite the added challenge, of the missing milk.

Like a scene from MCRD San Diego, Salviejo ensured that every student had a proper meal and was moving with speed and intensity.

Salviejo said, at first, it was a rough transition going from the Marine Corps to the city streets because of the lack of obedience he encountered. The 2002 Yuma Employee of the Year believes that community oriented policing works best and that it isn’t always about arresting everybody. Talking things through gets more done in the long run, he explained.

Salviejo credits the Marine Corps for helping him be the “exemplary recruit” during his time at the police academy. He even got the platoon’s flag for the accomplishment. Leaving the Marines with a 289 physical fitness test score helped him focus on the other parts of the academy that were more mental, he said.

Salviejo said his biggest tip for Marines currently serving is to get an education. He credits his bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice and Administration as a vital part to his success and he hopes all Marines take advantage of the educational benefits the Marine Corps has to offer.

Officer Joss Purdon, YPD police officer, spent 10 years as a military policeman before attending the Arizona Law Enforcement Academy, where his experience in the Corps helped ease his transition into the police force.

Purdon explained that only 40 of the original 56 cadets graduated from the four-month course.

Because of his time in the Corps, Purdon said writing reports and the other basic training at the academy were made easier for him.

While some of Purdon’s experiences in the Marine Corps aided him in his new career there were some he said he doesn’t miss at all.

“I have been pepper sprayed four times over the years and I don’t ever need that to happen again. Those 45 minutes of pain (before the effects wear off) are far worse than my times in the gas chamber,” he said.

Purdon had to make some adjustments when he transitioned from the military to public service.

“There is a lot more liability in a civilian police department versus a provost marshals office,” Purdon said, explaining how civilian police have to weigh each action thoroughly, keeping in mind the consequences the police department will have to face if an officer makes a bad decision.

“Basic military policeman don’t go nearly as in depth as we have to at YPD. For example on some days here I could spend an entire work day working on one identity theft,” said Purdon.

Although his days are often filled with tedious work, nothing could compare to one fateful day he experienced in Al Khalidiyah, a city in the Al Anbar province of Iraq.

With no warning, Purdon was blown off his feet from an improvised explosive device he estimates exploded 25 yards away.

“My Kevlar was torn up; I had shrapnel imbedded in my left leg and my right hip,” Purdon, a Forsyth, Mont. explained.

These experiences didn’t put a damper on the enjoyment that the now 30-year-old Purdon felt during the time he served.

“Everyone jumped through hoops to help my wife out while I was deployed. They were even there for my family when my fence fell over,” said Purdon. “I’ve missed the Marine Corps ever since I got out. Those leaving the Marines need to remember that the military support system is gone once you are out.”

Although he is now a civilian, soon Purdon will be proving the old adage, “Once a Marine always a Marine,” by getting a sleeve tattoo to commemorate his time supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.


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