Officer to help train Iraqi police

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Just before the new year, 150 police officers from across the country will meet in Virginia for final tests and contract signing.

Two weeks later, they will fly to Fort Bliss in Texas for training.

By late January, they will have started a year-long mission in Iraq.

The group represents the first of up to 1,000 civilian officers deployed to train Iraqi citizens to be police officers.

Among that first group will be Steamboat Springs' Dwight Murphy, 47, who has worked with law enforcement for almost 25 years.

He's traveled throughout the United States, but his travel to Iraq will mark the first steps he's taken off U.S. soil.

The mission is not something he was drafted for -- it's something he decided to do.

The war in Iraq and the ensuing process to rebuild the country isn't something Murphy can sit back and watch.

"You're watching things on TV, and you're thinking, 'Man, I wish I could be there to help,'" Murphy said. "It's just that drive to go out and make a difference, no matter how small that is."

Although some people tell him he's crazy for volunteering in a tumultuous time, Murphy said he knows it's what he needs to do. His family and friends agree.

The mission

Murphy, like the rest of the police officers being deployed, applied for the position through DynCorp International, a private company with the Computer Sciences Corporation.

Requirements for the job include being a U.S. citizen and having at least five years experience as a civilian law enforcement or corrections officer.

Murphy applied last spring, thinking his application was going to sit in the pile of the thousands of applications the company received.

He was wrong.

A recruiter called him in May with an offer of conditional employment, but Murphy again didn't think anything would happen soon.

He was contacted next in mid-October.

"I get the call, and the guy says, 'Hey, I'm calling you about the January deployment date,'" Murphy said. "I said, 'Geez, what are you talking about?'"

After talking with his family and employers, he agreed to be part of the first cohort.

Once in Iraq, Murphy will work directly with Iraqi civilians to teach them patrol skills, traffic control, driving and more.

The goal is to help the Iraqis establish their own police force and open the doors to democracy. The plan is to have 20,000 Iraqi police officers trained by April.

Murphy and the other officers will stay at the Baghdad Hotel. They will speak with Iraqis through translators.

To prepare, Murphy searched through the library for up-to-date books on the local culture and history.

He left with two: "The Middle East for Dummies," and "The Idiot's Guide to Iraq."

His background

Murphy has worked in law enforcement for the past 24 years. He started his career in Fremont, Neb., then came to Steamboat Springs with his wife and two children in 1994.

In Steamboat, Murphy started as a deputy for the Routt County Sheriff's Office and then, in 1997, moved to the Steamboat Springs Police Department, where he later became the project director and then task force commander for GRAMNET, the Grand, Routt and Moffat Narcotics Enforcement Team.

He has been a deputy coroner since 1997 and this summer was appointed to replace Doug Allen as the Routt County coroner.

He's worked as an intermediate-level emergency medical technician and has taught police and emergency response classes for community colleges and the Nebraska Department of Health.

That training and experience should help him stay focused and aware while he works in Iraq, he said. It also will help him stay safe.

Just as he knows not to let down his guard when talking to a drug informant or even stopping a resident for speeding, he plans to stay alert while working with Iraqi citizens.

That means that when driving through an Iraqi street jammed with people showing their support, Murphy will realize there could be someone waving with one hand and holding a grenade behind his back with the other.

His co-workers

Murphy is well-suited for the job he needs to do in Iraq, his co-workers say.

Fremont, Neb., Police Chief Tim Mullen worked with Murphy for 15 years. Although Mullen said he's concerned about Murphy's safety, he said he knows Murphy will get the job done.

"I know he'll be back, and we'll all be better served," Mullen said. "Someone has to take on these tasks. If we don't address terrorism ... it's not only going to continue, but it's going to get worse."

J.D. Hays, director of public safety for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, said he still has a few weeks to convince Murphy not to go. He's serious.

He said he understands Murphy's desire to serve in Iraq, but he would prefer Murphy wait for the situation to calm down before he does.

The city has given Murphy a leave of absence for the year he'll be gone. With the absence of Steamboat Springs Police Detective Dave Kleiber, who serves on the National Guard and was deployed for active duty in October, Murphy's leave means the department will be short two officers. That's tough, Hays said, but workable.

"I feel for them," Hays said. "I wish they were here, but I can fully understand their desire to do it, and I'm proud of them for doing it."

His children

When Murphy's 25-year-old son, Michael, learned his father was going to Iraq, he said he felt -- very simply -- excited.

Excited not only because his father would assist people there, but because he would help direct the future of the entire country.

Michael, following closely in his father's footsteps, is a patrol deputy with the Routt County Sheriff's Office. He grew up watching his father work in law enforcement almost every day, and as he watched, he formed a deep admiration and respect for his father.

His father, the younger Murphy said, does things one way every time: the right way.

The reason Murphy is going to Iraq, his son said, is because he knows it's the right thing to do.

"If I wanted one person to be able to go over and do it, I know he'd be the one to be able to go over and do it right," Michael said.

While his father is away, Michael said he'll look forward to the time when he comes home and has stories to tell.

For Murphy's daughter, Stephanie, 21, it's harder to talk about her father leaving for Iraq. When she does, she said, it's hard not to get emotional.

"I think it's really a cool thing to be a part of, and I'm proud to say he's doing it, but it's just hard to realize he's going to be gone in two weeks," Stephanie said.

His wife

Murphy's wife, Peggi, has a hard time explaining to other people why her husband is going to Iraq.

"It's more than just, 'I'm going to Iraq, OK?'" she said. "It's our life. I can't explain it to people.

"Most people just don't know what to think, that somebody would want to do that. I don't even know that you'd say it's a want. It's a have-to. It's the right thing to do."

Murphy, she said, has a drive to work hard and be the best he can be in everything he does. That drive and desire is something she accepted years ago.

Law enforcement careers are tough on many marriages. They require long hours, nights away from home and intense focus. The Murphys, though, have been married 26 1/2 years.

Peggi, who also works in Steamboat, said she supports her husband in everything he does.

If a person could support another 1,000 percent, that's how much she would support her husband, she said.

Both Dwight and Peggi are Christians. So, Peggi said, when they prayed about Dwight going to Iraq and God didn't tell them no, they knew it must be God's will.

With their faith, there's no room to worry about what might happen, she said.

But, she knows that for the year he's gone, her life will be different.

She might get a part-time job at night or start volunteering more. For a few months, she can pretend that he's just at training or a long conference. For the months after that, she thinks it will be harder.

"Then it will really hit me, and I don't know how I will handle it."

His return

Murphy said he thinks the year will go by quickly.

He'll be working, exercising at a gym, eating and sleeping. And then, he said, he'll be back.

If he didn't go, he'd regret it.

"I think I would always wonder," he said. "I'd be out in a patrol car at midnight, checking an alley thinking, 'Why didn't I at least go serve my country?'

"Everybody's put here for a reason and it's not by chance, so there certainly is a reason I'm going to Iraq."

The job that he's going to do is a job that has to be done, he said, but some people will never understand exactly why he's going.

For him, that's OK.

"That same person that's complaining about me going over there is the same person that should be happy, because they can be free here," he said.

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