Two worlds: Army veteran and NHP trooper |

Two worlds: Army veteran and NHP trooper

Steve Ranson
Sgt. Joe Winchester, right, and fellow NHP trooper Bob Wright conduct an investigation at a crash site east of Fallon in this 2010 photo.

For 20 years, Joe Winchester served his country as a military policeman in the U.S. Army, spending more than half his time in Germany.

For the last 20 years, Winchester served the state as a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper by protecting people and lives of those he came in contact.

A southern California native, Winchester enlisted immediately after graduating from high school in 1972. By August, he left for basic and advanced training during the waning days of the Vietnam War. It was the experience Winchester gained, however, from being a military policeman that eventually led him to become a trooper in the Fallon area.

As with any military duty, Winchester gained more responsibility during the time he spent in the Army where the master sergeant served as a MP station commander.

“That was different from being a station manager,” Winchester explained. “I ran an entire MP station responsible for the area of operations and enforcement.”

Winchester’s last duty station came with 1st Platoon, 1st Brigade, 2nd Armor Division in the early 1990s as Desert Storm forced the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Although his unit did not deploy to the Middle East, Winchester said his platoon was next in line, but the war ended quickly.

He also served as a desk sergeant, where he fielded complaints .

“I utilized the Army as a tool to further my quest to become a highway patrolman,” Winchester said, noting the similar duties may have helped him over other candidates.

“I did go to a traffic accident investigation course, the same level as an active investigation for the highway patrol,” he said.

As with his career in the highway patrol, if a fatal occurred involving an American serviceman or woman, Winchester investigated the crash and circumstances surrounding the death. Near the end of Winchester’s career with the Army, he was stationed at Warren Barracks at Wertheim, West Germany, at a time the California native definitely called “real world.”

President Ronald Reagan had called for the Berlin Wall separating the two cities to be torn down, and a democracy movement was sweeping across Eastern Europe behind the Iron Curtain as governments began to tumble. Winchester saw history unraveling before his eyes.

“While I was in Germany, the specific mission for the military police included a lot of law enforcement, but prepared for massive and rapid evacuations out of the area for noncombatants (such as military dependents and American and host country civilian workers).”

With his career coming to an end, Winchester, who was now assigned to Forth Hood, Texas, applied to the Nevada Highway Patrol, which was hiring troopers in September 1992.

“In April (of that same year) I sent in my application, and they sent a packet back asking for my whole life history,” Winchester explained.

On his final weekend in the Army, Winchester received special permission to fly to Nevada to take the written test and complete the physical agility. In the meantime, Winchester had also interviewed with the Churchill County Sheriff’s Office and worked as a dispatcher until he was accepted for the NHP Academy in April 1993.

“I spent five weeks learning NHP specifics and then 16 weeks of POST (Peace Officers Standards and Training) in Carson City,” Winchester added.

The NHP first assigned Winchester to Las Vegas, but then five months later, transferred him to Fernley. For five years he lived in Fallon but commuted to Fernley before his supervisors allowed him to stay in the Fallon area.

For 12 years, the Fallon District Office was tight-knit since no one left. Then, one trooper retired, and the shift of personnel slowly began. Winchester eventually left the Fallon office although he maintained his residence here.

“It was a sad moment when people began to leave … brothers and sisters … you work with them so long that you know what to expect from them,” Winchester lamented. “Things ran extremely smoothly.”

Winchester received a promotion to sergeant in 2010 and relocated to Battle Mountain. Fourteen months later, he moved to Lovelock, which was in the Winnemucca District.

“The 20 years went by quickly,” Winchester said, slowly shaking his head, “because I enjoy what I do. I didn’t dread going to work, I liked what I did, I liked my co-workers.”

With the good, though, came some frustrating times such as when he had to write a 72-page accident report or investigate a fatal accident on U.S. Highway 95 near Schurz 15 years ago when five of six occupants died in a single-car rollover.

“There were two minor children under the age of 5,” he said, his voice growing a little softer.

In addition to being a trooper who canvassed the highways thousands of miles annually, Winchester developed a good rapport with the media and became the local public information officer.

Needless to say, Winchester learned quickly to be careful with what he said and how he said to avoid a reporter taking comments out of context.

“I learned to give measured responses and that’s fine,” he pointed out. “You have to be open about what you now. It does no good to hide anything that’s happened out there for everyone to see. You need to report factually and honestly.”

Winchester, who said he had a good relationship with the Fallon media, added he learned much from Trooper Chuck Allen, who is the NHP’s spokesman in northwestern Nevada:

“Chuck Allen is well prepared, well spoken and has a professional demeanor and master that brings the highest respect to the highway patrol.”

Winchester also believed in community involvement and was an active member of Fallon’s Masonic Lodge 26.

Winchester said he has no regrets with either profession, the Army or NHP.

Yet, the 59-year-old Winchester said his body clock told him it was time to retire from the highway patrol.

Winchester and his wife, Kathy, left Saturday for their new home in Smithdon, Ill., 40 minutes east of St. Louis. The reason for the move is simple: Winchester said he and wife want to be closer to their children and grandchildren. They built a house on a quarter acre, and Winchester said their goal is to have the house completely finished and have the entire family there for Christmas.

“We’re excited to be closer to the kids and grandkids,” he said. “It’s time. We’ve been away from them for 20 years and only see them periodically. I promised myself I would stop wearing a gun before age 60.

I did. I’m 59.”