Fernley man honored to serve
Chief master Sergeant John Douglas stands at the guard gate of the Air Force National Guard building in Reno on Friday. | Photo by Rick Gunn
When members of Chief Master Sgt. John Douglas’ unit were stationed at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan last year, they flew the blue “Battle Born” Nevada flag and posted a directional sign reading, “Reno, 7,290 miles.”
“When we got assigned to an area, we’d stake it out, raise the flag and say, ‘This is where Nevada lives,'” said the Fernley man Friday.
His unit, the 152nd Security Forces Squadron of the Nevada Air National Guard, is stationed near the Reno-Tahoe Airport, but they’ve been all over the world.
“Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Saudi Arabia — you name it and this unit has gone there in the last 18 months,” he said.
Douglas, or “Chief Douglas” as his troops call him, is a warrior. For 25 years he has put on an investigator’s badge and fought in the war against crime — first for the Reno Police Department then for the Nevada Department of Investigation.
On Oct. 10, 2001, he was called up to fight on a different battlefield.
He’s traded his badge and suit for “woodland BDUs” (green camouflaged battle dress uniform) and polished black boots. Rather than commute to the Carson City office of Professional Response for the Department of Public Safety, Douglas drives each morning to Reno for active duty with the Nevada Air National Guard.
“This is what I’ve been training for one weekend a month for many, many years,” he said. Douglas joined the Guard in 1975 for the tuition assistance program. He said this is first activation of any length.
His main job with the Security Forces Squadron — where he is the highest-ranking enlisted airman — is teaching, he says.
“I mentor junior (non-commissioned officers) who are going to take squads on deployment,” he said.
Douglas returned March 14 from four and a half months working on Homeland Security for the director of strategic planning at the Pentagon. He couldn’t say which projects in particular he worked on while there, though he said he worked on building Nevada’s Homeland Security from the ground up.
“And I can tell you there are some very bright and committed people at the Pentagon working very long hours to ensure our way of life continues,” he said.
The Air Force is well suited to safeguard that way of life, he said.
“The processes, tactics, techniques and procedures that, in particular, the Air Force has employed could make a good transition to Homeland Security,” he said.
He said the Homeland Security mission means looking at Nevada’s areas of vulnerability.
“In the military that’s called force protection,” he said. “In the Air Force we conduct exercises continually so this all comes as second nature to us.”
Homeland Security is a natural for Douglas as well because he lived in New York City within view of the World Trade Center towers. Born in 1951 at Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn, Douglas grew up on Grand Avenue.
“From where I grew up in Brooklyn you could look across the river and see the towers,” he said.
Now there is a sense of something missing.
“You notice the void,” he said.
Chief Douglas said he and his troops are honored to serve.
“When the country needed us we put aside our civilian jobs to perform our military obligation,” he said. “There have been some hardships, but I’m all about the greater good for the greater number, for the country.”