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Victoria police officer deploys to Afghanistan

By Jennifer Lee Preyss
Nov. 24, 2011 at 5:24 a.m.

Lt. Jason Cross, right,  says goodbye to Officer JJ Houlton who will be deployed to Afghanistan for a fourth tour. Houlton has been in the National Guard for 15 years and is a police officer for Victoria.

Lt. Jason Cross, right, says goodbye to Officer JJ Houlton who will be deployed to Afghanistan for a fourth tour. Houlton has been in the National Guard for 15 years and is a police officer for Victoria.

Victoria Police Officer JJ Houlton grew up with a desire to be a policeman.

A weapons enthusiast since childhood, and the son of a Vietnam War veteran, Houlton knew he wanted to be in uniform.

"You know you watch 'Cops' as a kid and you think, 'Wow, I want to do that,'" said Houlton.

So when Houlton got the call he was hired with the department earlier this year, he was thrilled to begin a new career in law enforcement.

"That was a dream phone call. I was so excited. All the hard work and the praying, that window of opportunity finally opened up," Houlton said.

In January, Houlton entered the Police Academy for six weeks of training and started work at the police station eight months ago. A week ago, Houlton reached a professional landmark - he soloed in a patrol car. But his first day in the patrol car alone would also be his last day behind the wheel for at least 400 days, he said.

Houlton, a military reservist with the National Guard, will don another uniform Friday when he deploys for a fourth military tour in Southeast Afghanistan.

"My orders came in three weeks ago. They said you'll be deploying for Operation Enduring Freedom for no less than 400 days starting the 25th of November of this year," said Houlton, 32.

The rookie cop will serve as an E6 staff sergeant with the U.S. Army's 1-143 Airborne Infantry unit from Austin's Camp Mabry. He will lead a team of nine soldiers in a Provincial Reconstruction Team Mission. On a mission, Houlton's unit will patrol the streets in large armored trucks, searching for improvised explosives found in cars, trash piles and other areas along the roads.

Though excited to serve his country, as he's done for the past 14 years, Houlton was reluctant to leave town with serving the city of Victoria at least one day on his own.

"I asked (Lt. Jason Cross) if I could have one day on my own, and he said 'Yes, you deserve it,'" Houlton said. "So I worked a half day. And it just so happened to be my last day of work. It was a blessing."

Supportive of Houlton's military orders, the Police Department offered the rookie cop and veteran soldier their blessing, securing his job upon returning home. They've also said they'll lend support, if needed, for his wife Kacy Houlton and their two daughters Savannah, 6, and 1-year-old Baylea.

"The department fully supports veterans," Victoria Police Department Operations Capt. Kevin Sanderson said. "We don't view it as a negative thing, we view it as a positive thing ... You're treated like you're on a leave of absence. Employment is reinstated as the same equivalent position."

Sanderson, who also serves as a military reservist, has been deployed several times while employed with the Victoria Police Department. At least six other officers at the department are also military reservists, he said.

"When they leave, they're going to a dangerous place and we support them any way we can. We just want him to be as safe as possible, come home in one piece and make it back alive," Sanderson said.

Houlton said he's looking forward to seeing the Afghanistan countryside and meeting the villagers where he'll be working.

And even though this isn't his first military leave - serving previously in Kosovo, Iraq and on a domestic military tour - Houlton said leaving his favorite girls behind is always a difficult transition.

"I try to separate myself from it because it's hard, especially now I've got two children. My wife is very emotional. I don't even have to look at her - I know when she's crying. I can feel it. That's the connection we have," he said. "And now my 6-year-old knows Dad is putting on that uniform; the 1-year-old doesn't know yet. And just knowing I'm running out of time before I leave is just a strain."

After completing his tour and returning home to his girls, Houlton said he desires three things - to receive a series of hugs from his family, watch his youngest daughter take her first steps and get back in his Victoria Police Department uniform.

"I want to get back in that patrol car and get back to work - one uniform to the next," Houlton said.

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