The flag remains: MCSO's Todd Poteet's journey from Morgan to Kabul and back
by Kathryn Schiliro
photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Through the tinted windows of his Morgan County Sheriff's Office-issued police car, Cpl. Todd Poteet keeps vigil over the county.
Now, for the most part, his passengers are criminals, those who have broken the law.
But mere months ago, Staff Sgt. Todd Poteet was in Afghanistan, on a 10-month tour of duty that began in 2009 and lasted into 2010. In this, his third tour in the Middle East with the Army National Guard—he took part in two tours in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, a combined 14 months—he acted as a team leader for Personal Security Detail (PSD), responsible for safely shuttling dignitaries and world leaders—people like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai—from one place to another and back, whether that be across town or across the country.
As PSD team leader, Poteet's job began with a brief. He would then relay that information to his staff and from there, PSD planning could begin.
Routes and times coordinated.
Weapons systems prepared.
Proper amounts of ammunition, food and supplies gathered.
Vehicles, properly maintained, now ready.
The PSD would then load up, dignitary in tow, and begin the initial leg of the round trip.
Poteet ran more than 250 missions in Afghanistan, and all of them were considered "combat missions."
Why? "Anything that puts you in hostile territory," Poteet said of what defines such a mission.
• • •
Poteet was mobilized as part of the National Guard's 48th Brigade in early 2009, slated for Operation Enduring Freedom, the War in Afghanistan. He let Sgt. Roland and Sheriff Robert Markley know of his pending deployment as soon as he found out.
"First and foremost, you're always concerned for the officer and the family, [with] the officer being in harm's way...followed by you've got to start making plans for how shifts are going to continue here," Markley said of his reaction to Poteet's news.
Prior to this deployment, Poteet had been at the sheriff's office for four years. According to Markley, it is the policy of the sheriff's office to hold the positions of deployed servicemen and servicewomen until their return. Todd is one of two Morgan County Sheriff's Office employees to be deployed while working for Markley and the people of this county, the other being Chad Lanier, according to Markley.
A certified officer currently working an EMS job in another county was hired to temporarily take Poteet's spot.
After training at Fort Polk, La., beginning in February 2009, came six weeks at Fort Gordon, five weeks at Camp Atterbury, Ind., and then deployment to Afghanistan in June of last year.
Poteet was stationed at Camp Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan, "right in the middle of town."
"There was no safe zone," Poteet said. "The bad guys are right there."
The strongest memory, Poteet recalls the "VBIEDs," or Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices, cars stuffed with explosives, dynamite and fertilizer and piloted by a single driver, who, much of the time, believes that detonating the vehicle and killing coalition forces, or simply a crowd of civilians, wins martyrdom.
"When one goes off it's like it sucks the air out of the vehicle," Poteet said. "You can't breathe. It's indescribable."
Being part of a PSD, Poteet relied heavily on jamming equipment—which works by blocking the frequencies, which come from electronic devices like cell phones or walkie-talkies, used to detonate VBIEDs—to keep himself and those under his supervision alive. Often, about 50 yards away from base, jamming equipment was no longer effective.
"Once we were out of jammer range, those things would blow," Poteet said. "Our equipment saved us many times."
• • •
Throughout his time in Afghanistan, Poteet was in communication with members of the Morgan County Sheriff's Office who were offering him support.
"They kept my job, e-mailed me daily," Poteet said. "It put my mind at ease."
This close tie to home led Poteet to have two American flags flown over Camp Phoenix, "in the face of the enemy" as the plaque states, for the sheriff's office.
"When you're in the military overseas...you notice that everyday," Poteet said. "It means a lot to you."
Poteet sent the flags to the sheriff's office; one was flown again, on May 3, in honor of his service and safe return. Currently one of these flags is proudly on display in the lobby of the Morgan County Sheriff's Office; the other is on Poteet's desk. The flags demonstrate the pride and the sacrifice, though not nearly as great as that of the servicemen and servicewomen themselves or their families, made by the sheriff's office when one of their own is sent on a tour.
"When an officer goes over there to serve, you're proud you're doing something... It is a sacrifice to the sheriff's office and the citizens of Morgan County because we're losing someone [to deployment]," Markley said. "The flag shows that for us."
• • •
Poteet's Afghanistan tour led him to be the recipient of The Bronze Star Medal, the fourth highest combat award granted by the U.S. Armed Forces.
"Mixed emotions," Poteet said of how he felt when he received the award. "I was not sure I had done enough for that. I guess the general (Major General Curtis M. Scaparrotti, U.S. Army, signed the document accompanying the medal) thought I did."
Poteet remains modest about his service, and his Bronze Star, and maintains he was simply doing what he set out to do, what was expected of him.
"I just want people to know I'm no hero. The heroes are the ones that don't come back home," Poteet said. "I'm just doing the same job as 3500 other Georgians."