KENNEWICK -- A Kennewick police officer who spent most of the past year with the National Guard in Iraq was welcomed back to work Friday with a celebration at the police station.
Officer Jeff Sagen, a patrol officer in Kennewick for five years, received a Hometown Hero Award from Kennewick Police Chief Ken Hohenberg.
"Our philosophy is not only to make sure our own city's safe, but we work very hard to contribute to the Tri-Cities' safety as a whole," Hohenberg told the Herald. "We have a lot of good federal partners too. ... Officer Sagen just took our philosophy further to another country."
Sagen was stationed for just more than nine months in Balad, which is in north central Iraq. He was with 3rd Battalion, 116th Calvary Regiment and was promoted to captain during his tour.
He kept the Kennewick Police Department close to him by wearing his KPD patch on his armor.
"It's just a a reminder of home and your roots, I guess," he said.
Sagen, who was an executive officer to the infantry company, managed a headquarters platoon, tactical operations center and served as commander when the company commander wasn't available. He also was moved to another company when its executive officer went home, to help strengthen the leadership in that unit.
"My company's main role was convoy," he said. "My unit saw more action than any other unit in Iraq. We were probably the most visible American unit on the road."
Sagen said he managed 131 soldiers and was responsible for planning and organizing the missions. He would send himself out on one mission for every 10 he planned, so he could stay aware of what was going on, he said.
During his tour, Sagen said he was shot at and blown up. A truck he was in drove over an IED (improvised explosive device), but he said he fortunately was not hurt in the explosion, just shaken up.
He was awarded the Bronze Star for meritorious service in combat operations for going above and beyond.
Sagen said his civilian job in law enforcement helped him a lot in Iraq because officers have to constantly be in a state of awareness and always looking for things and paying attention to detail.
"Police work is very unforgiving if you're not paying attention to detail," he said, adding that he started doing some of the same routines he does as an officer and found it helped him.
The most challenging thing he faced in Iraq was issues with security by Iraqi forces near the bases.
"Because we were helping the Iraqis do the policing ... the problem is we're not the ones going after people who were blowing us up. I was blown up once. We got mortars every night," he said. "It would happen just inside, within 100 meters of an Iraqi checkpoint and you're telling me they didn't know there was a bomb set up there? I don't think so."
Sagen said he knows it's a policy decision to have the Iraqis doing the security, but he would have been much happier if U.S. soldiers were out there.
"I believe that American soldiers are better trained and better motivated than the Iraqis," he said.
Being away from his wife, Megan, and daughters, Katherine, 4, and Elizabeth, 2, was the hardest part of his deployment, he said.
"My wife's a trooper. She's a really good wife and she did a really good job while I was gone and stayed really strong," he said. "My youngest one was 1 when I left and now she's 2 and she barely recognizes me. That's hard."
Sagen and his wife also are expecting their third daughter at the end of the year -- quickly pointing out that she got pregnant when he was home on leave.
Sagen arrived back in the U.S on Sept. 3 and was released from active duty Sept. 14. He's now adjusting to being back on the police force and having to remember that the phonetic alphabet used in the military is different than what they use in law enforcement.
The security protocols -- the way he treated and interacted with people in Iraq -- is also much different than in Kennewick.
"In Iraq ... it's not like you're going to be contacting a possible gang member. You're contacting multiple guys with AK-47s and if they aren't friendly, they're going to fight," he said.
Sagen said he appreciated his welcome back Friday morning, but said he does what he does for his family, himself and his country.
Hohenberg said it was important to recognize Sagen and make his return special.
"We wanted to make sure he knew how proud we are of him when he returned," he said. "The core values he brings to the police department are the same things and reasons he continues to service in the military as well."
Last weekend, the chief also presented a Hometown Hero Award and the Chief's Challenge Coin to another soldier who returned from serving in Iraq.
Sgt. Trevor Lord received two Purple Hearts during his deployment, Hohenberg said, adding that while attending a welcome home celebration for Lord, he found out that Sagen was Lord's company commander.