Story and photo by Pfc. Andrew Ingram
4th Infantry Division Public Affairs Office
At about 10:30 p.m. June 22, six Soldiers from 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, arrived at their objective: Tejon Street, in downtown Colorado Springs. The mission: to help off-duty comrades make good decisions.
As part of the Fort Carson Courtesy Patrol program, a Fort Carson unit sends uniformed officers and noncommissioned officers downtown Friday and Saturday nights to provide rides for inebriated Soldiers, and remind off-duty troops to act responsibly.
“The primary purpose of the program is to ensure Soldiers return to post or their homes safely and to assist Colorado Springs police with Soldier issues,” said 1st Lt. Jason Bennett, operations security officer, Provost Marshal’s office, 4th Infantry Division. “We are not out there as law enforcement; as leaders, we are out there to ensure Soldiers are acting responsibly and safely.”
Fort Carson battalions share responsibility for the courtesy patrol duty by sending a group of Soldiers downtown to safeguard Soldiers approximately once every six months.
Soldiers assigned to courtesy patrol duty do not intervene directly in questionable situations; instead, they advise off-duty troops to walk away from dangerous situations and only involve the police if unsafe or illegal activities continue.
“Soldiers know what ‘right’ looks like, but when you’re drinking, your judgment becomes impaired,” said 1st Lt. Greg Polster, executive officer, Troop E, 1st Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd BCT. “(The courtesy patrol) can act like the good voice in their head, encouraging them to do the right thing.”
Courtesy patrol Soldiers set an example for off-duty troops, reminding them that doing the right thing is part of being a Soldier, said Officer William Watson, Colorado Springs Police Department.
“This program helps Soldiers by defusing a bad situation before it escalates, and they do something they might regret,” said Watson, who partners with the courtesy patrol. “Drinking and having fun is fine, but it’s good to have the courtesy patrol out here to make sure Soldiers don’t go down the wrong road.”
Watson said he has seen a marked decrease in the number of Soldier arrests since the courtesy patrol began in the summer of 2010.
In the almost two years since its inception, the Fort Carson Courtesy Patrol has provided rides to hundreds of Soldiers. Some nights, only a few Soldiers take advantage of the program; other nights a dozen may be escorted home.
“Having these guys standing out here in uniform reminds the young guys out here to act right,” he said. “Even without becoming directly involved, I believe they are making a difference.”
Police officers, like Watson, may also bring Soldiers to the courtesy patrol to prevent them from committing a crime such as driving under the influence or assault.
“This program displays to the community what we stand for,” said Sgt. James Spaulding, health care specialist, Company E. “We support our Soldiers; we look after our own, and I think this program demonstrates that.”
Spaulding said he felt his team made a positive difference in the lives of Soldiers who could otherwise have made life or career-ending mistakes.
By 3 a.m., Tejon Street was nearly deserted, and, although only two off-duty troops needed rides back to post that night, Spaulding said the courtesy patrol Soldiers knew it had made a positive impact.
“Tonight, we kept a Soldier from driving away drunk just by talking to him,” he said. “We aren’t here to get him or anybody else in trouble. We were able to get him home safe. That makes coming out here worth it.”