It’s 3 a.m. on a December night and Greg Garcia is searching for poachers with his spotlight in the middle of the Bering Sea.
In Alaska there are only 300 state troopers, Alaska has approximately 586,412 square miles, and 89 wildlife troopers which means there is only 1 trooper per every 6,588 square miles.
Retired State Trooper, Greg Garcia, has never once regretted his 27 year career as a trooper despite the constant pain he goes through everyday.
“Every day I wake up in more and more pain in my lower back but I know the cause of the pain is from helping others so that helps me tolerate it,” said Garcia. “I was in the Bering Sea on patrol looking out for poachers, on the barge when someone had fallen overboard I went in after him and when I was pulling him out I had tweaked my back and it’s never been the same since.”
The main goal for a trooper is always to help others while minimizing injuries but sometimes you just can’t help it.
As there is physical pain with the job there is also mental pain and emotional abuse that come with this job, there are always things you wish had happened or wish you had control over.
State trooper Joey Boden has been a trooper for 17 years, went through training in Sitka when he was 22, and is a father of four which makes Boden have empathy for things he sees on the job.
“The thing that hurts me most as a trooper is seeing kids in bad living situations where the parents aren’t capable of doing a good job raising and I dont have the authority to just take them away,” said Boden.
Another major factor that affects every trooper that no one thinks to take into consideration is how understaffed every outpost is in the state of Alaska, a trooper will be gone for weeks or months away from family and their home.
Garcia used the expression ‘they rob Paul to pay Peter’ when explaining on the travel, they will send one trooper away up north and they will find another one to fill in for him.
“The way they do it is you don’t really have a choice they’ll take me or another trooper from my home in Ketchikan and send me up north to Bristol Bay and honestly over everything the travel is the hardest part for me, always being away from home,” said Garcia.
There are things you just can’t control while being a trooper, but the thing they can is how they transition back to their everyday life.
For Boden he believes being at home and being a trooper are along the same guidelines but if a work day is hard he will never take it home with him.
“Being a trooper then being a husband and father for me is easy because it’s the same rules, you follow and give directions and orders and make decisions all the time,” said Boden. “But there are days where it’s hard at work so I will give myself time to get away from [the] work stress so I don’t bring it home.”
Being a trooper means that there is potential of getting hurt or injured, for some troopers the thought of making it through the day seems very distant at times and for some it’s not.
Boden is an optimist and always thinks of his family to help him get through his day.
“I have never had the feeling where I may not come home but there are times where I have nightmares of scenarios where bad things happen but everyday my goal is to go home and have dinner with my wife and family.”
The word community goes a long way when talking about Alaska, it spans from the north all the way to the coast.
Garcia said that so much of the Alaska state trooper unit (AST) is so low we have a few drug investigators that take part with the KPD, with even a smaller amount wildlife troopers.
“There were 3 wildlife troopers when I worked and 5 AST in ketchikan, they cover to the south of the Canadian border to Hyder, and to the north of Ernest sound, the mid SE troopers will cover Wrangell and Petersburg and the POW has 2 wildlife troopers and 3 AST, Ketchikan Police only covers city limits.”
The fact that there are so many people in SouthEast Alaska and only 15 troopers to be responsible for them.
Garcia listed even more places he had to patrol while on duty.
“Troopers will boat over to very remote places to the Southern Baranof Port Alexander, Point Baker on Northern POW, Meyers Chuck, Kassan, and the list goes on and on, Troopers have the responsibility for all of those areas and more we access those areas by fast and safe patrol vessels,” Garcia said.
The Ketchikan community is still a very large area to cover while only having eight troopers and they do their best to always do the right thing.
The relationships with the community and the people is a key thing for a trooper.
For Garcia, being a trooper has helped him be familiar with most people in the community and being retired he is always noticed and greeted well.
“The community in Alaska is amazing and I notice all the respect I was given when was in uniform with people shaking my hand and always waving, with the good people in the community there are also the bad ones,” Garcia said. “ The way I look at criminals is different from the others, I always try to see the good in them, no one person is just bad they just have been raised wrong or went through a traumatic time in their lives.”
Even teenagers have a say about the Alaska State troopers and their line of work.
Kayhi graduate Brandon Wieber said he has never had problems with the troopers and knows how busy they are.
“I’ve never encountered the troopers, I’ve seen more of the city police only because they are more in town and involved with sports, but I know the troopers do their job and they take it seriously they never had time to be involved in much because they’ll be gone or on call, and I know that they’re good people,” said Wieber.
Seen on their website the top 5 rules to follow as a trooper is,
- To maintain public peace and order.
- Enforce criminal laws and investigate violations of those laws.
- Enforce traffic laws and regulations and investigate violations of those laws and regulations.
- Conduct search and rescue operations.
For more information visit the AST website https://dps.alaska.gov/AST/Home