Dec. 1, 2020 | BY Katie Lange , DOD News
If being a New York City police detective wasn’t cool enough, imagine that your side hustle is in special warfare, embedding with troops across the world to help execute air strikes and other direct offensive air operations.
Seems like a character in an action movie, right?
For Air Force Tech Sgt. Bill Reed from the New Jersey Air National Guard, it’s real life. Reed, 39, was one of many New Yorkers deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, so he decided to serve both his city and his country.
For his ”day job,” Reed is a New York City detective working with the Emergency Service Unit – basically, the tactical and technical team that’s called in when the regular patrol officers need help. That job often complements his duties in the military, where he’s called on when needed as an Air Force Special Warfare Tactical Air Control Party specialist.
Not sure what that is? Reed explains his duties in the Q&A below and details some of his most interesting experiences from each career – the stories he can talk about, anyway.
When it comes to both jobs, let’s just say that pretty much anything – from SCUBA diving to rappelling, rescuing flood victims and protecting world dignitaries — is on the table.
Why did you join the Air National Guard? Were you active-duty prior?
I enlisted into the Air National Guard in October 2009. I was prior Army Reserve, having enlisted in the Delayed Entry Program out of high school. I went on active-duty after my freshman year of college, but in those pre-9/11 days, I soon realized that my MOS [military occupational specialty] and unit left me unsatisfied and unchallenged. So, after my time in the Army Reserve was up, I separated. I moved back to New York from my college town, and, in 2005, I began my career with the New York City Police Department.
Even with the satisfaction and stability my new profession gave me — particularly in a post-9/11 NYC — I still felt like I needed to serve my country in a different way, and I really missed the military. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, affected me in such a profound way. I knew that I had to go back in the military, but the question was, to do what? At that time, I didn’t know much about the Air Force or Air National Guard and didn’t really consider it an option. But, coincidentally, I became friends with a former Marine, and I mentioned to him that I was looking at going back into the military. He told me that he was in the Air National Guard and that he just recently transferred to a new unit in New Jersey. He said that he was a TACP — Tactical Air Control Party — and gave me a basic rundown of the job. It sounded cool and up my alley, but I needed to do my research. Within 24 hours, I got back to him and said, ”I am 100% in! What do I have to do?”
What was it about being a TACP that drew you in?
I love that TACP training was hard and very selective. I love that you need to use your brain in tactical situations. I love that you integrate and operate with Army and Marine ground maneuver and special operations units. I love that TACPs direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close-air support and other offensive air operations from a forward position. I love that physical fitness and weapons proficiency are as important as radio communications, map imagery and mission planning. I wanted to be the guy who could conduct air strikes against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces and that require detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.
What are some of the missions you’ve been part of?
Most recently, in 2019, I was deployed to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, specifically the 82d Expeditionary Rescue Squadron of the 449th Air Expeditionary Group. Our primary mission was to provide joint terminal attack controller capabilities 24/7 to ensure tactical power projection in the area of operations. Basically, we provided the link between ground units and air assets in East Africa. The major way we did so was in support of the East Africa Response Force, an Army infantry company from the 101st Airborne Division dedicated to responding to potential crises. Plus, we sustained Guardian Angel/Tactical Air Control Party team integration in our Combined Joint Operations Area, which synced the personnel rescue & recovery mission of the squadron pararescuemen with our precision strike, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and communication capabilities. As the noncommissioned officer in charge of the TACP Detachment, I also often coordinated with outstations regarding ISR assets and JTAC integration, and I also contributed to the CJTF-HOA operational planning team.
What drew you to the New York Police Department?
I’ve been a New York City cop since July 2005, and I got promoted to detective in 2014. Not to sound cliché, but I like helping people and I like catching the bad guy. One time, as a kid, I remember discovering my bike was stolen. I was furious — mostly mad at the fact that someone took what was mine with no regard for my welfare or how hard my family may have worked for that bike. That moment always stuck with me. I wanted to be the guy who could find a kid’s stolen bike one day, catch the criminal and bring him to justice. Then there was 9/11 — seeing the 23 NYPD officers who paid the ultimate sacrifice and the civilians who just showed up to work [to] have their lives cut short due to the savage acts of terrorists. In hindsight, that day not only forever changed policing in NYC, but it forever changed me.
In your 15 years with the NYPD, what’s been the path of your career?
I started my career as a rookie on a foot post in one of the most violent crime-ridden precincts in North Brooklyn. That assignment made me learn real fast how to become an effective cop. I then went on to patrol in a busy neighboring precinct for over six years. There, I worked a patrol sector car, moved up to a plainclothes anti-crime team that focused on felonies, and then spent a year working a gang intelligence detail. After that, I had the privilege of being assigned to the Detective Bureau, where I investigated cases within the same precinct I previously patrolled.
In 2016, I tried out and was selected for assignment to the NYPD Emergency Service Unit , where I currently work. In short, we are the department’s tactical and technical rescue team. We’re trained in special weapons and tactics for various rescues, hazmat situations and other intense operations. We’re also emergency medical technicians and emergency psychological technicians.
Does the NYPD use your special military skills?
Of course. Certainly, those with special skills are more attractive than others when applying for specialty units. For example, a military explosive ordnance disposal tech would be well-suited for the bomb squad, or a helicopter pilot would be well-suited for the aviation unit. My military skills and experience make me better at my job in the ESU, which is to handle situations that your typical patrol officer cannot. An adage is that when the public needs help, they call 911; when the police need help, they call ESU.
We deal with a vast array of jobs such as conducting high-risk searches, negotiating barricade situations, diving to recover evidence or to conduct water rescues, dignitary protection, counterterrorism and helping suicidal people on a bridge or building — almost anything you can think of. I have responded to such incidents as the West Side terror attack, where an ISIS-inspired man used a rental truck to kill eight people on Halloween in 2017. On the other hand, I’ve also coerced kittens out of car engines, fished fallen keys from storm drains and changed tires on a horse trailer.
Do you find your military and police work to be similar or different?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. One example of a similarity is how I manage communications. When I entered into TACP training, I had already been a police officer for about five years, so I was no stranger to stressful situations requiring clear and concise communications. While on a TACP mission, I would typically have two radios actively using two different frequencies, with several more programmed. I’d be in contact with aircraft and the ground commander or other parties. I could also be receiving and viewing video downlink feeds from an overhead aircraft’s sensor.
In ESU, particularly if I am the operator of our large response vehicle, I act as the command and control node. I handle all comms from the local precinct and the citywide special operations division radio frequencies, as well as the inter-team frequency used by my team members. All requests for additional assets — including coordinating with our aviation, harbor or canine units – goes through me. If the job is in an underground subway station, tunnel or large building, that adds to the communications complexity, but being a TACP makes that aspect of my police job seem second nature.
Do you think your police experience makes you a better National Guardsman?
Yes, absolutely. I interact with the public and handle stressful, often dangerous, situations for a living. When it comes to simply being a good Guardsman, I try to combine the three Air Force core values with my experiences to be someone the public, fellow service members and my family can look up to. By bringing my police experience to my squadron, I try to enable ancillary skills, so that when it comes time to conduct domestic operations, such as humanitarian relief after a natural disaster, the squadron as a whole can be more effective.
Do your fellow Guardsmen ever ask for advice because of your ”day job?”
Yes, absolutely again. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fielded questions from fellow Guardsmen — often junior airmen and junior soldiers I’ve met — regarding my job, or how they should go about becoming a police officer. My squadron has quite a few members besides me who are also in law enforcement careers, including big city cops, suburban cops, state troopers and federal agents. We all have varying degrees of experience and have all dealt with our own different situations. Needless to say, we have a lot to talk about, and it makes for great company.
What’s one of the coolest experiences you’ve had as a cop?
Being a New York City cop is like having a front-row ticket to the greatest show on Earth, and being in ESU is like having the backstage pass. Climbing to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge was one cool, yet practical, experience. Seeing the rest of the city from that point of view is pretty awesome. Another cool experience was conducting joint high-rise rescue training with the Fire Department of New York, which required me to rappel from an NYPD helicopter to assess the condition of a rooftop prior to having a second helicopter land to insert firefighters.
One more cool experience was during the 2015 United Nations General Assembly. It’s a huge event that happens in NYC every year, but that year [it] also coincided with Pope Francis’ first visit to NYC and his UNGA address. That year, as a Detective Bureau member trained in close dignitary protection, I teamed up with a Secret Service detail to safeguard a particular foreign country’s president for the duration of his stay. I either met or was shoulder-to-shoulder with dozens of heads of state from around the world.
What’s one of the coolest experiences you’ve had in the Air National Guard?
In September 2018, Hurricane Florence hit North Carolina particularly bad, which caused devastating floods over large areas of the state. I’m a member of the New Jersey Joint Helicopter Search & Rescue Team, too. As an Air National Guardsman, I use those skills as a hoist rescue specialist alongside FEMA and soldiers with the Army National Guard. Our team got activated to respond. I ended up conducting over 25 flight hours in support of search & rescue, damage assessment, patient transfer, emergency resupply and emergency personnel movement missions. That experience with that awesome team helping Americans here at home was one of the most gratifying things I’ve ever done.
You work with all military branches. What have you learned about the different services?
Yes, all branches … except I have not worked with the Space Force, yet! Every branch has their own traditions, customs, quirks and intricacies, but it is very apparent that, at the end of the day, we’re all on the same team.
Tell me about some of your experiences working with partner nations.
My first experience working with another nation’s military was at Fort Bragg in 2015 during Operation Toy Drop. It’s the world’s largest multinational airborne training exercise that lets paratroopers participate with partner nations, which also resulted in the award of foreign jump wings. I had a great experience jumping with the Germans and earned the German Parachutist Badge. The exercise was also a fundraiser for needy children at Christmas.
In 2018, during Exercise Northern Strike — one of the military’s largest annual joint combined arms live-fire exercises — I worked on a small TACP team with Latvian counterparts for two weeks. That was a phenomenal experience, and many new friends were made because of it.
During my 2019 deployment, I often worked with the French military in Djibouti. In addition to conducting live-fire weapons familiarization and close-air support training with them, I was honored to have participated in an airborne jump they hosted on St. Michael’s Day, when I earned the French Parachutist Badge.
Having the experience of working with various partner nations and seeing how our skills and abilities complement each other reassures me that we can capably continue to fight the good fight as allies.
Police officers can have weird schedules. Is that ever a problem with your Air National Guard schedule?
Yes, although thanks to the understanding of my unit leadership, we make it work. For example, if I worked until midnight the night before a drill day, my ANG duty day would be adjusted, especially because my door-to-door distance is 160 miles. My police department work schedule also usually includes two or three weekdays off, so I’ve often used those days to go down to my ANG unit, most often to take advantage of live-fly air at the range or to take part in scheduled proficiency jumps. Maintaining proficiencies to stay a current and qualified JTAC is a very important aspect of being a TACP — that’s what doctrinally and legally recognizes you as being capable and authorized to perform terminal attack control.
When you’re not crime-fighting and serving the ANG, what do you like to do for fun?
Spending time with my wife, 8-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter is paramount. In the summer, we are at our local beach at almost every opportunity. We also love taking a week or two to rent a cabin upstate or in Maine to relax, hike, fish and enjoy the outdoors. Watching my son play on his sports teams also gives me a ton of pride and joy. In the winter, I like to go skiing at every chance. And, regardless of the time of year, sometimes just spending the day at home doing stuff around the house is what’s in order.
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