While most local families are preparing to celebrate their freedoms on July 4, the Middletown Police Department is recognizing those officers who have fought to protect them.

While most local families are preparing to celebrate their freedoms on July 4, the Middletown Police Department is recognizing those officers who have fought to protect them.

The department recently issued pins to the three military veterans currently working as Middletown police officers in an effort to acknowledge and honor their service, according to Chief Henry Tobin.

“I support the military wholeheartedly and I’m proud of the officers who work here that have prior military experience,” Tobin said. “Like most police agencies, we encourage military personnel to apply here at the department because the training and education they receive in the armed services translates well into law enforcement.”

The pins, which identify each officer’s branch of service, were issued to Officer 1st Class Scott Saunders, former specialist in the Army’s mechanized infantry; Officer Matthew Schneider, a former petty officer second class in the U.S. Navy; and Officer 1st Class Thomas Smith, a former sergeant in the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment.

Saunders, a native of Philadelphia who spent two years at Fort Hood in Texas and another 10 years in the reserves, said a career in law enforcement seemed like a natural progression after he left military service.

“Being in the infantry, the skills I had learned didn’t translate into a lot of jobs in the civilian world, but when it came to being a police officer, my training gave me a leg up on the competition and I was able to get right into the mix,” said the father of two, who became a founding member of the Middletown Police Department in 2007, following a 17-year career with the Philadelphia Transit Police. “I think my military training has been an asset because that experience helps you to make the split-second decisions you have to make in this line of work.”

Schneider and Smith both got their start in the department as seasonal officers following military careers that included deployments overseas.

“I didn’t want to have a desk job because I like being in a position where you don’t know what’s going to happen next,” said Schneider, who spent four years in the Navy including a nine-month stretch on the ground in Afghanistan. “In the military, I served on a base with guys from Poland and France and guys from other branches of the military, which I think helped to give me a sense of camaraderie that’s similar to what we have in law enforcement. Anyone here would give whatever it takes for anyone else, regardless of jurisdiction.”

Smith, a Middletown High School graduate who served nine months in Iraq during his eight-year military career, said he was looking for an opportunity to serve his community just as he had served his country.

“It’s a challenge on both sides,” he said. “It takes a lot of courage to be a soldier, but there you have the best technology and a very specific job to do. In policing, there’s a lot more gray area and you deal more with individuals and trying to get the best out of them in whatever situation you’re given.”

While all three military-veterans-turned-police-officers said they appreciate being recognized for their service to their country and their communities, Saunders said it’s also important to acknowledge the thousands of servicemen and woman who have not been as fortunate.

“So many veterans today are homeless, handicapped and forgotten in so many ways,” he said. “That’s why I think it’s so important that people take a moment to give some praise to those who have served but maybe haven’t received all the credit they deserve.”