The streets of Camden are a far cry from the dusty, unpaved roads of Kabul and rural Afghanistan, and so are the lifestyles of the locals.

But in Camden Police Officer Pat Polky’s mind, humans are humans, and his job is to keep the peace. The tools and methodology may vary, but the goals are the same: Maintain a safe environment so the public can go about its business and communities may prosper.

After two tours of service in Afghanistan, he was glad to get home, and back at work with Camden Police Department.

Polky understands how veterans must cope with a transition between two different worlds, from the front line of conflict to quieter corners of the world, where political power struggles, for the most part, play out in town hall debates.

“You come back to every day living, and many things can seem so petty,” said the good-natured St. George native, who volunteers with that town’s fire department and is an emergency medical technician.

Polky, now 34, is a member of Maine’s Army National Guard. In 2006, he was called to Afghanistan with the 240th Engineering Group to help with infrastructure construction. A Georges Valley High School graduate, Polky had served in the U.S. Army and studied fire science at Southern Maine Community College before becoming a member of the Guard, where he received further training as a technical engineer, specifically surveying and soils analysis. He joined the Camden Police Department in 2003 and remained as an engineer with the Guard.

Camden Police Officers Allen Weaver Jr. and Jason Hall had also served with the 133rd Engineer Battalion in Iraq in 2003, and Polky continued the tradition, landing in Afghanistan with the 1136 Transportation Company, helping build roads and river crossings for special forces as part of Operation Mountain Fury.

That NATO-led operation was to clear the Taliban from eastern Afghanistan, and build schools and other public facilities. For Polky, projects included designing and building one of the longest Bailey Bridges, portable, prefabricated truss bridges that were originally designed for use in World War II. This particular bridge spanned the Helmand River.

“It is beautiful countryside,” said Polky. “I had the privilege of riding in a lot of helicopters. The landscape is so diverse, lush in some parts, and two ridges later, almost Egyptian-like, with sandstone mountainscapes, and carvings. Then there are the little remote villages. Every time you go there, you have interpreters. Their job is to take what I say and deliver what I mean to them.”

Culture is a two-way street, said Polky.

“Some soldiers tend to get very headstrong,” he said. “It is a complex and old culture.”

Understanding those cultural nuances, and respecting them, carried into Polky’s second tour, from March 2010 to March 2011.

That mission was to provide base and mobile security for classified bases, key military installations within Kabul. This mission provided Polky with on-the-ground leadership training. He was on call 24-7, a security manager responsible for seven teams of 89 men and women. He was also responsible for the safety of 750 contract personnel comprising the British, Filipinos and local Afghans.

The teams established safe passage leaving and arriving on base, and Polky’s job was to ensure they remained tactical, a quickly reactive force given the circumstances.

Polky has carried those leadership skills home, and having had experience as one of the front line leaders, he thinks more broadly now about how the wars — the Global War on Terror, with Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom — affect veterans.

He is concerned about the suicide and alcoholism rates, about how a soldier, or a flight medic or an engineer, adjusts from being in a world where violent death is a constant to a world where calm generally prevails, and little worries get amplified.

In survival situations, international relations are not on the mind of those in service.

“It’s not about country, it is about the woman or man next to you,” said Polky. “You are protecting the person next to you.”

He understands the difference between soldiers returning from World War II and the Vietnam War, and now. At the end of World War II, veterans came home to jobs and parades, lauded for saving the world from tyranny. After Vietnam, they came home to little or no appreciation, and were on their own.

Today, the veteran centers and the U.S. Veterans Administration are doing much better in providing services, said Polky; yet, what is missing are core community spots where veterans can gather and compare notes with each other. He intends to help that effort.

“It is up to us to organize, to take care of each other,” he said.

Maine’s part in the Global War on Terror

Since its first deployment in February 2003 when 135 National Guardsmen served as a part of the 112th Medical Company, Maine has deployed 1,992 soldiers in the Global War on Terror, in Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and in Afghanistan in Operation Enduring Freedom, and now Operation New Dawn. To Iraq, Maine has sent 1,450 men and women with the following units and task forces:

112th Medical Company, 135 personnel, February 2003
1136th Transportation Company, 145 personnel, April 2003
152nd Field Artillery Forward, 124 personnel, February 2004
133rd Engineer Battalion, 504 personnel, March 2004
152nd Maintenance Company, 190 personnel, April 2005
Task Force Saber, 7 personnel, June 2005
G-126th, 5 personnel, August 2005
Bravo Company, 172nd Infantry (SECFOR I), 170 personnel, March 2007
Detachment 1/169th MP Company, 37 personnel, September 2007
Charlie Company 1/126th Aviation Medical, 127 personnel, March 2008
OSACOM, 6 personnel, October 2008

For their service the 152nd Maintenance Company was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

For their service the 133rd Engineer Combat Battalion (Heavy) was awarded the Meritorious Unit Commendation.

To Afghanistan, Maine has sent 542 men and women with the following units and task forces:

E-120th Air Traffic Support, 15 personnel, July 2003
Afghan National Army Training Team, 11 personnel, November 2003
Afghan National Army Training Team II, 5 personnel, May 2005
240th Engineer Group, 82 personnel, May 2006
Embedded Training Team, 16 personnel, April 2008
Forward 39 Embedded Training Team +2, 2 personnel, April 2008
286th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 81 personnel, March 2009
Bravo Company 3/172nd Infantry Battalion, 157 personnel, February 2010
1136th Transportation Company (SECFOR), 173 personnel, April 2010