As we recently celebrated police week, we decided to reach out to our law enforcement officers to get a glimpse of their careers and time in the service. This week, I met with Capt. Bruce Dixon, a retired master sergeant who currently serves as the in-service training coordinator for the Onslow County Sheriff’s office. Dixon served in the Marine Corps for 24 years and retired in 2004 out of Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.
“I spent the majority of my career within the law enforcement community,” said Dixon. “I focused my training toward the SWAT side, in the Marine Corps they call it special reaction teams. I went into that in the early 80s and pretty much stayed in the SRT field up to retirement.”
During the last year of Dixon’s first enlistment, he served in Beirut, Lebanon. His unit was sent to Lebanon to relieve Battalion Landing Team 3/6 after the 1983 barracks bombing that killed 241 service members.
“I served in a multi peacekeeping operation in Beirut, Lebanon in early 83-84,” said Dixon. “I was very young. I was a corporal — maybe 19 or 20 (years old). I was in the USS Ponce (LPD-15). We had gone after the bombing, at the time we were with (MEU Service Support Group 26). We conducted the evacuation and pulled out of Lebanon altogether.”
Dixon described his experience in Lebanon as a confusing time for a young Marine.
“The Israelis were in Lebanon at the time, the Lebanese army was running around, the militia was up in the hills and the terrorist group at the time was running around there as well,” said Dixon. “It was a strange place for a young, naïve 20- year-old.”
According to Dixon, he was assigned to conduct security missions and escorting dignitaries.
“Most of the time was spent aboard ship,” said Dixon. “Occasionally we’d have a security mission where we would fly with a dignitary of some type into the University of Beirut compound or in the vicinity and provide a security detail flying in and out.”
Dixon recalls the innocent excitement of his 20-year-old self as he sent handwritten letters home via free mail.
“I was so proud of the fact that we got free mail,” said Dixon. “I thought the U.S. government thought highly of us since we didn’t have to put a stamp.”
As Dixon shared some of his memories, I was particularly captivated by one of a group of young Marines on a helicopter who sat on their steel pot helmets.
“We’d sit on our helmets…,” said Dixon. “We believed that if we received small-arms fire from the ground, that our helmet would at least stop the round … it was John Wayne-era ‘put on your chinstrap’ silly stuff.”
The camaraderie shared by Marines is like no other. It’s a bond that goes beyond time and boundaries and from one generation to the other. According to Dixon, it is what keeps these brave service members positive in the face of adversity, regardless of the time and place.
“Every foxhole in every war, since the concept of the Marine Corps… it came down to you and your battle buddy,” said Dixon. “It was the camaraderie. I don’t think that’s ever changed. There are those who you never forget. To this day I can still name my drill instructors.”
Dixon’s father was a 30-year Marine veteran who served in the Korean War.
“He firmly believed that you were obligated to serve in that era of our society. He said I had to do at least one tour,” said Dixon. “I did a tour and found out I really loved it and decided to stay.”
Dixon credits his father for instilling the Marine Corps discipline and tough love that served him as the foundation for his career.
“It was instant willingness and obedience to all orders,” said Dixon. “There was a lot of love in the house, absolutely a lot of love. I think he did it right and I think he prepared me for the future — to be successful.”
As we spoke about boot camp and his experiences from civilian life to Marine, Dixon shared a few words that stuck with me about becoming a Marine.
“It was a transformation from civilian boyhood to Marine manhood,” said Dixon. “It was just something I think everybody needs to experience, and I had the pleasure of experiencing it.”
Dixon also served during the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom I. He was stationed at Camp Fox with 2nd Military Police Battalion. According to Dixon, their mission was to provide security for the main service roads, moving forces and providing security overwatch for the convoys traveling those roads.
“When the war started, MSR Tampa was the main road we dealt with coming out of Kuwait and leading into Iraq,” said Dixon as he emphasized that the young Marines fought the war. “I was a master sergeant at the time. I was in my 40s; I was retiring just a year afterward. It was absolutely the lance corporals’ war — it was fought by lance corporals, corporals, privates and sergeants. The rest of us were just observing our troops and they did an absolutely wonderful job. Just watching those 18 to 23-year-old kids handle that environment. I was just amazed, in absolutely awe of our youth. Their resiliency to go from that sheer terror, back to joking and playing pranks on each other. Their resilience and their strength are just amazing.”
As Dixon reiterated his appreciation for our young troops, he spoke about the new generations of millennials who serve. He talked about their courage and strength.
“Today’s wars are fought by that generation,” said Dixon. “You have to give them credit.”
Dixon’s first duty station was Camp Lejeune. He recalls patrolling Court Street in the early 70s.
“I got to work with the civilian law enforcement fairly quickly,” said Dixon. “I worked town patrol here on Court Street; it was wild in its day. It has changed a lot.”
For Dixon, transitioning from the military lifestyle to civilian law enforcement was a smooth transition.
“It’s just an easy transition,” said Dixon. “Veterans make the best cops in my opinion. They know how to do it — it’s just giving them the tools to get the job done.”
As the in-service training coordinator, Dixon is responsible for ensuring each law enforcement officer receives the required training mandated by the state of North Carolina.
“I am in charge of professional training and standards. We have roughly 140 sworn law enforcement officers here at the sheriff’s office,” said Dixon. “I ensure each officer attends the training or I present that training to them to make sure they meet the requirements to stay certified in the state.”
Dixon’s advice for active-duty Marines is to stay in the service, to focus on their education and to build on obtaining a second career.
“If you are retiring in the neighborhood of age 40, life is fine after retirement. You are still young, you can still do another 20 years in a second career,” said Dixon. “There is absolutely no reason why you can’t have two careers; two incomes.”
Dixon is grateful for the educational opportunities and the skills he learned while serving in the Marine Corps.
“It’s all about time management. The Marine Corps teaches you time management — it instills that in you,” said Dixon. “I was just a two-year-degree kid. I was working with enlisted folks, some of my peers were working on their master’s and their doctorates. The Marine Corps in a sense helped pay for their future — walking out of the Marine Corps with a master’s degree or a doctorate is really remarkable.”
For Dixon, one of the most rewarding experiences because of his service was the camaraderie shared among veterans and people in the community.
“I retired here because I absolutely love this community,” said Dixon. “To have that military connection and to have that civilian community that supports and loves the military, it is just wonderful.”
Dixon served as a drill instructor from 1987 to 1989, two decades later he found himself receiving invitations to retirement ceremonies from his recruits.
“I started receiving invites to Marine retirements,” said Dixon. “So, I am looking at the invitation and looking at the name, and I am scratching my head trying to figure out what is going on and it was the recruits. To be remembered 20 years later ... that was just fantastic.”
Dixon also provides law enforcement training at the Law Enforcement Citizens Academy, which is one of the many community involvement and education programs the sheriff’s office supports. And it is aimed at giving participants a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of our local law enforcement and their efforts to eliminate crime.
“We do that twice a year. We invite the citizenry of our community to come in and spend one day a week with us for 10 weeks and we cover everything that the Onslow County sheriff’s office does for the community through law enforcement, civil processing and the detention center,” said Dixon. “We’ll start our next one in September. It’s been a fantastic bridge between us and the community. We love it when our veterans come through.”