Story By Hannah Goldfinger
Photos By Robert Noles
Lee County welcomed 24 foreign military personnel in August to learn more about America.
The men from South America toured the Lee County Sheriff’s Office and the Southern Union State Community College’s Robotics Program on Aug. 28.
As part of the sheriff’s office tour, the men were able to view the majority of the jail facility and watch a K-9 unit demonstration.
During the K-9 demonstration, deputies demonstrated how the dogs can both detect bombs/explosives and drugs, as well as apprehend a suspect/prisoner.
Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones welcomed the men to the county and the country.
“Bueno Mañana,” he said.
The men laughed when Jones explained that that was all the Spanish he knew.
“We’re pleased to have you here,” he said. “We’d like to be able to share our operations and our technology and kind of show off, if we may, what we can do as far as our services to the public.
“We hope you have a great visit and any questions that you have, we would really prefer, please let us know, we’d be happy to answer them. We hope you enjoyed the detention center tour.”
Jones then joked that they always perform a head count to make sure nobody got left behind.
Following the K-9 demonstration, the men were able to view a sheriff’s office vehicle and pose for photos with deputies.
“As a token of our appreciation and friendship, we have a challenge coin for each one of you,” Jones said.
The coin has the Lee County Sheriff’s Office seal on one side and the motto on the other: duty, honor, professionalism.
The group then headed to Southern Union State Community College. SUSCC President Todd Shackett was there to welcome the military guys.
“I always appreciate any awareness we can provide,” Shackett said. “… I think the fact that we are very military friendly [is why the group visited].”
Local Judge Ben Hand is the organizer of the program.
“In 2004, I was appointed by Donald Rumsfeld, who was the Department of Defense secretary, as an oversight committee for this group, WHISEC, which is the Western Hemisphere Institute For Security Corporation,” Hand said. “It’s at Fort Moore. And what they do is train international students in national military. These are all military guys, in other countries, Central America, South America and the Caribbean. And sometimes they have some from Canada but it’s a Spanish-speaking course.”
The course is designed to see how civilian life takes place in America.
“They want to give them the full American experience, so they can take back ideas,” Hand said. “And if we have better ideas, use them.”
The groups come in pretty regularly. There were two in the month of August, alone.
Sometimes they will tour the Opelika Police Department instead of the Sheriff’s Office.
Since the program is based out of Fort Moore, it is unique to this area, Hand said.
“We’ll never see the rewards of what we’re doing here but hopefully, some American citizen who is in a foreign country and needs help will come upon one of these guys and they’ll go ‘Hey, your folks were very nice, I’m going to help you out,’” Hand said. “So hopefully, we’re kind of paying it forward.”