Now, what he learned in Iraq, said Mike Bixler, will be put to use back home.
That ability to put his skills to work no matter where he is earned Bixler recognition by his boss, Sheriff Terry Stevens, and by the military which recently presented Bixler with a Meritorious Service Medal.
Along with the medal, Bixler, a member of the 1140th Engineering Battalion, received a commendation noting he volunteered to work directly with the Iraqi highway patrol, teaching them advanced law enforcement techniques such as stopping persons and vehicles. "The relationship brought confidence to a then failing Iraqi police station and built credibility toward them with local populace," the commendation stated.
Also it noted through intelligence gathered through a cooperative effort, the military was "able to identify possible enemy hideouts along platoon patrol routes, which resulted in 51 residences searched, 63 weapons confiscated and 71 suspected criminals arrested."
"I'm real proud him," said Stevens. "He well represented our department, our county and our country."
A road deputy who also serves as an investigator and evidence technician for the sheriff's department, Bixler was described by Stevens as a dedicated and meticulous officer. Stevens said Bixler's military background is obvious in his work.
"He takes the training and knowledge that he has gleaned in the military and applies it to his work as a deputy sheriff. He is very thorough and has an inquisitive mind which is key to doing investigative work," said Stevens.
Serving as an E-5 sergeant and team leader, Bixler was activated along with other members of the 1140th Engineering Battalion in January 2004, returning to civilian life in February of this year. While the battalion's basic operations are as combat engineers, Bixler said he and Sikeston Department of Public Safety Officer Dan Armour volunteered to assist the Iraqi highway patrol which was just forming.
The Missouri Guardsmen became familiar with the station and its commander, Major Ali, during their patrols in the area.
"We aren't going to be here forever," Bixler said about the American soldiers serving in Iraq. "At one point in time or other the military will be pulled out and they will have to do it on their own. The one thing the insurgents are targeting besides the military is the police so we figured if we can give them a little extra training it might help."
Bixler and Armour worked on vehicle stop techniques and how to handle multiple people during a stop. ("Very seldom do you find just one person riding in a vehicle over there, normally there are three to eight people. They believe in really packing them in there," Bixler observed).
The Americans developed scenarios for the Iraqi patrolmen to work through including how to deal with distractions during a stop.
"They had some basic knowledge, we wanted to fine tun
e that a little. When we first started out they were pretty rough around the edges but the longer we worked with them, they became better," said Bixler. He added the local highway patrol station became a model station for others in Iraq and the Guardsmen encouraged the Iraqis to share their skills with others.
Also the Guard assisted the local station by refortifying their building and obtaining a generator for power.
Bixler said he learned Iraqis as well, including there are a lot of places to hide contraband in vehicles.
Looking back on the experience, Bixler, who has been a member of the National Guard since 2001 and a sheriff's deputy since 1995, said the year in Iraq has left him with good and bad memories and hope for the future.
"It is going to take time over there. This (the change to democracy) is not something that is going to be done overnight but eventually they will get where we can leave and it will be up to the Iraqis to take care of themselves. I believe they can."