Sgt. Windham retiring as son joins patrol Going out & coming in
By MICHELLE FRIEDRICH
Less than a week after donning his uniform to hand his youngest son his diploma for graduating from the Missouri State Highway Patrol's Law Enforcement Academy, Don Windham is retiring today, ending a nearly 30-year career with the patrol.
"I just decided I was ready" to retire, said Windham, who admits he pushed back his retirement date until his son, Ryan, could graduate from the patrol's 25-week academy.
The elder Windham, a sergeant assigned to Troop E's Division of Drug and Crime Control, described himself as being "emotional and proud" as he watched his son approach the stage to receive his diploma.
Having his dad make the presentation was "really cool, kind of surreal," said Ryan Windham, who was among 26 graduating troopers Friday.
The younger Windham indicated the six months spent in the patrol's academy had been "pretty tough ... it was awesome for my dad to hand me my diploma in uniform."
Friday was only the second time in the 25 years since the elder Windham left the road that he put on his uniform.
"It had been so long since he had worn his uniform," the joke was "I thought it was the one (uniform) that was older than I was," said Ryan Windham.
When Trooper Windham puts his own uniform on and reports for duty on July 11, he will be assigned to Scott, Mississippi and New Madrid counties; however, he will no longer be identified as badge No. 1453.
"Next week, I'll be getting his badge number (899) as well," the trooper said.
As the original holder of badge No. 899, the elder Windham reported to the academy in August 1986, and upon graduating, his first assignment was at Fort Leonard Wood at Waynesville, Mo.
After working the road there for three years, Sgt. Windham said, he transferred to Dexter, Mo., where he patrolled the roads of Stoddard County about 18 months.
It was then "I moved to the criminal investigation unit of the highway patrol, and I've been there ever since (for) 25 years," Sgt. Windham said. "... I loved that type of (investigative) work," something he has seen "plenty of working 13 counties."
The majority of Sgt. Windham's time, he said, has been spent processing crime scenes, including homicides throughout Southeast Missouri.
Sgt. Windham said he also has been involved with the execution of search warrants on vehicles and residences, interviews and other "special investigations" during his career.
Covering the 13 counties in Troop E, Sgt. Windham said, has given him the chance to meet a lot of officers with police and sheriff's departments throughout Southeast Missouri, especially while working on major case squad cases. Investigations, over the years, he said, also have included working with federal agents.
"I get to see and work with different departments/officers all over Southeast Missouri instead of one county," he said.
Sgt. Windham said when his youngest son decided to follow in his footsteps, he was both excited and nervous.
"I don't know how to say (it); I know the good times we have in working" and the "rewards that come from that," but "I also know the bad things that go on."
Trooper Windham said he had no desire to join the patrol until the beginning of his sophomore year in college.
"My parents told me to get my degree," said Trooper Windham, who also was told to see what his likes were before he made a decision.
Knowing what his dad's job was, it was "ride alongs with the local troopers" that solidified his decision, Trooper Windham said. "I fell in love with the work."
The younger Windham said he likes the fact troopers never do the same thing twice, as well as the interaction they have with people from "all walks of life."
As he prepares to start his patrol career, "it's nice to have him to talk to, get advice from ... to have a mentor like him living in the same house," said Ryan Windham, who indicated his dad always has been supportive and helped him in any way he could.
"(Troop E) is the first area he worked in a lot; he knows the city, county and state officers (which) will help me out a lot," Trooper Windham said. "I don't want to rely on my last name, but it also will be helpful.
"He paved the way for me, and that's nice."
When Sgt. Windham was asked what words of wisdom he had passed on to his son, it was the younger Windham who answered.
"He told me to be fair, work hard, don't get caught up in the politics and always be professional, but especially when you're in uniform" as you then are a representative of the highway patrol, Ryan Windham said.
"(The patrol is) bigger than me and him; it's bigger than father and son; it's bigger than all of us," the younger Windham said.
The wisdom, he said, came "in spurts. He does it when he doesn't think I'm listening."
While there were differences at the academies the Windhams attended and graduated from, there also were many similarities, including the patrol's core values -- integrity, responsibility, respect, professionalism, compassion, resourcefulness, character and commitment.
Trooper Windham said he'll be striving to follow each of those values on every traffic stop and interaction he has with the public.
As officers, he said, they don't see the public on their best day; it usually is their "worst day. We're there to help people out, not ruin their day.
"We're there for them."
As the Windhams look to the future, Trooper Windham said, he is "looking forward to talking about the job, and he's looking forward to not saying a word about it" after his retirement.
Trooper Windham doesn't know where his patrol career may someday lead him, but for now he's looking forward to his road duties.
"I've seen the good and bad of his job, the late nights, the callouts," Ryan Windham said.
While criminal investigations are an interesting aspect, there are "many avenues" one can take with the patrol, he said.
"I want to dabble a little bit in everything and see where it leads me," the trooper said.
"I would just like him to focus on doing a good job," Sgt. Windham said.
On traffic stops, he said, he hopes his son will be professional and kind to whoever he is dealing with.
Sgt. Windham said he wants his son to have a "successful and rewarding career.
"I want him to be happy with whatever he does. I know there will be tough days for him. I hope there's not many of those."
The Windhams were among about 15 father-son pairs in the patrol, including about eight or nine sets, which were "in my (recruit) class," said Sgt. Windham, who indicated some his classmates included the patrol's colonel, one of its majors and three of its sergeants.
Another pair is Sgt. Greg Morgan with Troop E and his son, Corey, who also graduated Friday and will be assigned to Carter and Reynolds counties in Troop G.
The fathers and sons, Ryan Windham said, gathered for a meal earlier this year.
"It was pretty cool to see the others sharing the same experiences and things" as they had, said Ryan Windham, who indicated the patrol "practices what it preaches" ... family is important.