SHERIDAN — Vigilance is what kept him alive — his own and that of his brothers in arms.
Clint Salyards said he’s happy to be included among the numbers of great men and women who have worked to protect their country; but he doesn’t think his story compares to those who have given their blood, their bodies or their lives.
“There’s probably a lot more people who are more exciting, or more enjoyable, to talk to,” Salyards said.
As an engineer in the National Guard, Salyards said, he wasn’t on patrol every day. He was busy working to keep the military moving, often without taking any direct military action.
His unit deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004 shortly after U.S. troops took the city. He stood with other men from Sheridan, ready to defend their country.
“We were there through April 2005, somewhere in that area,” Salyards said.
The year he spent in Iraq was a year away from work at the Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office, where he had been employed since 2000.
“They kept my position; they hired someone to fill in, but ultimately when I got back my position was open and ready,” he said.
Even while he was in Iraq, the SCSO continued to pay into Salyards’ retirement fund.
“They’re really good people, which is why I stay there,” he said. “It’s been almost 15 years now.”
But for one of those years, he was in a foreign country, fighting alongside his fellow Americans.
“Multiple times, from our first night in country, we had mortars come in and land in our tent compound where we were staying,” Salyards said. “Luckily, some of them were flares that didn’t go off and some of them were ordinance that didn’t go off.”
While he often maintained a distance from the front line, mortar fire followed him while he was in Iraq.
“There was one instance when we were in the Tomahawk building, we called it, in the green zone,” Salyards said. “Mortars came in and damaged a lot of our vehicles; some of the tires, what not, nothing serious. Luckily, no one was around.”
When Salyards returned to work after he finished his tour in 2005, his coworkers noticed something.
“When I first got back, a lot of the people I work with could see a change, especially one of the older guys,” Salyards said. “He pulled me aside and told me ‘It’s nice to see you’ve grown up and you matured.’ He actually enjoyed working with me now.”
When he left for Iraq in 2004, Salyards would have considered himself among the class clowns. Always trying to make a joke, or just generally being a bit immature.
In his mind, that attitude had kept him from advancing from working in the county jail to a higher position.
“I had applied for a deputy position before, but just within a year of getting back I applied again and got the job,” he said. “I think it was obvious, my actions and the way and how I did everything showed through.”
He thought that showed he was ready for more responsibility.
Reflecting, Salyards said his military life changed him.
“It makes you grow up, when you’ve never experienced anything but Sheridan, Wyoming, in your life,” he said.
But despite the changes, Salyards still spoke in awe of his comrades.
Among those he talked about was a unit that was traversing Baghdad every day, always prepared for the worst.
“We had a squad on the road every day, going to BIAP (Baghdad International Airport),” he said. “They made runs everywhere, they were always doing something.”
As often as not, they escorted Salyards across Baghdad.
In Salyards’ mind, it was a matter of awareness that kept him and the majority of his close compatriots safe.
“Call it vigilance, I don’t know, but we performed well,” he said. “And when we did go out, or when the rest of the company went out, we maintained our safety. We didn’t run into some of the issues, a lot of the stories you hear over there. We got lucky.”
Now Salyards works various jobs with the SCSO, but one that he said he enjoys is working at the local schools.
“I work as a resource officer in the school, so I do all the sporting events,” Salyards said.
He’s studying sociology and psychology at Sheridan College because he enjoys helping people. So if the time comes that he wants to help in a way other than law enforcement, he can. He said education is something he may be interested in, but it’s a determination for later in life.
Or, he said it’s possible he may stay with the SCSO until he retires.