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Capitol Police Officers Reflect on Military Experience

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Capitol Police Officers Carmen Portorreal and John Cheatham, both have military experience.

Portorreal’s foray into military service differed from Cheatham’s. Arriving in the United States from the Dominican Republic in 1984, she entered basic training in 1998. Like Cheatham, she saw opportunities in the Army, and her father served as a role model with his time in the Dominican Republic military.

Similar Lessons

Portorreal’s seven years of service led her to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement, a path she said she hadn’t necessarily seen for herself before the military.

But when asked whether she would re-enlist, she said no. She was tired of moving around so much; when she finally settled into a house in the D.C. area, she said it took her years to finally buy furniture.

She’s happy with her job and the unique nature of the work: She speaks Spanish with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and got to staff the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., this year.

Plus, she said — and Cheatham agreed — that the military has changed since they both signed up, with superiors now becoming more lenient and subordinates expecting more compassion.

“The Army’s gotten soft,” Portorreal said, “catering too much to people’s needs. ... You always have to say ‘please’ now, and in real life, you don’t have time for that.”

“It’s been watered-down,” Cheatham agreed, adding that the rigor of his military training helped him “from the standpoint of my own discipline.”

They’re glad for what the military’s culture was able to do for them, though, personally as well as professionally.

For one thing, it has given them an edge in the workplace.

“Teaching soldiers, leading classes, I’ve done those things,” Cheatham said of how he could leverage himself if he one day sought a promotion with the Capitol Police.

“We look at the big picture,” Portorreal added, giving inauguration planning as an example of where that skill could come in handy.

The shared experience of military service binds them to their fellow veterans on the force, adding another dimension of camaraderie to what already might exist just by virtue of the field.

“We do stick together,” Portorreal said. “It’s fun. We talk about the good old times, the training.”

“The blisters,” Cheatham joked.

“Those nasty MREs?” Portorreal countered, referring to the less-than-gourmet Meals Ready to Eat that are par for the course on military bases.

“I liked the peanut butter!” Cheatham objected.

“The lemon pound cake was OK,” Portorreal conceded.

After a moment’s thought, she added, “The coffee was horrible.”

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