More than 6,700 miles separate Westport from the Sangin Valley in Helmand province in southwestern Afghanistan. But the scarlet and gold of the United States Marine Corps standard will now be displayed at Westport Police Department headquarters as a daily reminder of the service of one of its officers half a world away.
Police Officer Michael Ruttenber, a staff sergeant in the Marine Corps Reserve, on Wednesday presented the Marine Corps colors to Chief Dale Call on behalf of the Marines of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion, Bravo Company.
Ruttenber and Bravo Company were deployed to Afghanistan in May 2011 in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. During his tour in Afghanistan, Ruttenber and his unit carried out reconnaissance and security patrols throughout the Sangin Valley.
Ruttenber's company completed its deployment in Afghanistan and returned to the U.S. in December 2011.
While Ruttenber was serving in Afghanistan, Public Safety Officer Chris Proudfoot led Westport police officers in the collection of canned goods, snacks and personal hygiene items, which were mailed to Bravo Company.
"It was my idea to give it to the department as a thank you for everybody that donated and sent stuff overseas for us," said Ruttenber, who wore his Marine dress blue uniform for Wednesday's ceremony. "The reason the care packages were so big was just the day-to-day stuff -- lack of food and lack of water and lack of the easy comforts of home."
While deployed in the Sangin Valley, Ruttenber carried out a mission starkly different from his objectives as a Westport police officer.
"Everything over there isn't as cut-and-dried as it is over here," he said. "You're talking about an infrastructure over here that's non-existent over there. To draw comparisons between the two is difficult, if not impossible, because you're talking about two different worlds."
While stationed in the Sangin Valley, Ruttenber also worked with members of the Afghan National Army.
Ruttenber added that he counts patience as the skill he honed in the Sangin Valley that related most directly to his work as a police officer. He has been a Westport officer nearly three years.
Including Ruttenber, three Westport police officers are combat veterans, according to Call. Other officers also have military experience, including Proudfoot, a former Marine whose service included a deployment in southern Japan from 1986 to 1987.
"They come in with a sense of discipline that a lot of people don't have," Call said of the veterans in his department. "They also have a world view that many people don't have."
The Marine Corps colors presented by Ruttenber will hang in a frame at police headquarters at 50 Jesup Road, possibly in the department's second-floor classroom.
Inscribed on the standard are the signatures and call numbers of a number of the other Marines in Bravo Company who served with Ruttenber in the Sangin Valley.
A 1925 Marine Corps order designated gold and scarlet as the official colors of the U.S. Marine Corps. Those colors were incorporated officially into the Marine Corps standard in 1939, when a new design featuring the new colors was approved.
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