GREENSBORO, N.C. — Officer Caroline Willingham with the Greensboro Police Department is back after leaving the Greensboro Police Academy to join her Air National Guard unit stationed in southwest Asia.
“Essentially military police. We don’t do any law enforcement overseas. We do a lot of grunt style work. It’s an experience,” Willingham said.
She was almost done with her tour when the pandemic hit.
“It came down to the last 30 days,” Willingham said. “We were there, and they told us our replacements weren’t even mobilized yet.”
The military put a freeze on deployments, and Willingham had to stay in southwest Asia for two additional months.
“I wouldn’t say it came as a surprise, but it came as a gut punch because you are looking forward to seeing your family. It didn’t happen,” Willingham said.
She ended up being away from her family for eight months. But they were never far from her heart.
While a jet was on a combat mission, it flew the flag. A flag Officer Willingham presented to her extended family when she returned statewide.
“So I thought about my family back here: the police department,” Willingham said. “I wanted to dedicate it to the Greensboro Police Department for being my second family and being there for me.”
On her right arm, there’s a reminder of family. It’s a tattoo that represents the person she wanted to be like, her older brother.
“He served with Greensboro and went on to Winston-Salem. He was killed July 30, 2011. That’s where a lot of my passion for law enforcement comes from, my brother,” Willingham said.
Winston-Salem Police Officer Russell Willingham, Jr. died almost 10 years ago while responding to another officer’s call for help.
A younger Caroline Willingham wrote about her brother’s dedication to service at his funeral. It’s that same love of the job and commitment to service she wants to bring to Greensboro.
“Service is something that was bred into my childhood and something that I learned coming from a Christian background: that you should put others before yourself,” Willingham said.
She will officially rejoin the Greensboro Police Department in early October.