By ASHLEY FOX
Lake County Leader
James Pettit has made a full circle in his professional life.
Beginning his career in law enforcement as a teenager,the retired United States Air Force Sergeant is now working with law enforcement.
It’s his “desire to serve” that has landed Pettit at his newest endeavor as chaplain at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office.
Referring to each chapter in his career as callings, he said his transition to chaplain “was natural.”
As chaplain, Pettit said he does not proselytize or preach his own faith, which is of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
“God has allowed me to be on a mission to serve the officers… the dispatch… and the community at large as required,” Pettit said.
As chaplain, Pettit wants everyone to know he is here, ready to help them through whatever they may need.
One way he connects with deputies, Pettit said, is to go on ride alongs so officers can “vent” and learn what he’s about, as he is there to offer support.
That can include being called to a scene where moral support is needed, or listening to family members of law enforcement.
Pettit, 56, was born in Ronan and grew up on a family ranch in Dixon.
His knowledge of the area and his ancestry, which includes Chippewa, help him understand unique situations, he said.
The opportunity of chaplain presented itself after Pettit approached Lake County Sheriff Don Bell last year about the position.
Bell, Pettit said, had wanted to implement a chaplain program but “couldn’t find the right fit.”
Pettit started working during his teen years at the Ronan Police Department where he performed administrative and dispatch duties.
Following that, he joined the United States Air Force at 17, after his mother signed for him to enlist.
“I was destined to go into the military,” he said, adding that he enjoys the structure that comes with the lifestyle.
Ancestors in Pettit’s family can be traced as far back as the Revolutionary War, while others have taken part in other conflicts, he noted.
“I was destined, I always liked playing G.I. Joe and ‘army’ when I was a kid,” Pettit recalled.
While he was stationed in Italy, Pettit said he saw conflict stemming from the failed Iranian hostage attempt.
The base was “under attack” for two weeks, he explained, which he said was a time for him to learn skills that he can apply to his work as chaplain.
During that time, he said he developed empathy and sympathy, which he is able to apply to situations today.
One thing that has helped him through conflict, in turn becoming a shoulder to lean on is the fact he is “a person of faith.”
Pettit has spent “a lot of” his career as a professional firefighter while in the Air Force, as well as a rescueman and fire investigator, all of which he said were achieved from his “desire to serve.”
Since he has been in high-stress situations, he said he can help both officers and families as the situations calm down, noting he has 17 years experience providing in grief counseling.
Being called to scenes at any time of the day, Pettit said that he can stay with families to help them cope with a situation or keep them company while the officers go back to patrolling, answering calls.
Serving a strong listener helps gain trust from those he helps, he explained.
Going forward in 2018, Pettit said that educating the staff at LCSO on his services is on the agenda. “I am available, I am there; they just can give me a call and I’ll respond as quickly as I can.”
Working at the detention center, Pettit said he’s on hand to help with inmates but also with detention deputies who sometimes go entire shifts without seeing sunlight.
“These people work very hard, 12-hour shifts. The fact of it is they are in jail half their lives,” he explained.
Pettit said that LCSO is considering bringing volunteers into the chaplaincy to lead spiritual discussion for inmates, and possibly establish a 12-step program.
The program, he said, is Christ-based. Coupling that with his experience with assisting the facilitating of a weekly 12-step program would be another resource for people locally experiencing withdrawal from whatever they are addicted to.
“We’re up and running at full-speed” Pettit said, adding that people are starting to realize he is available.
“We are responding and we are out in the community.”