A job full of challenges and rewards
Rutherford County Trooper Jason Spence had no idea what he was jumping into when he joined the North Carolina Highway Patrol (NCHP) 25 years ago.
Initially stationed with the NCHP in Mecklenburg County, Spence transferred to Rutherford County where he has served for more than two decades.
"It seemed like an interesting job, a challenging job and I was drawn to the excitement of the job," Spence said. "As with a lot of things in life, you really don't gain an understanding of it until you really get into it."
No stranger to being praised for his commitment to the job, Spence was recently recognized as Trooper of the Year during the Region C Criminal Justice Advisory Committee's annual awards ceremony. The Region C committee is comprised of law enforcement agencies from Rutherford, Polk, Cleveland and McDowell counties, and recognizes officers who go above and beyond the call of duty.
"Certainly this award and recognition is indicative of Jason Spence. It's his day-t0-day ambassadorship that you see from him, both on and off duty," said First Sgt. J.C. McClelland, who presented the award to Spence. "It's not an award about writing tickets or doing things like that, it's about Jason's commitment each and every day toward his community and his involvement with the youth and programs like Relay for Life in our community."
And while Spence has received the District Trooper of the Year award on more than one occasion, his most recent recognition as Region C Trooper of the Year is perhaps most humbling.
"I've had an opportunity to receive things before, but this is a selection made by your peers. Everyone appreciates the recognition and admiration of your peers and when others bring notice to your achievements," Spence said. "All the troopers serving in Region C are worthy of having this recognition. It's a humbling experience and it is kind of a high point for me."
For Spence, the job of a trooper with the NCHP is often shrouded by misconceptions and full of challenges.
"From the outside looking in, there is a lot that is unseen by the outside world. There are a lot of misconceptions by the average person about what this job is and what it involves," Spence said. "This is not an eight-to-five, punch the clock type of job. The misconception that we get in the car and ride around all day, wear the hat, work a few wrecks and write a few tickets — it's not really like that. The dark part that you don't see is that the job takes you away from your family and there are times it can be emotionally straining."
During his career, Spence has encountered a myriad of emotional situations, from babies being born to officers being killed. He has had to investigate motor vehicle collisions where people sustained severe injuries or were killed, then having to be the person to deliver the news and console the family.
"I never realized just to what extent it would pull me physically, mentally or emotionally," Spence said. "We deal with situations that are not the best, and often see people when they are at their worst."
Despite the moments that prove to be challenging, Spence's job as a trooper is also very rewarding. Some of the most rewarding experiences for Spence have involved talking with people years after he had an encounter with them.
"Whether I was helping them or in service to them in some way, even in an enforcement situation, I've had people come up to me and say that our interaction had a positive influence on them and that it changed part of their life," Spence said. "Sometimes it is the most unassuming thing you do or say, and at that particular moment it was monumental for that person. That is a very proud moment, to feel like you've had a real positive effect on people."
And yet, the tasks Spence performs whether on or off duty, he does without expecting recognition.
"That's just the kind of person Jason is. It is absolutely a pleasure to be able to work with such a terrific person," McClelland said. "He is recognized as a peer leader among the other troopers, he brings a wealth of knowledge and experience and others really look up to him and respect him. He is a person of principle and a template for all things good."
For a career he never quite anticipated, Spence said his years with the NCHP have gone by quickly.
"It takes a lot to survive this job long-term and you have to have a lot of thick skin. There are some great responsibilities that come with the job, and over the long haul there are some rewarding things that come with this job," Spence said. "I have made a lot of wonderful friends because of the opportunity that I've had to serve in this aspect.
"The job has fit me, the job has challenged me and the job has rewarded me."