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Veterans an easy fit in first responder jobs

JJ Castro, Sam Stacks, Darrell O’Brien

LEFT: Burnet High School Resource Officer J.J. Castro began his career in the U.S. Coast Guard at 19 years old. CENTER: Spicewood Fire Chief Sam Stacks served 3½ years in the U.S. Navy. Photos by Grace Gates and Martelle Luedecke/Luedecke Photography RIGHT: Marble Falls Advanced Emergency Medical Technician Darrell O’Brien was an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army. Courtesy photo

At community events where first responders are present and the U.S. flag is raised, you’ll see many of the men and women working for fire, police, and other emergency services salute. That’s how you know they are military veterans. 

“Service members both past and current are allowed to salute in civilian clothes,” said Spicewood Fire Chief Sam Stacks, a U.S. Navy veteran. “When you see someone saluting, nine times out of 10, they are a veteran.” 

Once out of the military, many veterans feel called to continue their service, this time in the community as first responders, turning their military experience into a civilian career. 

While only 7 percent of the U.S. population has served in the military as of 2020, 19 percent of police officers are veterans, according to a research project conducted for The Marshall Project, a nonprofit journalism organization dedicated to criminal justice. It is the third most common occupation for veterans. 

Working as a firefighter is also a good fit, according to information on, which helps veterans train and find jobs after service. 

“The personal growth a young man or women experiences in the military is second to none,” according to “Men and women with military backgrounds are usually very mature, regardless of their age. They understand commitment and the need to work until the job is completed. They are used to working for long periods of time in less than ideal conditions.” 

Burnet High School Resource Officer J.J. Castro’s career in law enforcement started at the age of 19 when he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. He chose the the nation’s fifth branch of the military because of its law enforcement mission. 

“Doesn’t matter what job you do in the Coast Guard, your primary mission is law enforcement,” he said. “I knew that’s where I had my interest.”

After eight years of service, Castro followed his calling to help others, returning to Texas where he taught in both the police academy and high school. Through these experiences, Castro said he learned about the importance of perspective and that the true purpose of law enforcement is giving people the opportunity to do the right thing.

“I’ve been a public servant for most of my adult life,” he said when asked to reflect on his life’s achievements. “I don’t regret it. We’ve been through ups and downs with it just like any other thing; it’s normal. It’s allowed me to gain experience and education, knowledge, and a skillset that not everybody can say they’ve had, so I think I’ve been very blessed.” 

Marble Falls Advanced Emergency Medical Technician Darrell O’Brien grew up in a family with a rich military history, the men having served in one branch or another. Raised with a sense of duty, he began his military path with the Junior ROTC in middle school. 

While serving in the Army as an intelligence analyst, his additional training included IV training, combat lifesaver courses, and active live tissue exercises. 

“The reason we were doing this training was to help on-the-ground medics while we were deployed,” he said. “Buddy care and self-care are important in the event that you don’t have a medic available. It opened my eyes to the medical field.” 

The rigors of military training are similar to EMT training, he said. His Army experience helped prepare him to always be “ready to go,” which proved true as this interview was cut short when he was called out to an emergency. 

Stacks, a Marble Falls Fire Rescue captain and chief of the Spicewood department, served in the Navy for 3½ years. While on ship, he said he enjoyed being part of the emergency response team. He didn’t want to give up that passion when he returned to civilian life in Burnet County. 

Stacks began his civilian career in Horseshoe Bay. He worked his way up the ranks at Marble Falls Fire Rescue and eventually became chief in Spicewood. 

“I’ve always just been a person who enjoys serving others,” Stacks said.

This article was written by contributor Martelle Luedecke.