National Guard License Plate: A Free Tag, Not a Free Pass
By Tech Sgt Jack West, 134 ARW/PA
/ Published March 13, 2011
Knoxville, Tennessee --
Almost all of us have seen it happen. Maybe you've been one of those doing it. It doesn't really matter what day of the week it is, but it's most prevalent on the Saturdays and Sundays of drill. It could be on the Alcoa Highway, Chapman Highway, or any of the other multi-lane roads in the area.
There's a line of cars driving relatively close to the speed limit in the "slow lane," when a line of cars in " fast lane," some with National Guard license plates, go flying by as if they're on the German Autobahn.
Many members of the National Guard, no matter whether they're in the Army Guard or the Air Guard, seem to think they can speed because they have National Guard license plates. Even if they were to get pulled over, the perception is that the police officer won't give them a ticket just because they're in the military.
"It really is a two-edged sword," said 134 ARW Command Chief Master Sgt. Jimmy Long.
Chief Long should know. In his civilian job, he is the Assistant Chief Deputy for Operations for the Blount County Sheriff's Office.
"Police officers and deputy sheriffs appreciate the sacrifice our military members make, and they don't want to cost them any money or any inconvenience," said Long, "but we also have to weigh the public safety, and we want them to arrive alive. Would I say that there's an advantage [to having National Guard plates]? No, but I would say that the military member gets a little more consideration."
Chief Long's opinion as a military member is tied directly to his view as a law enforcement officer.
"As a military member myself, I would look at our military folks and say, 'set the right example.'"
Another member of the 134 ARW with intimate knowledge of law enforcement and speeding drivers is Tech. Sgt. Randy Huckeby. As a traditional National Guardsman, he serves as a chaplain assistant assigned to the Wing Staff taking care of religious needs and chapel issues. His civilian job is a completely different line of work. Most days you can find him riding a motorcycle or driving a patrol car and wearing the uniform of a sergeant for the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
"It really doesn't matter what type of tag you have, you've got to be safe no matter what," said Huckaby. "When it comes to speeding, we generally have the option to issue a citation or give a verbal warning or a written warning. I have cited people with National Guard tags."
Another fad that has gained popularity is putting a "thin blue line" sticker on the back of a vehicle. The stickers are comprised of a thin blue line bisecting a black rectangle. The sticker is generally thought to represent law enforcement personnel who traditionally wear blue uniforms and are the "thin line" between law abiding citizens and law breakers. Some motorists have taken to putting the sticker on their vehicles with the hope, much like some people with National Guard license plates, that police officers will either not stop them or be lenient if they do because they have that sticker on their vehicle.
Long had similar thoughts about these stickers as he does about the National Guard license plates.
"As a police officer, I've written police officers tickets," said Long. "I think we should never try to take advantage of something like that. If you're a police officer in another person's jurisdiction, you should try to set the example."
Huckeby said the state troopers are starting to look at the stickers from a different point of view.
"Anymore, a lot of troopers see that and they wonder what's really going on, because we have individuals that traffic drugs and do illegal things that put those on their vehicles thinking that we would avoid stopping that vehicle," said Huckeby. "It makes most troopers more suspicious."
No matter which license plates you have or what stickers you might have on your vehicle, Chief Long suggests National Guard members should be held to a higher standard.
"We have the responsibility to show our local communities who we are and what kind of people we are," said Long. "We need to raise the bar higher."