"I'm born and raised in Lufkin, Texas. This is home to me," said a smiling Albert Witliff. He was meeting with international business students at Stephen F. Austin State University. He roamed the department as a child where his mother teaches.
So now at 32 years of age, what did Witliff grow up to be? "I'm a Special Agent with the Department of State's Diplomatic Security Service. We provide security services for the Secretary of State and any visiting diplomats."
Impressionable international business students may like that job, but none will seek it for Witliff's reasons. Witliff recalled, "On September 11, 2001 I was in my office in the Pentagon and these fellas decided they were going to smack an airplane into my work."
The attack became personal. Witliff got a job with the DSS and volunteered for a one year tour in Iraq, a position that would put him on the front line. More than 8 months of training prepared Witliff for security threats, counterintelligence and criminal investigations in the area. Three piece suits were replaced with body armor. "You're in armored Suburbans all the time. All the protection specialists got to be in full body armor and rifles and you're at a very high level of alertness. It's a different kind of threat. It's the roadside bombs and car bombs. It's a guy with a vest on that he's willing to sacrifice himself and very hard to stop any of those."
And why would this son, husband and father of a one year old boy take such a risky job. Witliff explained, "I'm teaching foreign governments the American protective serves. The idea a police officer is there to help, not be a thug, a danger or threat." Witliff also believes in diplomacy, something never practiced by terrorists.
Witliff is pleased to be a part of change. "When I first arrived it was a right after one of the elections that happened. That election was very chaotic. A lot of destruction. A lot of efforts on the part of the insurgents to keep people from voting. And just last month, October 15 was the referendum on the constitution. Nothing happened."
But Witliff knows change is a slow process. "It is by no means all the way on its feet, but it is getting better as we go. I have been able to see a marked difference in the time I've been there. Witliff will soon return to Iraq. Once his tour is completed he'll be back in Texas for two years. After that, his assignment could be anywhere in the world.