TRiO veteran shares his story



Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta poses for photos at the Pentagon in Washington D.C. June 26, 2012. DoD photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo
Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta presenting James S. Lewis with award at Pentagon. Photo by Erin A. Kirk-Cuomo

What would it be like protecting the Secretary of Defense of the United States? COD student James S. Lewis would know. Lewis was attached to Secretary Leon E. Panetta’s security detail while Panetta was the executive officer of the Department of Defense from 2011, to 2013.

Lewis started out in 1997, with the U.S. Army as a medic. He then transitioned into the Army’s criminal investigation command, also known as the “Department of Defense’s Secret Service.” This department handles felony investigations that are associated with the Army, as well as protection of the top seven members of the Department of Defense, plus their foreign counterparts. For example, if a minister of defense from a foreign country was visiting the United States, the Department of Defense would be held responsible for their safety.

Lewis worked different cases. In 2006, he was asked to do investigations at the Pentagon as a part of a global task force. His hard work was recognized when he was asked to join the Department of Defense’s “protective side.” He started out working with the former Chief of Staff of the Army (CSA), George Casey. Lewis protected Secretary Panetta for four years until Lewis retired.

Lewis also recalled working around Hilary Clinton. “I’m not really enthusiastic about either of our choices [candidates],” said Lewis, explaining how he felt about the 2016 election.

One event Lewis will never forget while protecting Secretary Panetta is a situation when landing in Afghanistan. The passengers felt jolts from the plane coming to a fast stop. Lewis asked the pilots what was going on, and they explained that a car appeared on the runway, where their plane was scheduled to land. The vehicle then exploded. The driver, on fire, fled the car that was now on fire, and was subsequently taken down by military dogs. He described this scenario as, “just one of those things that happen,” and luckily, timing was on their side.

Lewis has had the opportunity to travel the globe. He has been in 27 countries, from Singapore to Egypt.  He has spent more time in Egypt than any other place in the world and has gotten first-hand experience with other cultures. “The people in the Middle East are the most gracious people you will ever meet in your life. I’ve had a great time and made very great friends,” said Lewis.

Although he is retired, his passion for helping people has created an unforgettable journey. He is now a health science major at COD and would like to become either a nurse or physician’s assistant. His love for assisting people has become a lifestyle.


In this photo provided by ISAF Regional Command (South), U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates arrives in the village of Tabin, Tuesday, March 8, 2011, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. (Photo/ U.S. Navy Ensign . Haraz N. Ghanbari)
James escorting U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates while arriving in the village of Tabin in Afghanistan. (Photo/ U.S. Navy Ensign . Haraz N. Ghanbari)

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