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Frisco STYLE Magazine

A Call to Service

Dec 01, 2015 ● By Scott Dillingham

Tom and Teresa Presley grew up in military families, so the concept of service started early and has continued a lifetime, or two lifetimes, as their case may be. The Presleys are both retired Air Force veterans. Mr. Presley, after 21 years, retired as master sergeant in April of 2001. In September of 2001, Mrs. Presley retired as a senior master sergeant after serving more than 21 years. Their stories of distinguished service each deserve recognition.

Mr. Presley was born in Germany during his father’s military assignment there as a tank commander with the 3rd Armored Division, and later an Army Criminal Investigator (CID). Later, while living in El Paso, Mr. Presley joined the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Law Enforcement Explorer program at the age of 16. These experiences prompted his goal of becoming a policeman, but Mr. Presley did not want to wait until the minimum age of 21. With his parents’ approval (required), he joined the Air Force at the young age of 17 and served four years in the Air Force Security Police as a law enforcement specialist. In 1984, while stationed at Clark Air Base in the Philippines, he was encouraged to apply for a new position. After a 10-month selection process, where only one percent of applicants are chosen, he became a Special Agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI). For the next 17 years, most of his OSI work involved national security matters. He conducted offensive and defensive counter intelligence operations and investigated felony-level crimes. He was often deployed around the world on short notice and worked many serious and dangerous cases undercover.

Mr. Presley described his time in the Air Force as, “the best 21 years of my professional life. It caused me to grow up fast and mature into a responsible person from the 17-year-old kid who first enlisted. In the military, you are a lot more accountable for your actions and the decisions you make.” He added, “By the age of 25, I had traveled and experienced things most people never have the chance to do. That said, my extensive foreign travel always reminded me how great the United States is and the many things we have to be thankful for.”

In the lead up to the Gulf War, Mr. Presley volunteered to deploy to Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. As fate would have it, Mrs. Presley was on the same plane en route to her assignment with the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly, they never crossed paths on the long flight there. Once in Saudi Arabia, it was a different story. The JAG and OSI teams worked closely together, so during a Fourth of July OSI off-duty gathering, the couple first met while on a three-day weekend in Riyadh. Mr. Presley took an immediate interest in her, and when he was offered an undercover assignment in Riyadh, he jumped at the chance.

As the daughter of an Air Force airman, Mrs. Presley was born in Tripoli, Libya, and later enlisted in the Air Force while her family was stationed in Guam. While living in a foreign land was just normal military life, deployment to Saudi Arabia presented a unique set of challenges, given the strict cultural guidelines for women. Mrs. Presley drew a lot of attention while accompanying a JAG officer for a visit to the Royal Saudi Air Force headquarters to discuss legal matters with various intelligence and OSI staff related to Gulf War activities. Being in uniform drew a lot of attention. She later learned she was only the second woman ever to have been inside this highly sensitive and secure facility, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher being the first.

Women in Saudi Arabia were prohibited from driving cars and relied on their male service members to get around. Mr. Presley jumped at the chance to spend more time with Mrs. Presley, so he volunteered to be her driver when not on assignment. Women are generally required to “cover up,” and cannot allow any part of their body to be seen. Mrs. Presley found herself in trouble twice for her “western ways” during her three-month deployment. On one occasion, during a trip to the market, she removed her black headscarf while inside a shop in an effort to get some relief from the 120-degree temperatures. Local Islamic religious police (known as “Mutaween”) were very upset by this. On another occasion, local elders became angered when a part of her ankle was partially visible from the sandals she was wearing as she walked around the city. Mr. Presley stepped in and handled both situations. Mrs. Presley said, “He took the brunt for me, even before we were married.”

During an earlier temporary duty assignment in the U.S., Mrs. Presley was in Biloxi, Miss., to handle airmen family claims following Hurricane Elena in 1985. While she received a Humanitarian Service Award for her efforts, her greatest satisfaction came from helping the families impacted by the storm, some of which had lost everything. She was touched by the overall upbeat attitude her fellow service members had in spite of their challenges. She was once brought to tears after talking to one family whose young daughter, barely able to look over the top of Mrs. Presley’s desk and not understanding the magnitude of her family’s problems, simply wanted to find her lost teddy bear.

After many relocations and military life challenges, both Mr. and Mrs. Presley retired from the Air Force. They each served more than 21 years. They were married in December 1992, blending her three kids and his two kids into one large family. Four years after they married, circumstances placed them in the position of needing to step up and raise their granddaughter, Breanna, who is now a fifth-grader at Purefoy Elementary.

While stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City, La., Mr. Presley was considering the end of his Air Force career. He knew most retired OSI agents went on to federal service, but he wanted to do something in law enforcement, on a local scale, so he could help positively impact people’s lives. After hearing about openings with the Frisco Police Department (FPD) in 2000, he was one of only two accepted among the 80 applicants. Initially assigned to patrol for two years, he later transferred to the Criminal Investigation Division where he served as a detective until 2007. To better manage his time and find more personal fulfillment, he volunteered to return to patrol duty in 2007. “I got more satisfaction from helping someone than arresting or ticketing them. To me, policing was never about ‘bean counting,’ it was about enforcing the laws fairly, impartially and doing the right thing in our community.”

With Mr. Presley now retired, Mrs. Presley too was considering her future. Although she had hoped to become one of eight chief master sergeants in the 800-person JAG Corps, to do so would have required another international assignment and family separation. So, five months after Mr. Presley retired, she retired as well. “Serving in the Air Force was the very best thing that could have ever happened to me at such a young age,” noted Mrs. Presley. “It molded me into who I am today, particularly as far as ‘service before self.’ The Air Force not only teaches you to do your job, but it also taught me the importance of giving back to the community — part of the ‘well-rounded airman’ concept. The Air Force did many things for me, most notably, providing me an education and teaching me how to be a better person, manager and leader.”

Mrs. Presley joined Mr. Presley in Frisco in September 2001. He alerted her to a newly created position within the FPD and she landed the job. Today, Mrs. Presley continues to serve as the manager of the FPD’s Records Division. She has been able to demonstrate by example and leadership the value of bending without breaking the rules to help citizens in stressful or chaotic times. Unlike many government agencies with a lot of bureaucratic “red tape,” Mrs. Presley’s team strives every day to “do the right thing” with compassion and understanding, making work more personally fulfilling.

Together, the couple has served our country and Frisco with more than 70 years of service! In their own humble way, they represent the many heroes in our midst — common people, who, without thought, step forward to do the right thing.