Calera chief heads to Iraq

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 6, 2005

The people of Calera and those who know Jim Finn are simply asking “Why?”

But for anyone who wonders why the Calera police chief would leave his family, job and country to train police officers in Iraq, he simply answers, “Why not?”

On July 12, Finn will leave for two weeks of training in Virginia and Texas before shipping out with the private contracting company DynCorp to serve in one of the most volatile nations in the Middle East.

“I know it was sudden for a lot of people,” Finn said. “I had been thinking about this for a while and decided that it was time for me to do this.”

Finn said there were a number of reasons behind his decision to go to Iraq but foremost in his mind was the memory of local military personnel injured in the line of duty.

“Military men and women are my heroes,” he said. “I remember watching the news of the guardsmen from Alabaster and Pelham who were injured and realized I had to do something.”

During his year-long term in Iraq, Finn will teach classes at the police academy, conduct field-training exercises and monitor local police stations.

DynCorp will pay him $123,000 for his year of service, but Finn noted that you only have to take a look around to realize it’s not about the money.

“I’m pretty happy here,” he said of his position in Calera. “The money will be nice for my family, but it didn’t effect my decision.”

This is not the first time the Finn family will be without their father for a year. In 1997, he traveled to the war-torn country of Bosnia on a similar mission.

“Bosnia wasn’t the same as this mission,” he said. “The war was all but over when we got there. The fighting in Iraq is very much alive.”

The danger that comes with a mission to Iraq is ever present in Finn’s mind, but he’s not about to let that sway him from going.

“I am concerned about the danger,” he said. “But you can’t make decisions based on fear. America can be a dangerous place too, so this is really not that different.”

While Finn is away, he will miss a number of family events including his 23rd wedding anniversary. He will, however, return from Iraq to attend his daughter’s graduation from high school.

Finn said his daughter, Jenni, read in media reports that he would not be attending her commencement ceremonies, but he was quick to assure her that he would be there cheering for her.

“I’ll walk home if that’s what I have to do to get here,” Finn said.

“Overall, my family is excited about me going. They’ve been very supportive.”

Finn has served with various law enforcement agencies for more than 24 years. He has been with the Calera Police Department for the past 14, working as chief for seven.

His wife, Gay, and their three kids, Rachel, Jenni and Jake, will communicate regularly with their dad in Iraq through photos and emails. Calera Mayor George Roy expressed how much Finn has meant to the community and that he will be missed.

“It’s a great loss for the city of Calera and for Shelby County,” Roy said. “But the city stands behind him 100 percent.”

Roy also said that Finn was an excellent police officer and an effective police chief during his time in Calera.

“We will miss Jim immensely,” he said. “Our prayers will be with him as he heads to Iraq.”

As far as finding a new police chief, Roy said the Calera City Council would make a decision within the next few weeks.

Capt. Tommy Palmer, whom Finn endorsed as a good candidate for the position, has been serving as interim chief since Finn announced his resignation.