Night and day are different, like black and white, dry and wet.
So is the transition from a 17-year career in geriatric care to patrolling the highways and byways of three East Tennessee counties. It’s not one of those mid-life crisis deals either.
Today you will meet James Andrew Roark, the latest addition to the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s (THP) East Tennessee District 1 cadre of troopers. He began working solo the week of March 7 after field training. He’s a rookie, too. Not the typical rookie. Most THP rookies are not 41-years-old.
The THP Training Academy in Nashville is a four-month grind. Trainees must live in Nashville and can only go home on weekends. It’s known to be both a rigorous mental and physical experience. And Roark knew it.
“It was hard. Period. You have to be mentally and physically prepared and I worked a lot every day before it started,” he said. “The days were long – up ay 4 a.m. and getting done at 9 or 10 p.m. It was difficult to leave your family on Sundays and go back.
And I was the second oldest one in the academy. I felt like a dad in there, helping others with cardio and running and in study groups.”
How’d he do? Not bad! On March 4, 46 troopers graduated from Class 1021. Roark was named the top cadet in the class and was presented with the Trooper Calvin Jenks Memorial Award for Excellence for his “leadership, work ethic and academics.” The award is named in honor of the late Trooper Jenks, who was killed in the line of duty in January 2007.
“I was pleased when I got the award because I put in the work for it. But it was a real sweet surprise,” he said. “Never expected it.”
He mentioned the family. At home he’s Andy. His wife is Amanda, a registered nurse at the East Tennessee Children’s Hospital Clinic in New Tazewell. Their kids are Aden, 14, and Addison, 11. The A train! They live in Tazewell.
His beat used to be in physical therapy at long-term care facilities, home health care stops, outpatient clinics, skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. As a physical therapist, he treated the elderly recovering from falls, strokes, balance issues, Alzheimer’s, dementia and those recovering from surgeries. And he dearly loved every moment of it.
“I loved working with the older and geriatric patients. They taught me how to really get along with people. They taught me as much as I taught them and I gained a real love for them all. I miss them,” Roark said. “You become their best friend when you see them five or six days a week, multiple months at a time and they’re also all so polite and appreciative.”
His beat today is I-75 and the roads in Campbell, Claiborne and Scott counties. He was reared not far away in the southeastern corner of Kentucky in a little place called Pathfork, pop. 266, a small coal mining town with one general store. It’s near Harlan. He graduated in 1999 from James A. Cawood High School.
His story begs the question: Why drop what he says was a great career for law enforcement?
“Fair question,” he says. “It’s always been in the back of my mind. I have friends in law enforcement and I’ve been envious of them. People were not respecting them and I asked myself why put my life on the line and help. I talked with the family and friends and made the decision. And I love living in Tennessee.
“I decided to pursue this new career with an open mindset, maybe somewhat of a different philosophy than others. I enjoy being able to use my interpersonal skills to help improve the unsafe driving habits of the citizens. I enjoy being able to spend a little time with citizens, whether it be through community immersion, on the side of the road assisting a motorist in need, or simply educating a motorist for improved safety habits while driving.”
Early last week he was patrolling I-75 north on a rainy day and he noticed a young kid walking just a few feet from the big rigs and cars. He was soaking wet. “He could have been dead in a second,” Roark said. “I stopped and got him to my SUV. He was 13 and said he was walking to his Papaw’s house in Kentucky from Wartburg. He and his mom had been in a fight.”
Roark took the young man back home. “Before going into the house, I gave him a speech like a dad would, told him to look me in the eye and let’s show some respect for each other, that I was his friend, not a cop.” He also had a conversation with the mother, offering some advice about how to talk to her son and treat him.
“They’ve both had tough lives and are living hard lifestyles.”
Much like his first career, he’s loving this one so far. “The experience for a rookie has been great. I work with the best group of guys. They’re so generous with their expertise and experience and I ask a lot of questions. Everyone is ready to take my phone call,” he said. “The day-to-day work goes by so fast and I’m ready to work every day. I love being out there and helping people.
“People know if and when you’re trying to help them and those interpersonal skills can’t be taught. Working with those older patients helped turn me into who I am now. I’m able to communicate with people at a whole new level and be professional but friendly, too.”
Tom King has served at newspapers in Georgia, Tennessee, Texas and California and was the editor of two newspapers. Suggest future Our Town Hero stories at email@example.com or call him at 865-659-3562.