FAIRFIELD — Col. Kelly Ann Fisher, the 49th Military Police Brigade’s newest commander, runs a unit that is more than just a military police unit.
That command, which has its headquarters in Fairfield, includes an engineer battalion, chemical company, an explosive ordnance unit and a public affairs detachment that has allowed it to become an outfit capable of being tasked with a wide variety of missions without having to pull people from outside the brigade.
The brigade’s domestic duties include serving as the headquarters for FEMA Region IX’s Homeland Response Force to support civil authorities in the event of natural disasters or terrorist attacks. It has two Quick Reaction Forces to deal with civil unrest or natural disasters.
The rapid response forces are the result of lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina, where there was a breakdown in how best to rapidly respond to the disaster, Fisher said.
“This allows the government to better respond to these disasters,” Fisher said of the units and the frequent training the 49th undergoes to ensure it is ready.
Born in Tennessee, Fisher enlisted in the Air Force at 18 with hopes to become a pilot. She shifted to the medical field and spent four years serving at David Grant Medical Center before she re-enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and took part in the Army ROTC program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo while also getting a bachelor’s degree in interior design.
Her office is only a brisk walk away from where she started her military career as a mental health technician at adjacent Travis Air Force Base.
Fisher was commissioned in 1987, initially serving as director of personnel and community activities at Camp San Luis Obispo and then with assignments at Camp Roberts and Atascadero before assuming command of Camp San Luis Obispo in May 1999, as it was revitalized as a training base.
“It is now one of the bases in the (California) National Guard,” Fisher said.
Since 9/11, Fisher had a series of assignments that included battalion command, senior intelligence officer for the California National Guard and deployment to Kabul, Afghanistan, assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division.
Fisher took command of the 49th Military Police Brigade on Sept. 8, replacing Col. William Arruda.
“This is very exciting for me. This is the biggest brigade in the California National Guard and I consider it like coming home,” Fisher said of her assignment, noting that she served as part of the 49th earlier in her career.
She now commands a force of nearly 2,400 soldiers, many of whom have had at least one deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan to train police there. It has 200 members deployed to Afghanistan and several in Kosovo, serving on a explosives detonation peacekeeping mission.
“I have an immense amount of respect for these soldiers. They are probably the most deployed part of the California National Guard,” Fisher said.
While their overseas deployments are winding down as American military draws down its presence in Afghanistan, it is not unrealistic that their experience will have the 49th soldiers’ specific skills tapped for future out-of-state missions, Fisher said.
Fisher said working with a capable staff and engaged soldiers will allow her and the 49th to meet those challenges.
She said she is continually impressed with “the remarkable level of professionalism in the force” and is in awe of a force that comprises people who are serving their country and state while also holding down a civilian career.
“I am quite impressed with the individuals who want to join the guard,” Fisher said.
Fisher spends part of her time at the 49th Military Police Brigade’s headquarters at the Parker Road Armory, part at Camp San Luis Obispo and some working out of her home. Since she assumed command of the unit, she has spent 30 out of the past 60 days here getting to know the 49th’s mission and its personnel.
“I am working with the senior leadership on what our focus should be and will be getting out to meet with the community leaders,” Fisher said, speaking of an area that includes visiting 49th units located from Eureka to San Diego.
Reach Ian Thompson at 427-6976 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ithompsondr.