From the San Juans to Afghanistan and back again, the new sheriff’s deputy has taken a few detours before coming home to serve her community.
Rion Brandt grew up on Orcas Island, where her family owns Brandt’s Landing. At age 20, she enlisted in the Army, where she served as a military police officer, stationed in Fort Carson, Colorado.
“The military gave me a lot of structure and organization. I gained life experience,” Brandt said. “I come from a long line of people in the military so I felt it was my duty — I felt that way my whole life.”’
The military police enforce laws, respond to emergency calls, prevent crime and control traffic, just like regular officers. Brandt was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 for a six-month tour. As a police officer, she helped train Afghan police, met with village elders to offer assistance and conducted security patrols. Brandt then returned to Fort Carson, where she patrolled the base.
“It was a culture shock coming back to the U.S.,” she said. “I was so used to Afghanistan. I was kind of shocked at what people find to be an inconvenience here in the first world. It opened my eyes over there and really helped me grow as a person.”
Brandt was honorably discharged in 2014.
“I was ready to move on,” she said. “I wanted to pursue a civilian life.”
Brandt earned an associate’s degree in crime scene technology and a bachelor’s degree in forensic investigations in Tampa, Florida. She graduated with honors. In looking at career opportunities, she decided to pursue police officer work in her home state of Washington.
“Victims aren’t the only people who need help. Those having interactions with law enforcement need help too even if it just talking to someone or connecting them with resources. I also really like the community involvement side of it,” Brandt said.
While some states recognize military police training as sufficient for joining a civilian department, Washington requires candidates to enroll at the police academy. Brandt graduated this past November and has two weeks of field training left in the islands before she can patrol on her own. She will be stationed on San Juan Island.
“There are some similarities between military police and civilian police,” she said. “But I am new and I did not go into this thinking I know everything. I have pulled from my past experiences to help learn and every day so far there has been something new.”
Brandt says being in the male-dominated military meant having to “prove yourself more because there are alpha personalities who look at you and say ‘Can she pull her own weight as a woman?’”
“I personally know people who have struggled in the military because it is extremely male-dominated but on the law enforcement side here, I feel very accepted. I don’t see it as a challenge,” she said. “I am the only female deputy in the county, and at first, I was interested to see how it would go. But so far the department and community have welcomed me with open arms.”
Brandt became engaged to her fiance Savannah, this past December. Their wedding is planned for August and they hope to honeymoon in Greece. Savannah will continue to run her successful soap and skincare business, called Savy Essentials, from San Juan Island. The two are also parents to Bailey, an 11- year old German Shepard/Greyhound mix and Bellamy, a five-year-old Shepard/Collie mix that was abandoned by a dumpster as a puppy.
“Our dogs are our life,” Brandt said.
She wants islanders to know that being part of a small town is important to her.
“Just because I have a uniform on and a badge, I am still a member of the community,” Brandt said. “I go to the same stores and live in a neighborhood. I believe in treating people with dignity and respect. I am not out to embarrass people.”