Doug Witney doesn't know where some of the most defining experiences of his life took place except that they happened somewhere in Vietnam.
At 19, Witney completed more than 50 missions with an air mobile unit in the U.S. Army's First Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On many of those missions, Witney and his platoon were simply dropped in the jungle on seek-and-destroy operations.They spent weeks without even knowing their location. But they knew, and experienced, misery and death.
"I feel like I've faced just about everything there is to face in this life," Witney said. "People who have come very close to death really appreciate life - not just human life but all life."
Witney, 48, a lifetime resident of Springville, is challenging Utah County Sheriff David Bateman for the Republican nomination for sheriff. Also in the mix is former Graham County, Ariz., Sheriff Richard Mack. Candidates are gearing up for the nominating convention May 2.
After he spent most of 1969 shooting and getting shot at in Vietnam, Witney's luck ran out. Just a few days before Christmas, his platoon was ambushed by North Vietnamese troops during what was supposed to be a cease-fire.
"The next thing we knew there were rocket-propelled grenades flying over our heads," he said. "It was frightening. We'd been in firefights before but nothing like this."
He was shot in both legs and for several minutes didn't feel pain. But as he remained on the ground and as bullets hit around him, his legs began to burn. He thought he would die. Instead, he returned home alive and was later awarded a Purple Heart.
"It impacted me forever, but that was then," Witney said. "Now is now."
Now involves Witney working as the county's top white-collar crime investigator as chief of the investigations division of the Utah County Attorney's office. It also involves him spending time with his wife, four children and three grandchildren. It is raising a large garden and orchard, and caring for cows and chickens.
Witney still doesn't know the names of the places where he was in Vietnam, nor does he think of them often. He's moved into another phase of his life, and the dominating thought of that phase right now is convincing Republican delegates that he's the man to fill Utah County's top law enforcement post.
He says one of his biggest qualifications to serve as sheriff is his knowledge of how divisions of the office work. Before his days as a white-collar crime investigator, he spent more than 15 years as a jailer, patrol officer and detective in the Utah County sheriff's office.
"Not only do I have an outlook on every position in every division, but I have a fresh outlook because I've been there on the street," Witney said.
Six years ago, Utah County Attorney Kay Bryson asked Witney to set up the white-collar crime investigations division. Witney's duties include investigating fraud, political corruption and police shootings. He has a standing invitation to return to the sheriff's office if he ever leaves his current post.
As sheriff, Witney would seek to establish a centralized data tracking system that would allow all cities in Utah County access to information about career criminals and gang-related crimes. He also would like to establish a consumer fraud division within the sheriff's office and said he has new ideas about deployment of deputies.
Witney believes the county is at a crossroads in terms of fighting crime. While the crime rate has been rising, there is a chance to stem the tide by taking effective measures now, he said.
"If we continue with the same philosophies that have been around for 14 years, we will continue to lose ground on the fight against crime, drugs, gangs and crimes against property," he said.
Most of the cases Witney has investigated involve crimes against persons, including rape, murder and sexual abuse. Many of the cases are difficult to deal with on a personal level, and Witney has discovered there are no winners - not even the police involved.
Nevertheless, Witney feels positive about his role in solving several crimes. A graduate from Weber State University with a degree in police science and a minor in psychology, Witney also completed the National FBI Academy and the FBI SWAT Academy.
"I have really enjoyed law enforcement," Witney said. "It's been rewarding and we've seen a lot of positive changes. I think the insight I've gotten from my experience is invaluable."
Witney doesn't consider himself a politician and has never sought an elected post before this year. But he has been involved in the process at the grass-roots level as a Republican county convention delegate and member of the central committee.