Starting a new chapter
A s the end of 2010 comes to a close, it seems an appropriate time to reflect on the past. For Milam County native Doug Kunkel, he began that process back in July as he retired from the Texas Department of Public Safety after an eventful 29- year career.
While a sophomore at Rockdale High School in the late 1970s, Kunkel said he and a friend were having a “what will we do with our lives” talk and the idea of being highway patrolmen came up. That idea stuck with Kunkel.
He knew what he wanted to do, but at the time didn’t know what all the DPS involved. He befriended Milam County DPS troopers Don Warlow and Jerry Benson, talked with them about their jobs and took some ride-alongs as well.
STARTING OFF–In 1980, requirements to get into the DPS Academy required 60 col- lege hours and Kunkel earned an associates of art in law enforcement from Temple College.
There were 2,000 applicants for 100 spots in the Academy and he made it on the first try. “I got a letter at the end of May and had to be there the first part of June,” Kunkel said. He turned 21 while at the Academy, and thus began a career that would send him all over the state.
“I liked it so much I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe they are paying me to do this job’,” he said.
At 11:30 p.m. July 13, 1982 he was run over just off of IH-10 outside of Winnie. He was coming back on duty after a late supper and stopped a speeding 18-wheeler.
“ The truck driver met me about halfway between the two vehicles with the proper paper work. As I was telling him that we should move from between the vehicles, I heard tires squealing and the impact,” Kunkel said. “It felt like someone grabbed me and sent me flying through the air.”
He was thrown into a bar ditch, landing on his head and busting his radio. The truck driver sustained a broken leg. Both were very fortunate.
The driver that hit them was drunk and had hit the back of Kunkel’s DPS cruiser and pushed it up under the back of the 18- wheeler’s trailer—right where the two men had been standing.
After his stint near Houston, Kunkel transferred to Caldwell, where he “re-met” wife-to-be Karen (they had met in high school).
From 1986- 90, Kunkel did a stint in Cameron with the DPS.
NARCOTICS–Kunkel liked learning and doing new things and decided he was ready for something different. He was a driver’s licence trooper and when the DPS re-organized he found an opportunity to get promoted into the narcotics division.
“ There was a large pool of folks trying to get in and I didn’t make it the first time,” he said. “They took the top test scores and you also have to go through an interview board and meet other criteria.”
Second time around, he made it into the narcotics division and went on duty in Mineral Wells until 1994. It was there he made the rank of sergeant and was transferred to the Bryan/College Station office. He was there until 2002.
Kunkel doesn’t like to go into detail on what he saw as an undercover officer in the DPS. He did say that he wouldn’t be very deep undercover for too long.
“I would go meet the (drug) seller in the morning and be at a family birthday party that afternoon,” Kunkel said. While in narcotics, Kunkel’s job was intense. “We did well, we put our mind to it, we’d get them,” he said.
They once busted a drug ring in Madisonville that put 31 people in jail and another instance was on a federal case where 29 people were arrested.
After being promoted to lieutenant, Kunkel transferred to DPS headquarters in Austin and was involved in the technical support unit.
Through promotions and shifting to other departments within headquarters, Kunkel was promoted to major in the Criminal Investigation Division/Investigative Support Section.
He also saw some time at the state capitol building. Kunkel testified during committee hearings during three different state legislature sessions.
‘TIME TO GO’–Through almost 30 years with the DPS, Kunkel has seen and learned a lot. When it was time to leave, the decision was easier than most would think.
“The higher you go, the more people you are responsible for. There were just not enough hours in the day,” he said. “I couldn’t see commuting to Austin for another year.” He said once he got to that magical “80,” where his age and time in service totaled that amount, he was ready. He was driving three hours a day when commuting to Austin.
“The ‘surreal moment’ came to me when I was ERS-ing (exit processing) and it was just me and a clerk in a small room,” Kunkel said. He began to think about the close calls and the bizarre moments of his career. “It was bittersweet,” he said.
On July 31, 2010, af ter 29 years, one month and 29 days on the job, Kunkel said goodbye to the job he had loved and known for so long, retiring with the rank of major.
“DPS has an awesome group. They are a dedicated, great bunch of people,” he said.
NEW CHAPTER–Family is important to Kunkel and that part of his life will always stay in the forefront. A new chapter will be added in February when he and wife Karen become firsttime grandparents, courtesy of daughter Tabitha Bland and her husband Nathan of Rockdale.
Younger daughter Kristen Kunkel works at Canyon Creek Pharmacy in Temple.
Doug and wife Karen live near Cameron where she works in the Veterans office.
Kunkel’s plans some painting around the house and other projects, and some gardening.
The Kunkels had always had a house in Milam County, they just rented in other places where he worked.
“We lived apart sometime, but our goal was to retire in Milam County,” he said.
In the end he has no regrets.
“You ask most law enforcement officers what they like about their job and they’ll say ‘want to help people and make their hometown, city and state safer’,” Kunkel said. “They just go out everyday and do the best job they can.”