My Job … My Outdoors: Female SWAT team member loves the outdoors

saraswatThe WON connected with Sara Greene-Ahrens at a Babes with Bullets (TM) camp at Brownells in Iowa recently. She’s reserved — the cool, silent type, but intense. Oh yeah, this woman — who had never shot a practical pistol match in her life — came in a close second on match day, and we all agreed that if we ever have to call 9-1-1, we want Sara to be one of our first responders. Read about her views on her job in the Rockford, Ill., police force and about what she likes to do in her “down” time — which won’t surprise you.

My Job

Sara on right with friend Tammy.

Sara on right with friend Tammy.

Few people are fortunate enough to have professions that they truly love. For the past 13 years, I have been one of those fortunate people. I am a Police Sergeant in the second largest police agency in Illinois. My agency has an authorized strength of 306 full-time, sworn, police officers. My current assignment is the Training and Recruiting Sergeant.

My job assignments for the first eleven years with my agency were adrenaline filled. I am a true adrenaline junkie, and I am in the perfect profession for my personality type. Currently, women occupy about 11-13 percent of law enforcement ranks. This has posed challenges for me, but I have overcome them and have had some incredible experiences along the way.

I have been blessed with more opportunities in law enforcement than most officers are afforded. I can attribute these opportunities to two things: a strong work ethic and fluency in foreign languages. That combination seems to have been the ticket to most of my opportunities.

In the 13 years that I have been a Police Officer my assignments have included being a Patrol Officer, Community Services Officer, Bicycle Officer, Tactical Officer (plain clothes vice). In 2006, I was promoted to Investigator and was selected as the Police Recruiter. Several months later I was promoted to Sergeant and after a brief assignment in Patrol, I was selected as the Training and Recruiting Sergeant. In addition to the full time opportunities, I have had part-time assignments in the honor guard, as a field-training officer, and a crisis negotiator. Currently, I serve my department part-time/on-call as a Spanish and Russian Interpreter, Master Firearms Instructor, Armorer and SWAT team member.

Besides my current position, I have most enjoyed my assignments in the Tactical Unit and on the SWAT Team. While assigned to the Tactical Unit, I dressed in plain clothes and worked areas of high crime and prostitution. This unit was based on self-initiated enforcement activities. I especially enjoyed foot chases and prostitution stings. This is probably due to my competitive nature. They are both like playing games, and I usually won. I guess I enjoyed the fact that it was probably psychologically devastating for the suspects to lose to a girl.

My assignment to the SWAT team has been amazing. The training far exceeds that of typical line officers. And, the equipment and weapons are incredible. I was the first, and only female selected for our SWAT team. I endured the same physical standards as the men on the team, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It took me a long time to get on the team. This drove me even harder, and I refused to give up. I think SWAT teams are one of the last remaining male-dominated units in law enforcement. My greatest pressure has been to make sure my skills were sufficient enough to demonstrate that I deserved that position, and that it wasn’t given to me because I am female. I am sure there are some that still believe that, but I know I earned that slot.

As the Training and Recruiting Sergeant, I supervise four, full-time employees. I have two trainers and two recruiters assigned to me. My primary responsibilities include the supervision, implementation (and when time permits), participation in firearms training, the Field Training Program for new officers, and the armament/weapons maintenance section. Additionally, I coordinate of all internal, external, and remedial training programs for our officers.

My current position is rather administrative and I participate in training and recruiting activities as much as possible. I love my job, but I miss the daily adrenaline rushes I experienced in my other assignments. Now I depend on SWAT callouts for that high. I also focus on my hobbies.

My Outdoors

Reloading on the move at Babes with Bullets. Photo by Barbara Baird.

Reloading on the move at Babes with Bullets. Photo by Barbara Baird.

Without a doubt, my favorite outdoor activity is shooting firearms. I suppose my true love for shooting rests in the fact that the skill has saved my life.

Prior to September 1998, shooting was a necessary evil of my profession. I was an above average shooter during quarterly qualifications. I shot my first gun in 1992 in basic training. Although I didn’t dislike shooting, it wasn’t a passion I could take it or leave it.

I suppose shooting wasn’t such a thrill for me the first few years on the police department because the gun I shot was a Smith and Wesson 4046. For a small-framed female, this large framed, .40-caliber handgun was not pleasant to shoot. Not to mention the 4046 has a 10-12 lb., double action only trigger pull. During my first qualification, I did not have the trigger finger strength to fire all 50 rounds. I still have nightmares over that traumatic experience. The Smith and Wesson 4046 was the only handgun I had ever experienced for the first half of my career but feelings toward shooting significantly changed in September of 1998.

In September of 1998, I responded to a domestic battery. During my attempted apprehension of a suspect, he pulled out a knife. He advanced toward me and refused to drop the knife. Fearing for my life, I fired one round at the suspect striking him in the lower abdomen from about 5-7 feet away. That was the moment that I began to respect and value firearms training.

Lisa Munson holds the timer while Sara Greene-Ahrens shoots this stage. Photo by Barbara Baird.

Lisa Munson holds the timer while Sara Greene-Ahrens shoots this stage. Photo by Barbara Baird.

Recently, I have begun to challenge myself in shooting. I attended the Babes with Bullets Ladies Action Shooting Camp in September 2009. This was a humbling experience. I enjoyed every minute of that camp, more than any other shooting course I have ever been too. Perhaps it was because I wasn’t the only woman, or maybe it was because every instructor was so encouraging. This training was far different than the type of shooting I have been accustomed to as a police officer. My previous training has focused on passing a qualification. This training focused on putting rounds on targets quickly and accurately in a variety of situations.

In addition to shooting, I enjoy bike riding. My favorite time of year to bike is in the fall. The weather is generally mild. I not only love the smell of burning leaves while I ride, but also the sound of my tires running them over. Riding gives me the opportunity to push myself physically. It also allows me to sort my thoughts and de-stress. It is very therapeutic.

Sara Greene-Ahrens will be joining the staff at Gear Court at The WON, and we look forward to her honest and brutal reviews of gear for gals.

Sara Greene-Ahrens will be joining the staff at Gear Court at The WON, and we look forward to her honest and brutal reviews of gear for gals.

My other outdoor hobbies include tennis, cross-country skiing, hunting and fishing. Although I love my career, I love my hobbies more. Truth be known, it is a means for me to engage in my hobbies. Over the past 13 years, I have experienced moments when my career and my hobbies have crossed paths. Testing and evaluating gear for WON is another such instance. I thank Barb Baird for that opportunity. I look forward to this new chapter in my life.

  • About The WON

    The Women's Outdoor News, aka The WON, features news, reviews and stories about women who are shooting, hunting, fishing and actively engaging in outdoor adventure. This publication is for women, by women.


The Conversation

  • Roma says: February 26, 2010 at 11:59 am

    Hi Sara!

    I stumbled upon this article about you during my job search, and I just want to let you know that you inspire me. My goal is to have a career in Search and Rescue, but I have no idea how to get started. One of my other dreams has been to be on a SWAT team! Like you, I love the outdoors and athletics (I’m a boxer, do jiu jistu, and a parkour fanatic). 🙂 Is there any way I could maybe e-mail you a few questions if you have a few moments?

    One of your new fans,

  • tom blackmon says: January 4, 2010 at 7:39 am

    just thought my daughter, Adrianne (blackmon) Johnson of the Ames, Iowa police force may make a pretty good article for your publication. She is a SWAT team member (shooter), hunter, fisherwoman, trainer and new mother of a 1 year old Sammy (samantha). her husband Bret is also a police officer. talk about one hell of a schedule juggling their time between duty , outdoors activities and family!
    Adrianne was an outstanding softball player for Iowa State U, Ames, IA and holds their all-time stolen base record and when she was chosen to join the Ames police force the paper did a feature 1/2 pg article on her with photo of uniform and softball glove and bat for she was well know in the area because of her softball skills.
    She has an awesome personality and of course loves the outdoors.
    Just thought you might want to know and she may be a good candidate for product testing?????
    sincerely, proud dad,
    tom blackmon

  • Sara Ahrens says: November 16, 2009 at 11:43 pm

    I am very excited about this opportunity. It was my pleasure and luck to meet you and Barb. We will have to plan a get together, where are you guys? We can hook up for a weekend and do some shooting:)

  • Paige "Chicki Chicki" Eissinger says: November 13, 2009 at 9:24 am

    It was a pleasure meeting you in September at BwB, Sara, and an even greater pleasure to welcome you to The WON. I look forward to plenty of fair and honest verdicts from you as a judge on the bench of Gear Court!