For Elfer, service comes natural

Published 11:14 am Thursday, November 10, 2016

By Italiana Anderson

The Vicksburg Post

Scud missiles from Iraq whistled overhead, bullets streamed over convoys of trucks, explosions lit up the night.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

John Elfer knew this was exactly where he should be — riding through the hot, humid, desert around Baghdad in a Humvee with an M16 at his side.

“We were there when the scuds went off, I remember hearing scuds explode at night … I heard an explosion and thought someone ran into the building,” Elfer said. “I was talking to the sergeant that sent the flash message when the plane hit the pentagon as we witnessed the scud explosions.”

For a year, starting in January 2003, Elfer was a military police officer helping keep order in the chaos during and after the second Iraq War. He made it his duty to help Kuwaitis and Iraqis feel safe in their own country.

His unit also got involved in the tricky world of military logistics. “Elements from our unit were tasked to house soldiers at base camps scattered across the desert from southern to central Kuwait, who needed somewhere to stay and get ready before they went to Iraq.” Elfer said.

Along the way, he learned lessons that would stand him in good stead when he became Warren County’s emergency management director and had to deal with Hurricane Katrina and a record Mississippi River flood.

During the Iraq War, “I was a part of a unit that was very unique and it was just like emergency management. Our jobs were to help units who don’t typically do a lot of fighting. We made sure that their base defenses were adequate.” Elfer said.

“When the war started I did not go initially with the first wave because I was in charge of base defense at Arijan in Kuwait.” Elfer said.

The Arijan base housed 10,000 to 20,000 soldiers, principally the “theater leadership,” he said.

Elfer and his unit were never in direct combat, but he does recall hearing rounds being fired over a convoy.

Elfer has always loved public service and he is proud to have served overseas. That same sense of duty has carried over to a career in law enforcement and emergency management.

“I started my career in law enforcement in the early ‘90s in Hattiesburg. I was a law enforcement officer for 18 plus years or so.” Elfer said.

As Warren County’s emergency management director for the past five years, Elfer is the man people turn to when trouble strikes. His duties include keeping the people in the surrounding area safe when natural disasters occur. That includes promoting the need to be prepared before an emergency.

“I just like public service. I have always enjoyed law enforcement and I am always the one that local schools, agencies, and businesses look to, to make their decisions.” Elfer said.

“A lot of times they want me to make their decisions and I have no problem with that. I can give them the best guidance based on the information we have,” he said.

For Elfer, law enforcement and public service were in the genes.

Born in Fayetteville, Georgia in 1971, he came from a long line of educators and his grandfather served as a state trooper in Louisiana.

Elfer got his criminal justice degree at the University of Southern Mississippi in 1995.

During the 2011 Mississippi River flood, Elfer had to take on a leadership role and carry out a plan to keep the people along the river safe.

“When the 2011 Mississippi River flood came, the previous director retired and I was appointed by the board and I have been here since 2011.” Elfer said.

The flood submerged thousands of square miles of Vicksburg with water from the Mississippi River.

“That was a remarkable thing that happened with that flood but we were prepared for it.” Elfer said.

He was a deputy sheriff in 2005 at the time of Katrina. As the hurricane approached, he and his National Guard outfit, the 31st Rear Operations Unit, were dispatched to Harrison County’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to help out.

Elfer was ready. “All that law enforcement experience, all that military experience had prepared me,” he said.

And he loved every minute of it.

“Your life will take you different ways, sometimes you’ll go left or right, but I wouldn’t change anything. I’ve had a great ride.”