Garden Grove SWAT on point with Navy veteran, Air Force range master  

By Daniel Langhorne

Sgt. Patrick Gildea and Officer Tom Capps serve the Garden Grove Police Department as traffic and SWAT officers, and they also share a military background.

“There’s a lot of mindset that you get from the military that you don’t get working a civilian job,” Gildea said.

Gildea jokes that his weapon while in the U.S. Navy was a pen.

As an intelligence officer aboard the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship designed to launch Marine invasions of foreign coastlines, Gildea helped assemble reports and briefings of classified information to advise the command staff. Unlike some sailors, Gildea constantly knew his ship’s location and what was happening in the world. The job also came with the perk of a phone to regularly call family.

Even with a grandfather who served on the USS Wisconsin during World War II and a father who was in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Gildea didn’t anticipate joining the Armed Forces while attending Ocean View High School in Huntington Beach.

Francis “Frank” Gildea, circa 1950, Garden Grove PD Sgt. Patrick Gildea’s grandfather, the day he was promoted to sergeant at Los Angeles Police Department, with Patrick Gildea, Garden Grove PD Sgt. Patrick Gildea’s father.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Patrick Gildea.

Gildea pitched for Ocean View baseball and wanted to pursue a career, but that dream ended with a torn rotator cuff. Plan B was to become a police officer like his grandfather and dad, who respectively worked for the Los Angeles and Huntington Beach police departments.

On graduation day, seniors had to return their cap and gown to receive their diplomas, and military recruiters waited nearby to chat.

“I joked to my friends and said, ‘Yea right, there is no way I’m going into the military,’” Gildea said.

After working some part-time jobs, Gildea called his dad in 1995 and said he was thinking about joining the military.

Twelve-year-old Patrick Gildea (now Garden Grove PD Sgt. Patrick Gildea) with his father, Patrick Gildea, the day his father was promoted to lieutenant at Huntington Beach PD.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. Patrick Gildea.

Gildea applied for the sought-after intelligence specialist position partly because it had been his father’s job, and was sent to Intelligence School in Virginia. During Gildea’s four years in the Navy, his ship deployed twice to the Western Pacific.

One of his main responsibilities aboard the USS Essex was the program maintaining security clearances for more than 1,000 sailors.

This administrative experience would be useful in his future career as a police officer.

“People sometimes forget one of the biggest components of police work is paperwork,” Gildea said.

Gildea retired from active duty in 1999 as a petty officer first class.

Capps, who works full time as a Garden Grove police officer, still serves in the U.S. Air Force Reserves at March Air Force Base in Riverside. As a range master, he ensures airmen are qualified to use their weapons before deploying overseas.

“You’re training them for a skill that could potentially save their life,” Capps said.

Every man in Capps’ family served in the military, and Capps didn’t want to break that tradition. In 2005, he enlisted in the Air Force Reserves. The Air Force Security Forces, essentially the branch’s military police, was attractive to Capps as a path into civilian law enforcement.

Garden Grove PD Officer Tom Capps, pictured here in front of an A-10 Thunderbolt II (“Warthog”), continued his family’s tradition of serving in the military. He enlisted in the Air Force Reserves in 2005.
Photo courtesy of Officer Tom Capps.

“I knew I wanted to be a police officer, so it steered me in that direction,” Capps said.

Though he is from a family of firefighters, Capps thought becoming a police officer was more exciting.

Staying in the Air Force Reserves provides benefits that include cheaper groceries from the Commissary at March Air Force Base, medical insurance, and a military home loan, Capps said.

While Capps has never had to use his tactical skills in an active-shooter scenario like those at Ft. Hood or the Washington Navy Yard, he’s very much an asset to Garden Grove Police Department’s most dangerous operations.

“We utilize his knowledge and skills from the military to help us out on the SWAT Team,” Gildea said.