SEBRING - When a drug operation went bad earlier this year and suspected drug dealers shot two deputy U.S. marshals, Highlands County Detective Nathan Coogan ended up being lead detective for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
"It was definitely a learning experience," Coogan said Tuesday of being involved with such a major case involving multiple law enforcement agencies.
For his good work on that case and many others, Coogan was recognized Tuesday as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Officer of the Year.
Coogan, who only became a deputy in October 2012, when the Highlands County Sheriff's Office took over law enforcement for the city of Avon Park, said he never imagined that within two years he would receive such recognition at the Sheriff's Office.
"It was unexpected," he said.
Mike Norris, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4300 in Sebring, presented Coogan with a plaque and a $100 check.
Norris said that Coogan was being recognized because of his dedication and good work and that he "represents the finest standards" of law enforcement.
"You serve the public well...," Norris told Coogan.
Coogan said he had wanted to be a law enforcement officer "as long as I can remember." When he served in the U.S. Air Force from 1999 to 2005 he was a military security officer, he said.
During that time, he said, he was stationed at McDill Air Force Base in Tampa, He was deployed at times to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq, as well as off the coast of Venezuela.
When Coogan left the Air Force, the Avon Park Police Department hired him in 2006. Coogan said he attended schools in Hardee County and then lived in Avon Park until he went into the Air Force.
During his stint in Avon Park, he rose to the rank of detective sergeant. Currently he's assigned as a persons crimes detective in the criminal investigation unit of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office.
Coogan said he has been the lead detective in cases involving robberies and home invasions. He helped investigate a series of restaurant robberies, he said.
Sgt. Tyrone Tyson, who nominated Coogan for the award, said that Coogan has an exceptional work ethic, a never say quit attitude and is a great team player, according to a press release.
Tyson also said that Coogan goes out of his way to assist new detectives and is always willing to assist in any investigations as needed, the press release said.