Sgt. Dennis Pedigo has weathered a lot of storms in his 22 years at the Chattanooga Police Department, including the July 16, 2015, terrorist attacks. He was promoted to sergeant the following year, and now, nearly four years later, he finally had a formal ceremony.
"Dennis does not enjoy attention," Chief David Roddy said. "He actually resists it as strongly as he can — with a smile on his face, but he resists. He doesn't want to be in a position where he is the center of things."
But that's been difficult with the recognition he and five other officers — Sean O'Brien, Grover Wilson, Jeff Lancaster, Keven Flanagan and Lucas Timmons — have received for rushing to stop 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez's rampage that day.
Abdulazeez killed four Marines — Gunnery Sgt. Thomas J. Sullivan; Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist and Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells — and Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Randall J. Smith.
Pedigo, now 43, was shot in the leg when Abdulazeez opened fire on the officers at the U.S. Naval and Marine Reserve Center.
"I fell down, bullets were hitting around us," he said later that year. "When I got hit, I really wasn't worried about it. I knew that the people I was with would help me. That they were going to take care of what was going on. I just knew I was in no man's land and was trying to find a place to get cover."
O'Brien and another officer, Detective Jennifer McCoy, pulled Pedigo out of the line of fire as rifle fire resonated.
The whole exchange lasted between three and five minutes.
"He was as heroic as everyone else that came," Roddy said. "There were people in need and there was a threat present, and Dennis went towards it. That, to me, sums up the Chattanooga Police Department, and it sums up Dennis' and many others' actions on that day."
"I just consider it being a part of my job, and that's what I do," Pedigo said of his actions on July 16. "I go out there and continue to this day to do, to the best of my ability, be a police officer."
Pedigo underwent four surgeries to recover and was back on the job, though on light duty, by May 2016.
Then, on Christmas Eve 2016, then-Chief Fred Fletcher promoted Pedigo to sergeant and held an informal promotion ceremony during which he presented Pedigo with his sergeant chevrons during the Forgotten Child Fund's annual Santa Train.
"There was kind of a big to-do that night and [he] got a lot of congratulations," Roddy said. "And Dennis, being true Dennis, just fell into the role of sergeant and continued to work and perform spectacularly."
He's now a sergeant in the department's special operations unit, working under Lt. Danny Jones.
"The thing that [Pedigo] cares about most is getting the mission accomplished and doing it," Jones said. "He doesn't care who gets credit for it. Whether that's July 16, whether that's the tornado, whether that's, you know, a special event, it doesn't matter. He just wants to get the job done as best as possible and keep everybody safe in doing so. He epitomizes the word humility."
"Well, fast forward over several cycles and promotions later, Dennis being the low-key, 'I don't like a lot of attention' Sgt. Pedigo that he is, never really brought it to anyone's attention that he had, in fact, not received his official certificate."
So when the department had its last promotional ceremony, Pedigo mentioned that he never received his certificate.
That started the ball rolling on two things, Roddy said.
"One, how do we recognize this employee that is absolutely deserving? And two, how can I do my best as chief of police to embarrass Dennis Pedigo, because he absolutely does not like to be the center of attention, while maintaining social distancing?" Roddy said, noting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's guidelines to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.
"It produced a lot of creative thought over here at the police department."
Pedigo didn't really want a ceremony, he said.
"That's just not the person I am," he said. "It was Roddy's idea. He brought it to me and pretty much said, 'This is what we're going to do.' So we did it."
On April 29, the department held an unconventional promotion ceremony on Zoom, a video conferencing phone and computer application that has been widely used since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"At this time, I would like to present Sgt. Pedigo with his formal certificate of promotion," Roddy said in the video while "handing" him his certificate and another set of chevrons.
On the other side of the screen stood Pedigo, "accepting" the certificate and chevrons.
"On behalf of the Chattanooga Police Department, the city of Chattanooga, congratulations, Sgt. Dennis Pedigo, for a delayed promotional ceremony, but thank you for what you do every day out here in the community, and we're extremely proud to have you as a member and a sergeant in the Chattanooga Police Department," Roddy said.
"Thank you, chief," Pedigo responded.
"You're welcome, sir. Stay safe out there," Roddy said.
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