Dreams of travel, adventure and education prompted Sandra Bybee to join the Air Force in 1987, a decision that ultimately led to her job as a UCI Police Department dispatcher and, earlier this year, to a six-month “adventure” serving with the Air National Guard in Saudi Arabia during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Assigned to the military police, Tech. Sgt. Bybee’s unit provided security for a Saudi air base. She rode patrols in a Humvee with a machine gun on top, protecting the base perimeter within sight of Al Kharj, a city where, reportedly, 15 of the Sept. 11 terrorists once lived.

When Bybee enlisted, the Air Force guaranteed her a job as an MP, since she was already a cadet in her hometown Santa Monica Police Department. She attended the police academy at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas and, during four years of service, worked as a dispatcher at March Air Force Base in Riverside, never leaving the country. So much for travel.

She met with romantic adventure, however, in the form of fellow MP and best friend Bob Bybee, whom she married in 1991. Five years later, the Air Force education and experience served her well when she became one of seven UCIPD public safety dispatchers. Both Bybees are also part of the 163rd Air National Guard unit at March Air Reserve Base. They serve together two days a month and two weeks each summer, either at the base or in military hot spots around the globe. Sandra is a unit training manager, keeping troops current in such skills as antiterrorism techniques and the use of chemical warfare gear. She also is a dispatcher in the guard.

“The dispatcher is the front line, taking emergency calls or reports of a crime,” explains UCI Police Chief Al Brown. “They evaluate and distribute each call where it belongs, so they’re a crucial part of any police operation, military or civilian,” he adds, noting that the whole department shares a sense of pride in Sandra’s service to the country.

Returning to UCI from Saudi Arabia in October, Bybee has readjusted quickly. Sitting at the computerized bank of monitors in the UCI dispatch unit, she says, “It all came back to me, like restarting an old hard drive.” She also is grateful to have a supportive employer like the university. “Many service men and women are coming back to unemployment or fighting to keep their jobs.”

And she’s reactivated her dream of education. With a financial assist from the GI Bill, Bybee is studying public relations and marketing communications at Orange Coast College, and plans to transfer to Long Beach State or UCI to finish the march toward a degree she started more than a decade ago.