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Nick Valltos remembers the sound of scores of pagers going off all at once as he was beginning his police leadership lecture.

“I thought something big must be going on,” he said in a press release. That something was Sept. 11, 2001, and Valltos, College of Southern Maryland criminal justice instructor, was in Lafayette, La., with 30 SWAT officers. “I called my family, raced to the airport and got the last rental car — a Civic. I told my wife to round up the kids and stay home.”

During the 21-hour non-stop trip from Louisiana to Maryland, Valltos listened to the car radio for any news that might explain why two jets crashed into the World Trade Center towers and what might happen next.

Willette Onachila of Lexington Park remembers being on the phone with her sister-in-law when the second plane hit. “It didn’t seem real,” she said in the release. Onachila doesn’t dwell on 9/11, but she does dwell on the idea that lapses in judgment can be deadly and that everything you do in the intelligence and security fields is important.

Over the past nine years, Valltos worked to get CSM’s homeland security associate degree program off the ground, and Onachila is on schedule to be among the first graduates in the program this spring, according to the release.

“Get on the usajobs.gov website and you will see at least 1,000 homeland security-related jobs. Every state, every city and county has a homeland security department coordinator. An HLS degree is one of those degrees that covers a myriad of careers with defense contractors, fire departments, law enforcement and private industry,” said Valltos in the release.

CSM began developing its HLS degree program in 2003 under the direction of late CSM professor Ed Schauf, who was the original program coordinator. “Ed saw the first homeland security classes of his project just before he died in August of 2011,” said Valltos in the release.

“Ed and I went to [Department of Homeland Security] and asked what qualifications they were looking for. We went to [Federal Emergency Management Agency] and asked what training they were looking for. We knew that CSM’s established criminal justice and fire science programs would provide courses that fit homeland security needs. Then, we began writing a curriculum,” Valltos said in the release.

One of the CSM administrators developing the curriculum was Sue Subocz, a former active duty U.S. Coast Guard officer and captain in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves, and currently interim vice president of academic affairs.

“Ironically, as we were developing the HLS program, I was called to active duty in response to the oil spill in Louisiana. During my work there, I was able to interact with a variety of people involved in the response and recovery, including local and state law enforcement, local and state governments, federal agencies and private industry. I was able to gain a broader perspective on the state and local role in homeland security and emergency management, which we incorporated as we were working on the curriculum,” Subocz said in the release.

“Now that I have been involved in teaching several of the courses, it has been interesting to see [the interaction among local, state, federal and private sector groups] in action, with students coming from a variety of sectors, as well. In the end, this has meant a rapid growth of the program, well beyond anything we expected,” Subocz said in the release.

In the spring, CSM added courses in critical infrastructure protection, history of weapons of mass destruction and legal impact of terrorism.

This fall, CSM named William “Ed” Moroney as coordinator for the HLS program.

Moroney has an extensive and varied background, including careers with the Prince George’s County Police Department, where he retired as an investigative sergeant; the U.S. Marine Corps, where he retired as a counterintelligence officer; and assistant manager of the Federal Flight Deck Officer’s program for the Transportation Security Administration, an ongoing program to arm commercial airline pilots.

“The Department of Homeland Security is a mammoth organization that oversees 22 separate federal agencies. CSM’s homeland security curriculum offers phenomenal opportunities to engage both a diverse and rewarding career while simultaneously supporting your country and investing in the welfare and protection of your local community,” said Moroney in the release.

CSM has an articulation agreement with University of Maryland University College, where students who earn their HLS associate degree with CSM can transfer all of the CSM credits to UMUC, according to Waldorf Center Director Tim Murphy.

He said there are many transfer opportunities for students pursuing bachelor’s degrees in homeland security, the release states.

CSM has more than 60 students in the HLS degree program and that number is growing exponentially, Valltos said in the release. “We are looking at developing internships with various federal law entities such as HLS, FEMA and the Coast Guard,” he added.

Valltos joined CSM as an adjunct professor in 1996 while still an active police officer.

He retired as a police officer in 2002 after nearly 33 years of service with the Prince George’s Police Department and in 2004, became a full-time professor and later program coordinator for CSM’s criminal justice program.

Valltos works with Southern Maryland high schools on their criminal justice programs and speaks with high school students interested in pursuing law enforcement careers as part of community outreach. He teaches leadership and law enforcement ethics, as well as a supervisory prep class for Charles County sheriff’s corporals, according to the release.

A former Army paramedic, Onachila took on the responsibilities of security officer from her supervisor while working at Lockheed Martin and went through security training, the release states.

She found that she enjoyed the work and has continued to pursue homeland security work, most recently as the facility security officer at ManTech in Lexington Park.

“On a daily basis, what we’re doing now protects our soldiers who are really out there with boots on the ground. Everything that we do is for them — to provide the weaponry and support that they need. For us security people, what we do has a direct effect on our soldiers,” Onachila said in the release, adding that this realization is a greater reminder than 9/11. “When we see the death tolls on the evening news — these are the people who are protecting our freedoms and we need to make sure that we do our job to protect them.”

To learn more on the program, go to www.csmd.edu.