Roa has been able to juggle the double duty for quite some time, having enlisted in the National Guard eight years ago and having served as a Weehawken police officer for the last seven years.
In the summer of 2004, Roa was asked by Weehawken police officials to represent the town, along with fellow officer John Mulvaney, as part of the newly formed Rapid Deployment Team that was instituted by the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office.
About 40 police officers from throughout Hudson County were asked to participate in the special training that was needed to be a member of the Rapid Deployment Team, organized as a part of the national Homeland Security program, to be used at special times of increased security.
"I was honored to be selected to serve on the Rapid Deployment Team," Roa said. "I was very appreciative to be chosen. It was something new and it seemed to be exciting. It was great to be put forward to represent Weehawken."
The Rapid Deployment Team was first put into place to handle any overflow problems that might have occurred during the Republican National Convention in New York in August, 2004.
The next time the Deployment Team was called into action was for President Bush's inauguration last January. Mulvaney represented Weehawken with his assignment along the inauguration parade route.
When Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans in August, Roa was vacationing with his wife in Boston, having just returned from Fort Benning, Ga., where Roa was attending officer training school for the National Guard.
"I just had come back home for a few days, when I received a call that the team was going to need people to go to help in New Orleans," Roa said. "I just said, 'Tell me where and when.' I knew I had to go. I told my wife [Alison] and she was very supportive, even if I had just returned home."
Can't keep a good man down Eight days after Katrina destroyed New Orleans, Roa was on his way, driving a special truck that the township of Weehawken had purchased with national Homeland Security funds. Roa was part of a convoy of vehicles from Hudson County that was deployed to the southeastern United States, and the lone officer from Weehawken.
"It was a 36-hour drive down in that convoy of vehicles," Roa said. "We had to remain together. We were told to bring about 72 hours worth of food and supplies, but honestly, I didn't know what to expect when we arrived there. I just know I was expecting the worst."
Roa was dispatched to Kenner, La., a New Orleans suburb that was not devastated by the hurricane, and where the police units from all across the country were setting up.
For the next two weeks, the gymnasium at Kenner High School was Roa's home. He was among 250 police officers from all over the country who spent their nights on cots in the gym and spent their days looking for either survivors or people who lost their lives in the massive flooding.
"When I first got there, it was in the middle of the night," Roa recalled. "And the first thing I noticed was this awful smell. It was a stench of mold, dampness. It had the smell of devastation."
Searching for life...or death After receiving some briefing from federal, state and local law enforcement officials, Roa was placed with a unit that was searching homes for any signs of life - or death.
"We went searching house to house," Roa said. "Everything was destroyed. I never witnessed anything like it. It was like taking a doll house, dunking it in a bath tub and then shaking it all around and throwing it aside. That's what it was like. Everything was destroyed. It was like a ghost town. It was very sad. These people lost everything they had."
Two days later, Roa was placed with a decontamination team that was advising residents not to return to their homes without some sort of protective gear and face masks.
"We had to give them masks when they tried to go back to their homes, trying to salvage whatever they could," Roa said. "They didn't realize the danger and risk going into the homes with the mold. But everything was just devastated."
For two weeks, Roa had to endure the pain and suffering of the New Orleans residents who lost their entire homes, lives, and city.
"We were able to rescue one person who was stranded in his home," Roa said. "We rescued a lot of animals that were abandoned. We tried to answer as many 911 calls as possible. In the two weeks we were there, we answered 7,000-to-8,000 911 calls and we spent a lot of time checking on those calls, checking the houses." Roa had no idea how bad it was going to be.
"You really don't expect a town in the United States to be so destroyed," Roa said. "Maybe things like that happen in other parts of the world, but not here. This was like a scene out of a horror show, seeing so many people displaced. It really was unbelievable and it's hard to describe."
Roa said that it was a good feeling to be able to assist fellow Americans in their deepest time of need.
"It was good to go down there and help those who were not able to do their part," Roa said. "I'll never forget something like this. I was able to make friends with other agencies. We bonded together and helped each other, trying to help them. I was used to that type of bonding from a military point of view. Now, I got to experience it as a police officer. The Kenner police were so grateful. They told us that they hadn't been able to sleep at all before we got there."
Always a chance Roa knew that there would be a day that he would have to serve in such an extraordinary manner.
"When you sign up, you know there's a chance, just like the military," Roa said. "You go through the training, but you hope you're never called to go and do it. I went with a bunch of good guys from my team and it was nice to represent my town and our police department."
Roa was set to get recognized for his achievements with the Rapid Deployment Team. All of the officers were heading to a special presentation before press time Friday afternoon to receive a commendation from State Police Col. Joseph Fuentes and State Attorney General Peter Harvey. Weehawken Deputy Police Chief Jeffrey Fulcher was slated to accompany Roa to Trenton for the ceremony.
Weehawken Public Safety Director Jeff Welz said that the entire department is proud of Roa's achievements.
"Rene is an exemplary police officer," Welz said. "We're extremely proud of the way he represented us. He had to work down there in a very difficult situation. We're proud that we could provide an emergency generator and lighting, as well as a vehicle for use down there."
Welz said that he received a letter of thanks from the Louisiana State Police for Roa's contributions. Roa just looks at it as just part of his commitment as a law enforcement officer and a member of the United States military.
"You have to do something to help," Roa said. "Believe me, this is something that will stay with me for as long as I live. You drive by the Wal-Marts and see the people standing in line, waiting to go in and get just the things they need to survive. They all have a long rebuilding process ahead of them. I don't think it will ever be the same. You lose the culture, the atmosphere of New Orleans. Only time will tell if it ever comes back. My heart goes out to them."