Wednesday, November 29, 2006


"Chesapeake 54...Chesapeake 54...Chesapeake 54...10-4, Chesapeake 54, 10-7. Ending tour of duty. Rest in peace Trooper Hill".
I heard the dispatcher's voice echo off the tall pines there in that cemetery. My hand shook as I saluted a man whom I'd never met, yet whom I respected more than most. I began to cry. Trooper Hill did not die in a hail of gunfire in the midst of a shootout. He was not serving a high-risk warrant when he died. No, Trooper Hill was killed while issuing a motorist a traffic summons for a motor vehicle infraction.
Let me say that I believe there are some things in life that we are not suppose to understand. Trooper Hill's funeral reminded me of something that I cannot even begin to fathom. Bear with me as this may very well turn out to be something A) very difficult to clearly explain, and B) better left unsaid. But I wondered as I stood there saluting this hero, was he afraid of death? While I was in Iraq, I came to terms with (in my mind) the reality that I was not going to come home. I lost my fear of death. I was shot at more times than I can remember. I still hear the rounds cracking off the mortar blocks above my head. I left houses moments before they were leveled. I had suicide bombers drive vehicles within a stones-throw from me and disappear in a ball of flames. I saw Humvees ahead of me in a convoy rise three stories in the air after they drove over pressure plates connected to 155mm explosive rounds. I lost friends who were standing where I was suppose to be but wasn't as the result of a literal flip of a coin. I stopped looking down at the ground as I walked down the streets on missions. I simply could not function with a fear of dying. So I lost it. It was the only way to function. It was the only way I could accomplish my mission. I embraced the fact that my wife and family were going to see me in a flag-draped casket.
And standing there in that field surrounded by tombstones, I wondered if Trooper Hill accepted the reality that his job was going to take his life? Did he look down when he walked? Was route 58 his Al Anbar Province? And while the timing will catch us all by surprise, was Trooper Hill ready to die? I am surrounded everyday, by people who would as soon shoot me as they would wave at me. Why? Because I am the sheepdog and they are the wolves; I defend those who cannot at times, defend themselves. Do I want to die? Of course not. I want to see my two daughters grow up and marry some ratbags who are not even close to being worthy of them. But whether you can understand it or not, while I do not want to, I have absolutely no fear of dying. How could I do my job if I feared dying? How could I storm a school full of armed subjects in an attempt to rescue your child if I was afraid of dying? How could I confront the drug dealer on your street corner if I was afraid of dying? How could I run into the burning house to snatch your family out in the middle of the night if I were afraid of dying? I couldn't, and therefore could not uphold the oath that I swore to. While I do not claim to be half the man that Trooper Hill was, I believe that he and I probably had some things in common. Our lives, by virtue of our badge, become secondary to the safety of the citizens whom we serve.
So the next time you see a Police Officer, please take a moment and understand that more than likely, you are looking at a man/woman who probably doesn't know you, but would at the drop of a hat, risk his/her life to defend yours. Trooper Hill did, and I would too.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Who's To Blame?

An unfortunate yet understandable ingredient in my line of work, is having to deal with some of the sickest individuals in our society. I attended a training seminar this afternoon whose topic was sex crimes and the role that law enforcement officers play in the successful prosecution of these miscreants. Sidebar - I have seen some of the most disgusting and heinous scenes imaginable, yet what I saw and heard testified to today caused my stomach to turn. On the ride home, a co-worker and I had an engaging conversation on...Why? What is it that causes sexual predators and molesters to do what they do? And should we really buy into many of their absurd defenses; namely that they simply cannot control their "urges" and that genetics are really to blame? Admittedly, there are people "smarter" than I who have stated clinical opinions on the issue, and I do not purport to have any clinical evidence on which to base my opinion. But I believe that a look at the basic components of human nature will offer us some enlightning insight into that nagging and seemingly unanswerable question...Why? Here is my $.02.

I believe that our very nature seeks to avoid being wrong and when we are indeed proven wrong and have no "out", our nature takes the next step and looks for a scapegoat; something, someone or somewhere that we can drop blame so as to avoid being accountable for our misdeeds. Let's look at this...

A child molester is placed on trial for numerous acts of sexual molestation. His defense? A genetic imbalance prohibited him from understanding the wrong in sodomizing young children; a defense he vigorously maintained until the prosecution discovers videotapes made by the defendant while committing these despicable acts. An immediate recess was pleaded to by the defense and a change of pleas was not far behind. Far-fetched? Not hardly. This is a true story.

Obviously, those videos completely changed the course of that trial, but why? Here's why...there is no explanation, there is no rationalizing, there is no genetic imbalance that could excuse the actions of this man. It was not a genetic imbalance and when all the cards were laid out and no other scapegoats remained, the only other explanation to offer was the one that the defendant knew all along..."I was wrong and should not have done what I did. How can I avoid as much punishment for my wrongdoing as possible?"
If I, a somewhat reasonable human being, do something and I believe that it was an acceptable act, should I fear a video of me committing this percieved "acceptable" act? Of course not.
The alcoholic, the child molestor, the my opinion, none of these people were "born that way". Somewhere in their lives, they zigged when they should have zagged and as a result, they are the way they are. What better way to avoid personal accountability that to blame wrongdoing on something so totally out of our control as genetic makeup?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs

I trust that I am not the only one who has at one time or another, had difficulty expressing themselves. It's very strange...I understand perfectly what it is that I am trying to say, but for some reason, my thoughts get lost in my words. Lost in specech. Thought + Spoken Word = Garble. I don't understand it. "I know what I am trying to say. Why can't you understand?" I often find myself bumbling around my words trying to give my thoughts an avenue of escape. More times than not however, I give up and my potential flashes of brilliance are left to bounce around in the inner vacuum of my head. I'm left banging my head against the wall wondering why it't so hard for me. I'd love nothing more than to share, to discuss, to disagree, to deabte. But sometimes, it just doesn't come. And it's frustrating.

Being the rational human being that I am, I have sought an explanation for my quandry and here it is: So as to preserve my own sanity, I've resigned myself to the belief that God has given me some thoughts, some insights, some epiphinies that He meant especially for me and no one else. That's it...that simple. God has thought enough of me to give these special thoughts to me and has said, "Enjoy. When I'm ready for you to share, I'll give your words meaning." So how do I know when it's time to share? I have a "That's what I meant to say" moment. You know those times when you come across something that is so poignant, so true-to-life, so "that's what I meant to say"? Well, I had one today, and although it's a lengthy piece, please...please, if you are going to read it, read it in its entirety. If you don't have enough time right now, come back later.

On Sheep, Wolves, and Sheepdogs
By LTC(RET) Dave Grossman, RANGER,Ph.D.

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.
Some estimates say that two million Americans are victims of violent crimes every year, a tragic, staggering number, perhaps an all-time record rate of violent crime. But there are almost 300 million Americans, which means that the odds of being a victim of violent crime is considerably less than one in a hundred on any given year. Furthermore, since many violent crimes are committed by repeat offenders, the actual number of violent citizens is considerably less than two million.
Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.
I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep. To me, it is like the pretty, blue robin’s egg. Inside it is soft and gooey but someday it will grow into something wonderful. But the egg cannot survive without its hard blue shell.
Police officers, soldiers, and other warriors are like that shell, and someday the civilization they protect will grow into something wonderful. For now, though, they need warriors to protect them from the predators.
“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.
“Then there are sheepdogs,” he went on, “and I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.”
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen, a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath, a wolf.
But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? What do you have then? A sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed
Let me expand on this old soldier’s excellent model of the sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. We know that the sheep live in denial, that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools.
But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are thousands of times more likely to be killed or seriously injured by school violence than fire, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their child is just too hard, and so they chose the path of denial.
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, can not and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheep dog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports, in camouflage fatigues, holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.” Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.
The students, the victims, at Columbine High School were big, tough high school students, and under ordinary circumstances they would not have had the time of day for a police officer. They were not bad kids; they just had nothing to say to a cop. When the school was under attack, however, and SWAT teams were clearing the rooms and hallways, the officers had to physically peel those clinging, sobbing kids off of them. This is how the little lambs feel about their sheepdog when the wolf is at the door.
Look at what happened after September 11, 2001 when the wolf pounded hard on the door. Remember how America, more than ever before, felt differently about their law enforcement officers and military personnel? Remember how many times you heard the word hero?
Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed, right along with the young ones.
Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, “Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.” The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, “Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference.” When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.
There is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, but he does have one real advantage. Only one. And that is that he is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.
There was research conducted a few years ago with individuals convicted of violent crimes. These cons were in prison for serious, predatory crimes of violence: assaults, murders and killing law enforcement officers. The vast majority said that they specifically targeted victims by body language: Slumped walk, passive behavior and lack of awareness. They chose their victims like big cats do in Africa, when they select one out of the herd that is least able to protect itself.
Some people may be destined to be sheep and others might be genetically primed to be wolves or sheepdogs. But I believe that most people can choose which one they want to be, and I’m proud to say that more and more Americans are choosing to become sheepdogs.
Seven months after the attack on September 11, 2001, Todd Beamer was honored in his hometown of Cranbury, New Jersey. Todd, as you recall, was the man on Flight 93 over Pennsylvania who called on his cell phone to alert an operator from United Airlines about the hijacking. When he learned of the other three passenger planes that had been used as weapons, Todd dropped his phone and uttered the words, “Let’s roll,” which authorities believe was a signal to the other passengers to confront the terrorist hijackers. In one hour, a transformation occurred among the passengers - athletes, business people and parents. — from sheep to sheepdogs and together they fought the wolves, ultimately saving an unknown number of lives on the ground.
There is no safety for honest men except by believing all possible evil of evil men. - Edmund Burke
Here is the point I like to emphasize, especially to the thousands of police officers and soldiers I speak to each year. In nature the sheep, real sheep, are born as sheep. Sheepdogs are born that way, and so are wolves. They didn’t have a choice. But you are not a critter. As a human being, you can be whatever you want to be. It is a conscious, moral decision.
If you want to be a sheep, then you can be a sheep and that is okay, but you must understand the price you pay. When the wolf comes, you and your loved ones are going to die if there is not a sheepdog there to protect you. If you want to be a wolf, you can be one, but the sheepdogs are going to hunt you down and you will never have rest, safety, trust or love. But if you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior’s path, then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.
For example, many officers carry their weapons in church. They are well concealed in ankle holsters, shoulder holsters or inside-the-belt holsters tucked into the small of their backs. Anytime you go to some form of religious service, there is a very good chance that a police officer in your congregation is carrying. You will never know if there is such an individual in your place of worship, until the wolf appears to massacre you and your loved ones.
I was training a group of police officers in Texas, and during the break, one officer asked his friend if he carried his weapon in church. The other cop replied, “I will never be caught without my gun in church.” I asked why he felt so strongly about this, and he told me about a cop he knew who was at a church massacre in Ft. Worth, Texas in 1999. In that incident, a mentally deranged individual came into the church and opened fire, gunning down fourteen people. He said that officer believed he could have saved every life that day if he had been carrying his gun. His own son was shot, and all he could do was throw himself on the boy’s body and wait to die. That cop looked me in the eye and said, “Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself after that?”
Some individuals would be horrified if they knew this police officer was carrying a weapon in church. They might call him paranoid and would probably scorn him. Yet these same individuals would be enraged and would call for “heads to roll” if they found out that the airbags in their cars were defective, or that the fire extinguisher and fire sprinklers in their kids’ school did not work. They can accept the fact that fires and traffic accidents can happen and that there must be safeguards against them.
Their only response to the wolf, though, is denial, and all too often their response to the sheepdog is scorn and disdain. But the sheepdog quietly asks himself, “Do you have any idea how hard it would be to live with yourself if your loved ones were attacked and killed, and you had to stand there helplessly because you were unprepared for that day?”
It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.
Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: you didn’t bring your gun, you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by your fear, helplessness and horror at your moment of truth.
Gavin de Becker puts it like this in Fear Less, his superb post-9/11 book, which should be required reading for anyone trying to come to terms with our current world situation: “…denial can be seductive, but it has an insidious side effect. For all the peace of mind deniers think they get by saying it isn’t so, the fall they take when faced with new violence is all the more unsettling.”
Denial is a save-now-pay-later scheme, a contract written entirely in small print, for in the long run, the denying person knows the truth on some level. And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.
If you are warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be “on” 24/7, for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself…”Baa.”
This business of being a sheep or a sheep dog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-sand-sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other.
Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.