Thursday, August 04, 2011

The Winds of Change

I am amazed at how quickly life can change; how quickly my life changed. It all started with a telephone call from a very good friend of mine; a friend whom I havn't seen in quite a few years. I hung up the phone, stood in my kitchen and stared at the ceiling - dizzy. I knew that I had just been presented with a life-changing opportunity. I was relatively comfortable. I was happy in my profession. I loved what I did and I found meaning in my career; I worked so hard to get where I was at professionally. That telephone call however, forced me to realize something that deep down, I already knew and had known for a long time. I was tired and frustrated with the financial condition of my family and I was weary from fighting the battles that ride on the backs of financial instability. The ship that my family was on was barely floating and I was at the helm. I was the Skipper and I was derelict. A phone call presented with me with the possibilty of a new direction; a change of course that could set my family on a course to success and financial freedom.

It would require monumental change and sacrifice. It would require resignation from a career that I worked my entire young-adult life and adult life to obtain. It would require extensive periods of separation from my family. It would require me to return to Iraq. In a nutshell, it was a gamble. I was standing at the table, shaking the dice as my family watched. As if the house needed the odds shifted further in their favor, my decision needed to be made within a matter of days. My wife and I sought wise counsel. We prayed. We hoped. I let the dice fly.

Three days after that initial telephone call, I walked into my Lieutenant's office at the police precinct and asked him for a minute. I then handed him my letter of resignation. As I handed that letter to him, I knew it was a monumental moment for me. I knew that it meant that I may never wear the shield again. I stood in his office and I closed my eyes. I saw a young teenage boy. His uniform was pressed, his boots were shined and he carried a no-kidding police issue Mag flashlite! He was a Law Enforcement Explorer with the Portsmouth Virginia Police Department and he was proud. His name was Tim Johnson. Now, here in this moment this same boy, now grown into a man, was walking away from his dream. I heard the Lieutenant clear his throat. I opened my eyes and he was staring at me. His was a mixed look of astonishment and apprehension. I could tell he understood the gravity of this decision and I appreciated that. Everyone that I worked with and for knew the passion that I had for my career. In cop-speak, I was on the fast track. I had the potential for promotion, I was a seasoned operator on the SWAT team, I was a K9 officer and I was a mentor. And now, standing in the LT's office, I was walking away from it all.

In the days that followed, I faced a barrage of "whys" and "what happeneds". No one wanted to accept it. I wasn't sure if I wanted to accept it. Some understood and were supportive, others were skeptical and dismissive. Denial. The day I turned in my badge and gun though, it became real for all of us. I robotically counted my uniforms as I turned them in to the supply officer. It was surreal. I walked out of the back door of Police Headquarters marked “Officer Entrance Only”. As the sound of the door slamming reverberated in my ears, reality quickly set in…”I don’t have a key card to get back in the building anymore. I don’t have a badge. I don’t have a gun. I’m no longer a Cop.” I reached down to my side and rubbed my belt. I felt naked. I watched cars drive by for what seemed like an eternity as I stood there on the steps. I sat down and put my head in my hands. It wasn’t too late. I could still explain that it was a mistake. I envisioned myself knocking on the door and pleading my case. Surely they would understand. It wasn’t too late. I looked up and saw my patrol car sitting in the parking lot….the City of Suffolk’s patrol car. It stung. I stood up on wobbly legs and walked to my truck. My ride was over. At least for now.

I still had not faced one of my greatest fears. I had not spoken to my parents about my decision. My wife and I agreed that as a show of solidarity, she and I should go together to speak to them and inform them of our decision. I sat on their couch in the living room of their home and took in a deep breath. I inwardly said a prayer and quickly realized that I needed help. I couldn’t find the words. My parents and I have a very unique relationship. My respect for them is very deep-seated. And as any son should, I wanted them to understand why I was doing this. Their understanding of this decision was pivotal. I didn’t need their approval, acceptance or blessing. The decision had been made between my wife and I in our home; in the end, this is what truly mattered. It was done. The die had been cast. What would make this decision very difficult for me to live with should it fail however, was to not have the understanding of my parents. I needed them to understand why it was that I was walking away from my career; why I was voluntarily for the third time going to a war-torn country. My words were going to either garner their understanding, or my words were going to lead to confusion and disappointment. I needed help. I reached for the hand of my wife, for the hand of my Mother who was sitting next to me and I prayed aloud. Then, I began.

I began as delicately as I could. I wasn’t ready yet to drop the bomb. I presented it as an opportunity; as an option. Then, almost without thinking, I said, “I resigned from the Police Department yesterday. I’m leaving Monday”. I looked at my wife and she smiled at me. In her smile, I saw support and encouragement. I looked at my Mother. She gently began to cry. My Father, in his stoic nature, stared at the floor. I steeled myself for the oncoming barrage. “Son”, my father said calmly and pragmatically, “I think you would be crazy not to pursue this opportunity. I wish that when I was your age with a young family that I would have been presented with an opportunity like the one that you have been presented.” My Mother began to cry in earnest. “I am a Mother”, she said. “I don’t want to see you go back over there, but I think that you have some kind of unfinished business over there”. “I don’t want to see you go”, she said, “but I think you may need to for you.” “For me?” “For me?”, I thought. I searched her words for a deeper meaning. The very last reason I was doing this was for me. This was for my family. I didn’t want to walk away from a career that I worked so hard to attain; a career that I loved and would have done pro bono. This wasn’t for me, nor was it some sort of quest that I was on. It wasn’t about me. It was about my wife and daughters and our long-term well-being. I quickly realized that my Mothers words had a face attached to them. I heard similar words before from both of my sisters, and the face was the same for them too…They were seeing Adam.

Monday, September 21, 2009


I heard a song yesterday that took me back to that all too familiar stare. I heard the first few notes, I closed my eyes and there I was...I was driving that Humvee down MSR (main supply route) Bronze heading outside the wire in Al Qaim, Iraq. I was proud of my ingenious setup. I rigged my Ipod and some external computer speakers there in the Humvee so that I could hear a refrain replay in my head other than, "Please don't blow up...please don't blow up" as I drove passed IED craters in the road. The song that I heard yesterday was one of my favorites at the time; Bad Company. And as is so often the case, I began to think about one small, minute (read small) memory of that place and I was fixated for an hour.

In that hour, I found understanding. I found release. I found peace. I found peace because I accepted that it will never go away. It gets easier as time and age replaces my memories, but it will never completely go away. A song, a smell, a sight, a sound and I will be right back there. I will return to the war-induced numbness that I had over there-for the rest of my life-at the simple hearing of a song. And it was and is just that...a numbness; an apathetic acceptance of my mortality. It was a coping mechanism. I thought I was over it. Yesterday, a song showed me otherwise.

I am not unique. I am not special. I am not alone. The very few Vets that I have spoken to, simply smile as I tell them of my condition. It is in that smile that I know I am perfectly normal and I am not alone. Their smiles say, "Welcome to our world. Your story sounds like life to us." I lost a part of my life over there, and a song showed me yesterday that I will never, ever get it back.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

"He's Got a Knife! I'm Going to Shoot!"

It never gets any easier. As soon as you say "That's the closest I've ever came", on the next call you inch a bit closer. The situation becomes that much more violatle. The trigger gets squeezed a bit further to the rear. It's so much easier to accept when they are shooting at you. It's easier to rationalize. It's easier to stomach. There are so many less variables. But when you are staring down the sights of your weapon at a man who is babbling like a man possessed, who clearly has no understanding of his actions and their potentially lethal consequences, it sucks.

It sucked for me last Wednesday night. I stared down the sights of my weapon and accepted the fact that tonight, I was going to once again, be forced to shoot a man. I remember thinking that we all were so damned close...I couldn't back up any more. He was already an arm's length away. I knew that as soon as I ripped the blankets down from the doorway and was met with a waving butcher-knife. "He's Got a Knife, I'm Gonna Shoot". I saw no other logical solution. I was assigned lethal coverage and now this unfortunate task had landed squarely in my lap and I was going to defend myself and my fellow officers.

I was one of three officers who walked down the hallway of that home that night. I turned the corner, saw the blankets and tried to tear them down as fast as I could. I couldn't get them down on the first try. They eventually came down and all I could see was an arm waving a butcher knife and a heater and other items barricading the entry-way to this bedroom. I backed away as far as I could in the small room which I was in, looked down the sights of my weapon and took out the slack. It sucked. I knew this guy had no idea what was going on. "You're under arrest". "Suffolk Police", "Drop the knife" I said; placing the check marks in the boxes for the pending civil suit which was to come after I shot this man. It sucked. I remember thinking as I saw the glow of my front sight, "Please don't come out. Please don't come out."

There were only two outcomes to the situation which we now found ourselves in. Kill this man, or back out and formulate an alternate plan. Mr. Alvis "Archie" Reed is alive today because the three of us decided to back out and call in the heavy lumber. We backed out, and I stood at the front door of the house until I was ordered to go change uniforms and assume duties as a S.W.A.T. operator; eventually leading to the safe apprehension of Mr. Reed.

Would I have been justified in shooting Mr. Reed that night? That is the question that every Law Enforcement Officer grapples with when the slack is taken out. Fortunatly for me though, I won't have to answer that question quite yet. I am convinced however, that before my career is finished I will be asked that same questrion while sitting in front of twelve of my peers. And I can only hope that they shot at me and missed before I shot back and didn't.

Link to the story and video from WAVY TV 10 :

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


I have passed the test. I made it. I am SWAT. Two weeks ago, I became a part of the law-enforcement elite. And while I am elated, I am also humbled. Elated as this is a no kidding life-long ambition come to fruition. Humbled, as I understand the enormous amount of responsibility which I have now been given. Any member of a special-ops team will attest that the responsibilities placed upon them are enormous. We are given the training, the tools and the trust to carry out our mission. Let there be no question, we are a life-saving organization, but we are a also a body who is dedicated to the protection of the innocent. And herein lies the ambiguity; a catch 22 of sorts which causes many some heartburn and which makes the membership of such a team reserved for the top 5% of any law enforcement agency.

At any given moment, I could be placed into a position where my individual decision could in one second, totally and irreversibly affect lives. Why? Why would I or any man for that matter, want this amount of responsibility on their shoulders? Why would any man want to be the one to have to make the decision that could forever alter the personal landscape of another man's legacy? Here is my answer and why I chose to be a part of that 5%. Let me preface my answer by saying that no one-sentence blurb can even come remotely close to adequately answering these questions. But here is my reasoning.

When I got out of the Marines, I knew trust. I knew what it meant for one man to place his well-being and in certain circumstances, place his life in my hands. I bore a tremendous amount of responsibility let there be no doubt. I knew however, that he was also bearing the same amount of responsibility because I was placing my life in his hands as well. It was a sort of morbid reciprocity. A quid-pro-quo of the highest magnitude. I knew that if I was placed in a life or death situation, when I zigged, he was going to zag without even a fleeting thought of self-preservation. I knew this because I witnessed it. I experienced it many times over. When you experience this total unselfishness, when you feel the comfort of this trust, you begin to crave it. You begin to seek out people worthy of your selfless sacrifice; people whom you know will return this trust. You seek to associate yourself with them on any level possible in the hopes that your craving will be satiated. I felt this trust, to a certain degree, when I first became a police officer...but I craved more. I craved the same comfort that I had when I was rushing into insurgent enclaves in Iraq with my fellow Marines. That total and all-encompassing trust that I had as we rushed from house to house not knowing what was on the other side. Knowing only that my Marines were with me; and this knowledge was enough. I hungered for it. Then, I began to talk to the members of our department's SWAT team.

These men spoke a language that I understood. There was the bad guy, and then there was the team...a concept with which I was intimately familiar. They spoke of the unknown, the mission and of their faith in the team. They told me how they would turn left without hesitation of what was right because they knew that their brother had it covered. They spoke of the gravity of taking a human life so that the innocent may live. They trained at every opportunity so that when they were called upon, they could accomplish any mission given to them. They were speaking my language and I simply knew that I had to be a part of this team...and now I am.

This is why I do what I do what I do. On a personal level, I also believe that a life lived in mediocrity will be remembered for just that. I believe that a family raised and led to not appreciate sacrifice, will falter when times call for it. I also believe that children who are not only taught, but also witness leadership in their homes will gravitate toward followers later on in life. My life is a living example of a selfless parents and I am determined to provide the same for my children. It is my hope that through my example, my children will understand unwavering trust, giving of themselves for their fellow man when it is deserved and being willing to accept the responsibility of the top 5%.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

In Search of Normal

I was thinking the other day about how long it has been since I've posted - and it has been a while. I began to reminisce about how much this little white square on my screen with its blinking black line used to draw me in and consume my thoughts for hours on end. I began to remember how many times I poured myself out here, hoping for release; praying for a glimpse of understanding as the music resounded in my ears. I remembered how for me, this was a form of therapy - the best form of therapy. And then I began to realize why the passion that I once had for the written word has seemed to fade.

I believe that at one time, possibly beginning during my deployment or recently thereafter, I believe that I was on the verge. As I have previously written, at one time over there I lost my fear of death. I accepted and although I've never said this before, was not distraught at the thought of my body coming home draped in the colors-at times even taking pride at the thought. Depending on the circumstances and missions, you almost had to assume a fearless mindset in order to successfully complete the mission. I liken it to mindset that must have been adopted by the tunnel-rats during the Vietnam conflict. Although I've never read anything from nor have I spoken to a tunnel-rat, I think it's safe to say that before they went headfirst into a tunnel that could possibly be a VC enclave (and they did this often), they had to lose their fear of death. How else could they do it? Every door that those Marines and I busted down over there, could have been our last. I remember early on in my deployment thinking as we rode down MSR Bronze, "Please don't blow up...Please don't blow up." Eventually, I stopped fearing that possibility, and I began to accept it as an eventuality. I had to and others had to as well. We fought to live, and we tried to kill them before they killed us. And each skirmish that we won, took me further and further down the slippery slope of apathy.

After I got out of the Corps and returned home to work at a local police department, I asked my Field Training Officer what he would do if someone came from around that corner and began to shoot at us as we sat in our patrol vehicle. "Well," he said, "if you don't throw this thing in reverse and get us the heck out of here, I'll throw you out and do it myself!" His answer caused me a great deal of concern. It was the right answer, and I knew it was the right answer. It was however, the right answer to someone who was still afraid of dying. It took me well over a year to retrain myself to think this way and fight the mental compulsion to envision myself assaulting through the enemy instead of immediately taking cover and waiting for back up - which most times, is the correct course of action. And when I did, (rehabilitated my mind in a sense), my search for understanding began to wane. I became "normal" again. I no longer felt abnormal. I no longer battled with the conflicting thoughts of life and death, and wondering why, quite honestly, I wasn't afraid to die.

So, while I have never been one to make excuses, I think in this instance at least, my excuse for being noticeably absent in the blogsphere will be that I have realized that I am once again a normal person; very much in love with my life. If this all seems strange, weird and you think that I should be institutionalized, please read some posts from the early days of "America's Son" and maybe this will help you understand and see from where it is that I have progressed.

My oldest daughter just started kindergarten this year, so don't fret. I'm sure that I will soon be thrust once again into a search for understanding...Stay Tuned.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Jerrod and I lived together for six months in Iraq. So you can imagine when I read the article, "Marine Charged With 225 Counts of Abuse", I felt like someone punched me square in the stomach. I have not spoken to Jerrod since he and I hugged and shook hands at the airport in San Diego when I got back from Iraq in March of last year. Come on the bus with me as we head off to Marine Boot Camp. Please, read the above article first.

We have been driving around in circles for the past three hours. The sun set hours ago the chatter on the bus is lively and spirited. A few of us have high-and-tight's, but as we look around the bus, the majority of guys look like they just left their high-school campus. The bus slows noticeably and turns sharply right. "You all may want to sit down now", the bus driver yells with an ominous smirk on his face. A long stretch of straightaway....the chatter and laughing quiets...silence. We are all looking out the windows into the darkness, into the blackness of the swamp. Dim street lights now line the narrow two lane road. A small shack approaches in the distance. The bus slows as it approaches. Two Marines stand at the edge of the curb. They share a short empty glance with one another before they robotically wave the bus through the gate...

We are strangers in a foreign land. We have all been given a glimpse into a different world...a world where no matter where we came from, there is something greater than us. None of us know it yet, but in thirteen short weeks most of us will have accomplished more than we ever dreamed we could. Many of us will find what we came in search of. For a few, it was a choice made to be "the best". For others, it was the only service which would take them. We are a bus full of selfish individuals who would gladly trample the desires of the fellow sitting next to us in order to further ours. We have no concept Honor, Courage or Commitment. Many of us think we do, but in our lives, pure selflessness, an unwavering sense of duty and an unquestioning devotion to a cause are nonexistent. Soon enough however, we will meet the men who will take this busload of individuals and instill in each one of us these qualities...the qualities which have been trained into thousands of Marines who have stepped on the same yellow footprints where our feet are soon to tread. The means necessary to achieve this end, as every Marine will will attest to, are not pretty and at times, they hurt. The necessity of these means are also difficult to explain.

As I reflected on the purpose of this post, I realized that I will never be able to explain this transformation. It is an anomaly. It is something that is only going to be understood by those of us who have experienced the ultimate test of desire, will and determination. Let me share with you though, something that is going to cause you to shake your head in disbelief, but something that is also going to resonate with every Marine who reads this....I was hit by my Drill Instructors in boot camp. I was cursed at, at times spat upon, ridiculed, berated and at times threatened with bodily harm by these same men. Five short years later, I was being shot at and buildings were being blown up all around me. I was watching men blow themselves up yards away from me. I was hearing that unforgettable zing of rounds flying by my head. I was watching Marines being dragged out of the street after they were struck by the enemies bullets. I was being called upon to immediately and without question place myself in a position where I may give my life for the sake of the cause and my fellow Marines. Jump in a dang trash can? Have someone shove me in it? Hear me here...I prayed that the corner that I was crouching in in that shack in Husaybah would protect me from the car screeching toward us because I was not in a position to take it out and I feared it was going to take me out. I thanked GySgt Bodie for throwing that mattress on me and Bingo right before they blew that weapons cache. Marines follow orders because by following orders, we stay alive. How are we trained to follow orders? By being given strange orders to follow, and being made to follow than immediately without question. "GySgt Bodie, why should I keep this mattress over my head, and why should I jump down into this dugout?" You see what questioning orders can lead to?

Jerrod...thank you. SSgt Lorance, Sgt Casarez, Sgt Simms, thank you. You all did what was necessary to effect a transformation that only we can understand and appreciate. Hold your heads high....I am and will continue to do so because I know those lessons taught to me by the pain you inflicted, kept me and my brothers alive.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Small Stuff

I consider Jessie to be a close friend of mine and someone with whom I share a kindred spirit. Jessie and I went through the Police Academy together, we endured Field Training together and we now have the fortune of patrolling neighboring zones within our city. Between the shooting, rape and numerous fights-in-progress calls that we backed each other up on last night, we had the opportunity to discuss some really important issues in our society. Jessie, while he is still very much a young man, has an unusual amount of maturity and an uncanny sense of level-headedness that far surpasses those within his age group. Last night, while he and I were parked "window-to-window" we pondered our society's undoing. I shared with him what I believe to be a major contributing factor. I told Jessie that a fundamental truth that my eight years as a husband, and six years as a father have taught me is that as a husband, don't even think about sweating the small stuff (actual incidents...(A) "Yea, I hit her. She wore my shoes the wrong way, so I punched her." (B) "I said no lettuce. What did I get? Lettuce. She doesn't want to listen to me, so I helped her listen.). As a father however, there is no such thing as small stuff. Every word and every action of my children are crucial to their development. He and I see it almost everyday and it sickens me.

He and I have both been on calls for service where parents are completely and totally at wits end as a result of the actions of their children. It's truly sad because I know, and what I have tried to show Jessie, is that there is a certain point where these kids are gone; the opportunity and privilege of forming and training their precious personalities and lives is lost. Their parents have travelled so far down the slope of parental remission, laziness and selfishness that the only person who can change these children now is the children themselves. In the beginning it was a tantrum at bedtime in defiance that was catered to. "No" was heard by the child as "keep on asking". Later as their poor souls regressed and as the battle continued, these young children stood their ground as seasoned generals while their Dads and Moms retreated; their patience, wits and bodies wracked by the wounds of the workday. Lessons of respect for authority and for adults have been abandoned. "Ma'am" and "Sir" have become archaic jargon lost somewhere-post baby boom.

Let me tell ya' folks, when I was coming up, my sisters and I feared my Dad. Granted, Mom was bad, but only because when you wronged her, you wronged Dad too. My school teacher's pen was the devil's instrument...not because she wielded it, but rather because my Father would eventually read it's damning words. Get in trouble in school or at a friend's house meant you were guaranteed double jeopardy when you got home. I remember whispering in my buddies' ear as they answered my Father's questions; "Say yes sir", because I had been taught from toddlerhood that was the only proper way to answered my Dad. At the time, did I understand the bigger picture that he was teaching me concerning respect for authority? Not hardly. Do my daughter's understand it now? Not hardly. But you know what, just as I understand it now, one day they will too. There is no such thing as small stuff when it comes to my girls. I love them unconditionally, and I make it a point to ensure that they know this. But I also love them enough to teach them right and wrong. As Gov. Mitt Romney stated, ”...there's no work more important than what goes on within the four walls of the American home." My home is no exception.