Why We Do It
"Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?"
- William J. Bennett
In a lecture to the United States Naval Academy
November 24, 1997
At the beginning of my Police Academy training, our Chief Instructor asked us why we wanted to be Police Officers. Some of us said things like, "To get back at all those lousy drivers," or "A career change,”; even "Cause dental school sucked," - He's an Alaskan State Trooper now. My answer was simply, "I don't really know. The desire was just always 'there.'" I didn't realize what the true meaning of being a Police Officer was until my experience while responding to a call with a local Sheriff’s office. I had already been hired on with my agency and had made plenty of arrests. However, I had never been on "patrol". My job was different because we would locate fugitives, and then go arrest them...never just "patrol".
It was about 9:00 p.m. on a very rainy and wet night, and I was out with a Sheriff's Deputy. The Sheriff’s office stations one Deputy/Paramedic in every city within the County and then has one "rover" Deputy that covers the whole County and backs any Officer needing help (city Officers included). That night, we were the “rovers".
When a critical incident occurs, it doesn't go over the radio like any other call. Before the dispatcher broadcasts the call she sounds 4 extremely loud beeps. The beeps kind of serve as a "Hey listen up, this is important." So, we're driving along and all of the sudden, "Beep, beep, beep, beep!” The sounds of the beeps alone get your adrenaline pumping. Then the broadcast; ”Available units please respond to… Possible man with gun..." We flip around, lights and siren on. Information started coming over the computer system; “Complainant is the Wife and says she is involved in a domestic dispute with her Husband. Complainant is reporting her husband and her got into an argument and that he told her he is going to kill her and then himself. Complainant also states the Husband is in back bedroom loading a rifle.” Dispatchers from other areas in the County acknowledge they received the broadcast and then we hear Officers throughout the area calling in to let Dispatch know they are responding. The Sheriff’s Office units are "Delta Units" - shortened on the radio to "Del" by the Deputies, Other departments use names like, ”November," ”Whiskey,” “X-Ray," and so on. "Del 10, 10-17." "Del 35, I'm heading that way." “November 5, show me enroute.” “Whiskey 2, I’ll back.” You can hear the sirens in the background of their radio transmissions. Deputies and Officers throughout the valley, some total strangers to one another, are responding to this call. The teamwork gave me chills.
We are doing 95 miles per hour from the other side of the valley in an absolute downpour. I'm not sure if my adrenaline is from the call we are going to, or the fact that I am pretty sure we aren't going to even make it there anyway. We exit the freeway and head east and I'm thinking to myself, "This is what it's all about." Then I realized, "This really is what it's 'all about'. We are running to the sound of the gunfire." Most people run from the sound of gunfire, right? We were running to it. Then I wondered how other’s might respond to that situation. Would they go? Would they run? How would they react? Would they be scared Regardless, this was it; it was "time to go." That was when I realized what it meant to be a “sheepdog”. It meant that we were able, trained and willing to run to the sound of the gunfire in order to save the life/lives of someone who was unable to save themselves. We were willing to walk "Into the valley in the shadow of death..." and accept whatever fate awaited us deep inside that valley. Why? Because that is the path that we had chosen. I guess we all have our reasons; some different, and some the same. However, at that moment, the reason didn't matter. It was just that we were there, we were doing our job, and that's all that needed to be said.
That is the path that we had chosen; the path Police Officers and Firefighters of NYPD and FDNY had chosen on 9/11; the path that Dallas Police Officer chose that terrible night of July 7 2015; and that is the path that the thousands of Police Officers, Firefighters, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines continue to choose each day. They run to the sound of the gunfire, the IED explosion, the fire, the whatever. Why? Because someone has to and they’re the ones who are willing. However, this does not make us “heroes" and I don't know anyone who does any of those jobs that sees themselves in that way either, no matter what they have done.
In the book, On Combat, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, he mentions an analogy given to him by an old retired Vietnam Colonel. This analogy divide's the world's population into three separate groups; sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Sheep are your average "Joe." The guy who wakes up, goes to work, comes home, pays his taxes and goes to bed. That's most of us, right? Then he describes the wolves; murderers, rapists, thieves, terrorists, etc. They feed on the sheep and are unmerciful. And then there are the sheepdogs. The sheepdogs are the defenders; the protectors of the sheep. They are the police officers, firefighters, military personnel and anyone else who is willing to "run to the sound of the gunfire." He goes on to to say this;
"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."
To me, when you have fully accepted the mindset of warriorhood; that you wish you could have been there; that you could maybe have made a difference; then you have "truly invested yourself into warriorhood." To me, that is the only place to be. But that’s not all that’s required. Making the decision is only part of the equation. To be truly “invested”, you must train, you must prepare and you must always be ready. For what? Hopefully you’ll never find out. But if that day ever comes, it’s better to have the mindset, the focus and the tools, then to become a statistic.