Echoes in Eternity
For more than 25 years I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to train other police officers. Beginning with the officers at my own
department and branching out into college students, academy cadets, and officers all across the country, teaching and learning from my
fellow warriors has been the most rewarding chapter in my law enforcement life. I remember being truly affected by the experience of
sitting in the passenger seat for the first time as a field training officer, a little nervous about being responsible not just for myself, but for the
career and safety of a fellow officer, but proud of the trust I had been given to pass on what I knew of this most honorable profession. That
feeling has never changed, even if the venue has. I still catch myself feeling as honored, rewarded, and yes, even as nervous from time to time, after all this time. As important as it is to train specific skills, department policies, tactical abilities, and all those other things we know go into being a great officer, I’ve found that the occasions when I’m given a chance to make an impact beyond what can be seen or measured are the ones that mean the most to me. To step outside the sort of thing we normally talk about in our culture of bravery and brotherhood, lifting someone’s spirit is a feeling that’s hard to explain. The following email is one of those truly priceless moments:
Back in June of last year, you came to Traverse City to host your seminar entitled "Our Noble Profession" for the Grand Traverse Sheriff Dept as well as the Traverse City police department. I felt it was a great presentation...so much so that I stopped to talk with you afterwards and explain that my father had died in the line of duty and was listed on the wall in Washington DC. You gave me the Spartan coin (as I refer to it) and I kept that coin with me every day I was on duty in my right
shirt pocket wrapped in the handout from the class. Every so often when I needed it, I would take the coin out, read it and the hand out, and feel better about the profession that I have chosen. The words on the coin meant something very special to me because my father’s death meant something and the coin tied in the fact that he did not die in vain. When I received the coin from you, I brought it home and showed my two boys and they knew I was proud of it.
This May, my youngest son graduated from the U.S. Air Force Basic training course and as you may or may not know, part of the ceremony in becoming an airman is the coin ceremony. They are not truly part of the Air Force until they receive the coin from their instructors. It is a proud moment for all when this happens. Afterwards, the Air Force has a "tapping out" tradition in which the families get to come down to the parade deck and "tap out" their airman on the shoulder. The airman can not move from the position of attention until this is done. My wife and I agreed I should be the one to tap out our son and I wanted it to mean something even more special. Before tapping him out I asked him if he was ready to embark on the path of the warrior and serve his country the best he could. When he said "Yes sir," I shook his hand while giving him a hearty hug. As I did, I pressed your coin into his hand and said, "you know what this coin represents and how much it meant to me. Now you carry on the warrior tradition."
I figured you may want to know that as of this moment, your coin is proudly keeping the spirit alive for my son as he embarks on his new phase in life. He is training for Air Force Special Ops and is doing very well so far. From what he told me, he is also the envy of the squad because of the coin i gave him!
Thanks again, Chief for doing what you do in keeping the rest of us remembering why we chose this job in the first place. Its good to know my son takes it seriously too.
Deputy Mark Draeger, 881
Grand Traverse County Sheriff Department Corrections Division
My mentor Bill Westfall always told me I would affect more peoples' lives as a trainer than as a police chief or a cop. He said that is what training is all about. It is about becoming an “infinite” to those we have the privilege of training, a part of not only what they’ll do in their own lives and careers but what they’ll pass on to the next generation, separating the teacher from the ‘finite’ nature of people who only live for themselves. I feel that notion most keenly when I’m rewarded with words like the ones from Deputy Draeger, and there’s no doubt in my mind that Bill was right.
Consider the impact you have on the people who trust you enough to be trained by you and actually take your message to heart. Your job as a trainer is to give them the knowledge and skills which you
possess and they still need, but you can be more than that. Warriors of old were lifted from dark moods by Skalds telling stories around the fire between battles, or the bagpipes roaring our across the sky as they marched, and there is an armor to be found in being as strong of heart and spirit as you are in weapons. Through the attitude you display about being a police officer and the simple act of taking the time you show your trainees that they matter beyond whatever task is at hand, you can be the battle drum that shows them how to march with their heads high, and the trumpet that tells them their sacrifice matters.
And here’s the secret: you’ll realize that no matter how much you mean to them, they’ll always mean more to you.