Sunday, November 25, 2012

Week 8 - Thanksgiving Break

I will be taking this week off from blogging (and the NA) to spend time with my family.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Week 7 - Just do the right thing...

"We tend to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have." --Frederick Keonig

We have completed Week 7 of our journey and are heading into a very short week with the Thanksgiving break. I am fortunate to be driving home on Tuesday to spend most of the week with my family. I have always considered myself a "family man" and have never been one to take my family for granted. I tell them I love them every time I leave or hang up the phone. And though my position sometimes requires me to work long hours and miss family functions, I have always tried to be there when it "mattered." I am fortunate that I work for a family-friendly department that allows us some latitude when balancing family versus work.  Still, one of the things I will take away from my time at the NA is that family truly must come first. While here, I have missed work (to a degree) and have certainly missed the people I work with, but my family is what I think about when sitting in my room at night.  The fact that I missed my wife's birthday and my daughter's school awards ceremony and will also miss one of my daughter's birthdays next month are some of the only regrets I have here. Things at the office have run very smoothly in my absence. One of my post-NA goals will be to tip the balance of the scales a little in favor of my family. Long after I retire, I will be left with my family. While I have tried to make a lasting impression on my department through changes and improvements to policies and programs, my children will be my most important legacy. Life is short and tomorrow is never guaranteed. This fact was proven this past week when one of my classmates unexpectedly lost his fourteen year old son to an unknown heart condition during a cross country match. I can't begin to imagine the pain of losing a child.  As I prepare to see my own family, my thoughts are with my classmate who is preparing to bury his son and most likely facing the toughest trial of his life. I would ask you to keep him and his family in your thoughts and prayers, especially this coming week.

This past week has been an eventful one around the NA. We, as a section, had what many believe was the best night yet - International Night. International Night comes but once per session (as some would not survive doing it more than once for various reasons). It is an opportunity for the international students to showcase their respective countries though dress, visual displays, literature, food, and drink. Those of you who know me personally probably cued in on the word "food" and rightly so. Since we have students from countries like Thailand, Taiwan, Mongolia, and South Korea, I have been looking forward to this for weeks - I was not disappointed. One of my classmates, John summed it up succinctly in his Facebook post that night "Best dinner in 7 weeks!". The international students clearly put forth their best effort and did a great job entertaining and showcasing their countries. You could see the pride they have in their respective countries as they talked about their traditions and served up their specialties. The room was set up like a fair with each student having a table and display area. We were then free to move about and visit (and revisit) each country. I'm not sure how many maple cookies I ate courtesy of Dave from Canada - but it was more than I would admit if I did know the number. In addition to all of the Asian food (with special recognition to South Korea even though I'm still feeling the burn of that kimchi), I have to mention Marcin from Poland (sausage and pierogis), Greg from New Zealand (whipped cream dessert), and Muhammed from Afghanistan (a FEAST consisting of chicken, chickpeas, and hummus among other things). While the whole evening was fantastic, I did see one area for potential improvement. I believe every class could benefit from having a brother or sister from south of the border to represent the culinary exploits of the Republic of Mexico. Other than that, it was perfect.

This weekend we were treated to a tour of the Pentagon thanks to Jackie who serves with the Pentagon Force Protection Agency. Our tour guide was one of his lieutenants who was working there on 9/11. In addition to a very thorough and knowledge-filled tour, he provided a very personal account of 9/11 and its aftermath. It was one of the tour highlights of the session. Without going into too much detail in this public forum, we were able to see some amazing things and were awed by the military might of our country.

Following the tour, several of us took a ride over to the National Holocaust Museum. It is impossible to describe the impact that a visit to that museum can have on you, but it is something that every single person on the planet should have the opportunity to experience for themselves. When you enter you are provided a small booklet where you are assigned a real life victim of the Holocaust. As you traverse the museum, which is organized chronologically, you are able to track your person's experience and fate. The experience begins with Hitler's rise to power. I was pretty familiar with some of circumstances surrounding his rise because I had participated in a debate in my ethics class regarding Hitler as a leader. I had previously discussed Hitler's rise at length with my friend Craig (who was at the museum and was also on my debate team), but we were both impacted by experiencing it so visually through films, photos, and the other displays. One of the most influential photos on that particular display for me showed a regular German police officer and his dog partnered with a Nazi auxiliary on patrol. As a police officer, it begs the hypothetical question, what would American police officers do if the law they were sworn to uphold was suddenly no longer "just" and therefore differed from their personal ethical and moral code? We are fortunate to live in a free society where the Constitution and freedom reigns supreme, but it poses an interesting question, nonetheless.

The most important lesson from the museum was that Hitler was allowed to do something that he did not innately have the power or resources to do. His rise did not happen overnight.  Along the way, people had the opportunity to stand up to him and to intervene, but only after millions had died, did the world stand up and bring his reign to an end.  During the years that the rest of the world failed to stand up and act, Hitler was permitted to rise to power, invade and seize control of Austria and other neighboring countries, take millions into captivity, and finally torture and kill millions of innocent men, women, and children. By failing to act (or in some cases failing to act sooner than they did), various "leaders" were essentially complicit in the atrocities committed. Martin Niemöller said it best when he described his own experience as a German minister, initial supporter of Hitler, and subsequent prisoner (after opposing Hitler).

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out -
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me -
And there was no one left to speak for me.

While many of us will never be put in a position where our actions or decisions would prevent the next Holocaust, the actions we choose to take (or not take) matter.  For instance, imagine if every time a criminal perpetrated a crime, a passerby intervened rather than being too busy to get involved.  Our crime rate would be greatly reduced.  Whether it is a company cooking its books, corruption within a police department, or members of the clergy and child abuse, how many times have people been in a position to intervene or report something but chosen not to because it was easier or safer to remain silent?  We each have the opportunity, on perhaps a daily basis, to change things for the better by standing up for something or someone.  Imagine if every time a child was bullied at school (or an adult was bullied at work for that matter), someone else, at potential risk to themselves, stepped in to defend the victim.  If the bully then turned on the defender, another person stepped up to defend the defender.   Eventually the source of the bully's power (fear and intimidation) would no longer exist.  Imagine if every time someone told a racist joke or made a sexist or otherwise disparaging comment about someone's appearance, they were called to account for it by someone else rather than encouraged by laughter.  Doing the right thing matters - whether it be a life threatening situation or a seemingly trivial situation.

The museum had several powerful exhibits and its intent is to make you remember what you see there.  It is very effective at this.  Explicit videos of mass murder are shown.  Displays of the gas chambers used to carry out the "final solution" are on display.  One of the most moving displays is a simple pile of shoes.  The shoes were found stored in a concentration camp after being taken from people processed there.  The impact comes from the sight of the shoes which are various sizes and styles.  The shoes smell musty and leather-like.  As you look at the shoes, you begin to imagine the people to whom they belonged.  Another exhibit called "Voices of Auschwitz" allows you to hear, in their own words and voices, real life accounts from concentration camp survivors.  One such survivor, Fritzie Fritzshall said this:

"How do I describe fear?  How do I describe hunger to someone that probably had breakfast and lunch today?  Or even if you're dieting, or even if you're fasting for a day?  I think hunger is:  when the pit of your stomach hurts, when you would sell your soul for a potato or a slice of bread.  I believe that once one has experienced hunger, they will never forget it.  How do I describe living with lice in your clothes, on your body?  The stink.  The fear.  The selections.  The Appells.  The being told when to go to the toilet, not when you  needed to use it.  The using of the morning coffee to wash your face with...and mostly, mostly, death and the gas chambers."

Also on display were a bunk bed from a death camp, a box car used to transport victims to a death camp, hair shaved from the heads of victims at camps, and pictures drawn by children from the Theresienstadt Ghetto who were sent to the camps.  In a particularly moving video, one survivor tells of her decision to give her child to a stranger.  By doing so, she hoped that her child could pose as a non-Jew and be spared the inevitable fate of imprisonment in a camp.  The video went on to feature other stories of those who, despite personal risk, did the right thing and saved lives.  One woman recounted Nazi soldiers tying people together in groups of threes.  Once fastened, they would shoot one person and push the group into the Danube River in order to drown the other two.  The woman along with three other men surreptitiously slipped in to the freezing river and pulled strangers to safety until they could no longer move their limbs because of the cold.  If discovered they could have been shot.  If they had been overcome by the elements they could have drowned.  Still, they did the right thing and saved 50 strangers that night.

Suffice it to say, the experience at the museum was unforgettable, I would recommend it to everyone.  I am more thankful than ever as I prepare to travel home to see my family for the holidays.  Until next time...

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Week 6 - Hump Day of Hump Week...

Today marks the official half way point of our time here at the National Academy.  As I reflect on that, I am satisfied with what I have accomplished so far.  From academics to fitness to friendships, if I can keep up the same pace for the second half, this will have been a wildly successful venture.  We have a four day weekend coming up for Veteran's Day, so I will be excitedly heading home to see my family for the first time in five weeks.

This week has been an eventful one.  With the election last night, it was interesting to be around people from other states as they lamented their own local and state elections.  Aside from the presidential election, conversations centered around marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado which will certainly raise some interesting Constitutional issues.  As people (and the news pundits) discussed the electoral college and the power split in Congress, I took a moment to reflect on our times.  Regardless of your side of the aisle, there is little argument that these are trying times in which we live.   From the economy to foreign relations to national defense issues to the great cultural/socio-economic/racial/political divide that was so evident in the election results, these are difficult times indeed.  Still, I am comforted by things I have learned and seen here.

One of my favorite classes is the Law of Police Operations, a Constitutional law class.  The instructor, Carl Benoit, is a fantastic instructor.  His passion for the law along with his experience as a police officer, FBI agent, and attorney give him a unique ability to engage students and apply complex legal principles to real life scenarios.  His class has given me, not only a better understanding, but also a better appreciation for our Constitution, our system of government, and the wisdom of our founding fathers.  This past weekend, my session travelled to Philadelphia which, dare I say, may have been a better trip than New York.  We had a jam-packed weekend, but one of the highlights for me was a visit to the National Constitution Center.  It is essentially a museum dedicated to our form of government, our way of life, and the rights and freedoms we enjoy as Americans.  Fourth Amendment issues and Supreme Court cases that we have discussed in class were brought to life in interactive displays.  We also toured Independence Hall where i was awestruck as we stood in the room where the framers drafted, debated, and signed the Constitution.  No place is the wisdom of our founding fathers more evident than in our Constitution.  One of the greatest examples of a successful compromise, the Constitution provides safeguards, checks, and balances at every turn.  We have three distinct branches of government: the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches - each having the power and duty to limit the power of the others.  From the Senate's confirmation of Presidential appointees, to the President's veto power, to the Supreme Court's ability to declare laws unconstitutional, the system is filled with safeguards.  Our system of having a bifurcated Congress (known as "the Great Compromise") was suggested after a disagreement between larger/more populated states that wanted legislative representatives based on population (as it is in the House) and smaller states that argued for equal representation (as it is in the Senate).  The Electoral College itself was a compromise between having a president elected by Congress versus having one elected by popular vote.  I point all of this out to remind everyone that regardless of whether your "side" won the Presidency or a particular seat in Congress, everyone is still represented in some way.  While many of the population centers ended up deciding the presidency through the electoral college, smaller districts and rural America simultaneously led the opposing party to maintain control of the House of Representatives.  The Supreme Court, due to lifetime appointments (afforded in the Constitution), remains a conservative leaning body.  Whether I see it played out in court decisions where the Fourth Amendment is used to address electronic surveillance (something the framers had no knowledge of) or whether I see it played out in the balancing of power in the elections, I am amazed at the genius of our Constitution and the timeless wisdom of its authors.  Our founding fathers gave us a gift that keeps on giving.

Independence Hall - the room where the Constitution was signed to include George Washington's actual chair at the head of the room

The National Constitution Center

A life-size replica of the Constitutional Convention 

Today's economic, foreign relations, and national defense issues are worrisome, especially when coupled with the stark differences in political opinions and the divisiveness along cultural/racial/socio-economic lines throughout our country.  I would encourage you to look back through history and think about challenges we have already overcome in our brief 236 years.  In 1861, our nation was truly divided - fighting a physical war against itself.  We not only overcame that period but ended up stronger for it.  In 1929, the Great Depression began.  We not only overcame the worst economic collapse in our history, we ended up stronger for it.  In 1941, we entered World War II, a war that spanned continents and found its way to our own back porch.  In that war, much like today, we were forced to fight for those who couldn't fight for themselves in order to ensure that freedom prevailed over tyranny.  We emerged stronger than ever.  Our success has come from our independence, our rule of law, and the indomitable American spirit that has proven itself time and time again.  The fact that every four years we face a potential change in power and time and time again, as we have had changes, it is done peacefully (if not begrudgingly) because that is the law.  The founders put something very special together - a system that has served us well and will continue to serve us well.  While everyone will never agree with an outcome, the process is the key to success.

Hopefully, you are still with me despite what may have been an unwanted civics lesson.

The rest of my week here at the NA has gone well - better than that of at least two of my classmates. Yesterday's election brought a new sheriff in to one jurisdiction which could cost one of my classmates his job. Because he is a higher ranking officer, he is at risk of losing his job should the new sheriff bring in his own command staff. Tragically, another of my classmates had to return home after learning that her fiancĂ© had died while working as a rescue diver.  As Thanksgiving approaches, I have much to be thankful for.  I have been given this incredible opportunity to attend the NA where I have learned a lot, met so many, and experienced so much.  More importantly, I am healthy, as is my family.  I have a stable job where I can make a difference in the lives of others.  The list could go on, but keep my classmates in your thoughts as they go through these trials.

My feeling of gratitude for my own situation was further strengthened tonight when I had the opportunity to attend our enrichment event.  USN Retired Commander Porter Halyburton and USAF Retired Colonel Fred Cherry, former prisoners of war in Vietnam, were brought in to address our session.  Both men spent over seven years in captivity and endured torture, harsh punishment, and abysmal conditions.  Both men were very candid with regards to their experiences.  They discussed the importance of leadership, communication, and faith in helping them to "not just survive but to survive with honor and purpose."  The two were brought together because the Vietnamese thought, due to events of the 1960s, that a young, southern white junior officer and an older black senior officer would not get along and would provide them with propaganda material.  The plan backfired when the two became great friends helping to physically care for, encourage, and inspire one another.  CDR Halyburton told us that one of the greatest lessons he learned was about choice.  He learned that "your quality of life is determined by the quality of your choices."  While almost every freedom he had was taken away, the one that could not be taken from him was his freewill.  He began to take pleasure in his choice to resist his interrogators by not giving them what they demanded, and he found strength in the fact that he was choosing his path.  He encouraged us to take things that we cannot control and set them aside.  We should instead focus on those things over which we exercise control - and we always have control over our own attitude.  Despite what both men endured, they went on to lead successful and happy lives.  Both stressed that they would not change things as their experiences had made them who they are.  CDR Halyburton was only able to spend five days with his daughter when she was born before returning to the war where he was eventually shot down.  In a very emotional scene he described returning home after his liberation.  When he arrived, his daughter, now almost eight years old, ran to him and jumped into his arms.  She then asked, "Can I sit in your lap?"  As my own daughter is almost eight, I tried to imagine what it would be like to have missed out on her life since she was just five days old.  He described their reunion as "love at first sight".  He went on to have other children and is still married to his wife today.  Col. Cherry was not so lucky, as he returned to a broken family after his release.  Both men made tremendous sacrifices that can't be summed up in this short paragraph.  A book, Two Souls Indivisible by James Hirsch details their time in captivity and the bond that they formed as a result.  I had opportunity to speak briefly with both men after their presentation and was humbled by their character and demeanor.

CDR Halyburton and Col. Cherry

Meeting two real American heroes

The downhill starts tomorrow as we pass the halfway point, and I look forward to continuing to learn and experience new things.  I will be enjoying some much anticipated family time this weekend and recharging for what is still to come.  Until next time...

Friday, November 2, 2012

Week 5 - The City that Never Sleeps...

...Gotham City...the Big Apple...the Empire City...whatever nickname you prefer, FBINA Session 251 invaded New York City for a whirlwind weekend that was a jam-packed combination of training, sightseeing, and socializing. For those of you who have not been, it is a sight (or collection of sights). The size and intensity of the city can't be described - it has to be experienced. Our trip was hosted by the New York City Police Department (NYPD), the largest police force in the country. The differences between New York City and my home state of South Carolina are numerous. In order to give some perspective, allow me to compare some recent census numbers. Keep in mind that I am comparing a state to a city.

SC >4.5 million  |  NYC >8 million

Number of Businesses
SC 360,000  |  NYC 944,000

Land Area (square miles)
SC 30,000  |  NYC 302

Average Population Per Square Mile
SC 153  |  NYC 27,000

The NYPD has nearly 40,000 police officers. To put this number in perspective, you would have to combine the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th largest police departments in the nation to match that number (Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Houston, respectively). Including NYPD, there are only about 900,000 law enforcement officers in the entire United States - that includes every city police department, county sheriff's office, and state and federal law enforcement agency. If NYPD were a military force, it would be among the largest 75 military forces in the world. Technically, NYPD would have a navy and air force too as they literally have a fleet of boats as well as a fleet of aircraft. To say that the NYPD is a union department would be an understatement. They actually have five unions. There is a police officers union, a detectives union, a sergeants union, a lieutenants union, and a captains union. In many ways the City of New York couldn't be more different than my home state, and in many ways the NYPD is unlike any other police department in the country. I can't imagine having the manpower to literally put an officer on every corner of an area the size of Time Square or to be able to deploy hundreds of officers to a last minute event. I can't imagine being able to deploy a SWAT team and divers on helicopters to a scene within minutes of notification.

NYPD provided demonstrations of several specialized units to include their Aviation Unit.

NYPD provided demonstrations of several specialized units to include their Mounted Patrol. 

We were given a tour of NYPD headquarters, aka One Police Plaza.

Our tour included Comp Stat, the Joint Operations Center, and the Real Time Crime Center.

Throughout the weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with and pick the brains of various NYPD officers. What I found is that while the scale of our departments is different, in many ways policing is not all that different. On Saturday I ate lunch with a twenty year veteran of the department and member of a specialized unit. We spoke at length about the recent line of duty death of a Nassau police officer, the issue of officers wearing body armor, and whether generational differences are correlated with officer safety skills. We discussed police leadership, training and mentoring. On Sunday I spent my breakfast time in another discussion with a sergeant from a patrol precinct. Both pointed out that things are not all that different when you break it down. Taken as a whole, the NYPD is a mammoth department - a standing army. However, if you look at an individual precinct, it is like a small to medium sized police department. A precinct commander is like a chief of his own town or city. A shift in that precinct can be comparably staffed with a supervisor and officers responsible for patrolling an area similar to campus or to a region of a South Carolina city or county agency. While the demographics of communities and the availability of resources or something as trivial as the color of a uniform may differ, the concerns of line level officers are the same. They have the same stressors: making ends meet for their family budget, balancing family time with shift work, and potential danger on every traffic stop. As I have found with my classmates, I continue to find more similarities amongst my brothers in blue than differences further reinforcing the idea that we as a profession are in this together.

One of many NYPD officers I had the opportunity to meet on our trip.

We had the opportunity to see several New York landmarks. Being able to ascend the Empire State building gave me a new appreciation for the size and grandeur of New York City as I looked out over the landscape that is so different from home. Being able to walk through the NYPD Museum allowed me to see first hand the history of my profession. As I walked through various exhibits I was reminded of names and events that I forgot I knew from my history of policing classes in college. Going to the Statue of Liberty, we were reminded of some of the simple freedoms that we often take for granted in our daily lives. As we walked through the 9/11 Memorial and read the names of those lost, we were all able to renew our commitment to being vigilant for the next time evil attacks.

A view of the city skyline from near Ellis Island.

The 9/11 Memorial

A room containing a badge representing every NYPD officer that has died in the line of duty,

Lady Liberty

Another key aspect of the New York trip was the opportunity to simply spend time with my fellow classmates. We have bonded over the past several weeks having studied together in class, having sweat together in PT, and having eaten together in the cafeteria. Opportunities like the New York trip offer time away from the institution. The opportunity to have fun together and to relax. Taking advantage of opportunities like this is what takes a group of colleagues and transforms it into a group of friends. I had the opportunity to get know several people that I don't have classes with and whose dorms are not on my floor. Even now in our fifth week, I am meeting new people and learning new things from them. During the trip to New York and during my entire time here at the NA, I have experienced things and made memories that I will have for the rest of my life, and I am just very grateful for the opportunity.

On the bus with roommate Insp. Montes (CA), and suitemates Lt. Zimney (MI) and Lt. Clites (SD)

During dinner Saturday we had a surprise visit from the NYPD Emerald Society Pipe and Drums

As I type, I am on the eve of our next trip which will be hosted by the Philadelphia Police Department. We are approaching the half way mark of our time here and with the holidays, I am certain that the pace of things will be picking up. I plan to continue to take advantage of every opportunity and encounter. Until next time...