Sunday, December 9, 2012

Week 10 - The end draws nigh...

"Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows." --Ben Stein

As we enter our last week at the National Academy, it is bitter sweet.  We look forward to seeing our families and friends back home and returning to our "normal" lives, while simultaneously feeling disappointment that we will not be seeing our new friends and "family" and will be returning to our "normal" lives.  I will admit that it has been a pleasant experience only being responsible for myself, sleeping through the night (no late night calls), and having my day (to include workouts) planned and precisely scheduled for me.  Over these past two months, I have been fortunate enough to see and do a a vast and varied array of things that many people will not see and do over a lifetime.  I have been to museums, monuments, battlefields, and a ballpark.  I have met pilots, POWs, and even a general.  I have learned in the classroom from the best the field has to offer.  Chief among my experiences, though, is that I have been provided a very unique opportunity to not just meet but really get to know law enforcement leaders from around the world.  Through academic projects, physical fitness challenges, and extracurricular activities, we have formed strong bonds.  These bonds are only seeds though.  If they are watered and provided sun and nutrients, they will sprout, grow complex root systems, and continue to grow into something much bigger and stronger - something from which new life can be generated.  If they are neglected, they will simply wither and dry up into a shell of what they were.

We have one benefit that some of our predecessors did not.  Technology like cell phones and email and social media like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are already being used to communicate amongst our group, and they will continue to help us keep in touch.  What has brought us together, though, is not an internet "friendship" where we "like" each others photos.  The fact that we have succeeded, and sometimes suffered, as a group is what has drawn us together.  We will need to maintain those human connections if we wish to maintain the camaraderie that we have enjoyed thus far.  As we go on to succeed as individuals in our personal and professional lives, we will need to celebrate with one another.  As we go on to face challenges as individuals in our personal and professional lives, we will need to support and assist one another - just as we have grown accustomed to here.  We each have a new network of associates that gives us nearly unlimited "phone a friend" opportunities.  A new problem we may face is likely an old problem for one of our fellow classmates.  This benefit is really only a benefit if it used and used regularly.

This week has been eventful.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the fact that we completed our series of physical challenges.  Continuing along with the Wizard of Oz theme, we completed the finale this week, the "Yellow Brick Road."  The National Academy describes it as "a 6.1-mile grueling run through a hilly, wooded trail built by the Marines. Along the way, the participants must climb over walls, run through creeks, jump through simulated windows, scale rock faces with ropes, crawl under barbed wire in muddy water, maneuver across a cargo net, and more."  Upon successful completion of this challenge, you are awarded an actual yellow brick.  While arguably the most difficult, it was absolutely the most enjoyable physical challenge we have faced and will be one of the most memorable experiences from my time here.  I had great company along the trail (thanks to Joe, Kirk, and Dave) and despite the distance and terrain, we had a lot of fun completing the obstacles and finishing together as a team.  While some of my classmates are marathon runners (literally), I am not what you would call an enthusiastic runner.  I run because my profession demands it of me.  So, though I have run longer distances (years ago), I would consider the Yellow Brick Road to be one of the more significant physical fitness events I have faced and will thus be proudly displaying my brick once I return home.  Several of us carried cameras along the way.  I also wore a body camera to document the event.  I have provided a peek below.

Joe and I stopped for a photo op as we "raced" to the top

Under the barbed wire

Yellow bricks look suspiciously similar to common pieces of gravel

I, like many of my classmates, have been all too aware that this was our last weekend and have tried to squeeze everything I can out of it.  This weekend, I was able to eat dinner with a friend from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  He and I hit it off early in our session and while we have spent quite a bit of quality time together running, doing pushups and burpees, and flipping tires, we have also had the opportunity to tour some monuments and museums together.  On Friday, though, we enjoyed a great dinner at a Quantico landmark called the Globe and Laurel and were able to discuss everything from family to the future of our respective agencies.  While the food was superb, it was actually upstaged by the atmosphere.  The owner of the restaurant is a retired Marine who has one of the most superb personal collections of law enforcement memorabilia that I have ever seen.  The ceiling is quite literally covered in over 7,000 police patches from every agency imaginable.  The walls are decorated with badges, uniform hats, firearms, and photos representing local, state, federal, and international law enforcement agencies.  Any time you can combine great atmosphere with great food and great conversation, it is a good night.

In front of the FBI tribute wall

The Globe and Laurel

A panoramic view showing a fraction of the patches

One item on my NA bucket list that had not been checked off was a trip to Gettysburg.  That item was checked off this weekend.  Several of my classmates and I made the short trip to Gettysburg Saturday.  It was one of the best days I have had here.  We visited the museum, watched a film that provided a good knowledge base of the battle, and saw the cyclorama which is a 360˚ multi-sensory painting.  We then were able to, not only tour the battlefields, but do so from horseback.  It was a great way to view the battlefields.  Our guide was very knowledgable adding details to supplement what we had learned in the museum.  Actually seeing the terrain and landmarks  from the perspective of those involved brought lessons from a history book to life.  The evening ended with dinner in a colonial era tavern in the basement of the historic Dobbins House.  Again, we found a winning combination of great food, atmosphere, and conversation.

No photo of the cyclorama will do it justice, but here is one anyway

A fence that uses no post holes, nails, or screws, the National Park Service uses documents such as post-battle insurance claims to maintain things in a historically accurate way

A view from the high ground

Me and Viggo

Over the next two days we will attend our last classes and take our final exams here at the NA.  Our families and bosses will arrive to celebrate our graduation, and we will part, going our separate ways.  Seeds have been planted.  It will be up to each of us to water those seeds to ensure that the relationships formed here will continue on for years to come.  My next post will be as a proud graduate of the 251st Session of the FBI National Academy.  Until next time...

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Week 9 - Stay in the fight...

"If you voluntarily quit in the face of adversity, you'll wonder about it for the rest of your life."
--Pres. Bill Clinton

We have now concluded our ninth week. As we approach the end of our journey and I start to reflect back on our time here, I think about two tremendous cases of resilience I have witnessed. Two of my classmates who have lost loved ones (one, a fiancé and the other, a child) have both rejoined our class to finish what they started, even as they continue to mourn their respective losses. I admire and am amazed by both of these individuals who have shown such personal strength and determination. As a session, we have rallied in support of both classmates, but the decision to come back and the credit for continuing is theirs alone. I should not have been surprised that my classmates returned. This "never give up" attitude is exactly what we teach in law enforcement. We work in a dangerous profession where officers are frequently faced with life and death situations after being shot or while involved in physical fights with suspects. As a firearms and defensive tactics instructor, I have frequently yelled the words "Stay in the fight!" to officers while engaged in training scenarios. Officers are taught that if a suspect punches them in the face, they come back at them with a higher level of force. If someone knocks them down, they get back up. If someone shoots them, they return fire to stop the threat and then plug their own bullet hole if needed. That survival mindset is what ensures that officers will go home to their families at the end of a shift. Time and again, we have seen officers bounce back from traumatic injuries to win a fight and have seen officers who have sustained injuries that should have ended their careers, recover and return to full duty.

This past week, our session had the opportunity to learn more about an extreme case of resilience when we were visited by another American hero as part of our enrichment programming. Mike Durant, an Army helicopter pilot, was shot down during a mission in Somalia. The incident would inspire the book and subsequent movie, Blackhawk Down. After being shot down by an RPG, his femur snapped in half on the edge of this seat due to force of the impact from the crash. Additionally, he crushed a vertebrae in his back. Despite these injuries, he picked up his weapon and prepared to defend himself and his crew from his seat (he couldn't move due to his injuries). Two Delta Force operators voluntarily fast roped into the firefight from the safety of their own helicopter against the advice of superiors in order to come to their defense. Both of those operators were killed along with the rest of his crew. He fought until he ran out of ammunition and was taken prisoner by a Somali warlord. A mob disarmed him and attempted to beat him to death fracturing his eye socket, cheek, and nose. As they stripped him of his boots, they forced his already broken femur to rupture the back of his leg. He spent 11 days in captivity before his release was finally negotiated. He went through a lengthy recovery of surgeries and rehabilitation. At the end, he was told his career as an aviator was over. He was encouraged to choose a new field if he wanted to stay in the military. Due to his passion for flying, but more importantly, his loyalty to his unit, he made the decision to himself that he would return to his unit as a pilot. He thought that if he could prove, through some physical feat, that he was worthy of an exemption, that he would have a chance. Doctors eventually removed a metal rod from his femur, and he decided that proof of his recovery and determination could be proven if he were able to complete the Marine Corps marathon. He began training, and only 10 months after having his rod removed, he successfully completed the Marine Corps Marathon. "Completed" is a bit of an understatement as he finished the marathon in only 3 hours and 37 minutes, beating his own personal best marathon time as well as the personal best of his battalion commander. He filed the appeal for an exemption with an endorsement signed by his entire chain of command. He was granted an exemption and returned to his unit as a "Night Stalker."

Meeting Mike Durant

Mike Durant talking about his post-incident recovery

During his lecture, he talked emotionally about the trials he faced while in battle and subsequent captivity. He said he survived through a combination of luck and falling back on his training. He tried to do and say exactly what had been engrained in survival training. At one point, a helicopter flew over his location and a familiar voice said over a public address speaker on the helicopter, "Mike Durant, we will not leave without you." The encouragement from the familiar voice of his comrade injected a sense of optimism into him and strengthened his determination. His extreme example of survival serves as a good reminder of what the human body and mind can overcome. On law enforcement, we encourage officers to find something in life (a child, a spouse, a cat, or their own stubbornness) and to hold on to that in the face of adversity. Whether your struggle is a physical confrontation or an emotional struggle such as the death of a family member, your survival is tied to your mental toughness...your will to survive. Like Winston Churchill advised, "If you are going through hell, keep going." Things will improve on the other side.

Image of Mike Durant from a video filmed by his captors which was released as anti-US propaganda before his release

In addition to the lesson on determination in the face of adversity, we learned several other lessons from Mike Durant as he talked about management, leadership and tactical strategies that can be readily applied to law enforcement. One such lesson was that "the commander in the field is always right, and the rear echelon is always wrong unless proven otherwise." This is a great lesson for law enforcement leaders to not be too quick to judge the actions of their officers and front line supervisors who often have to make split second decisions under great stress. Law enforcement leaders must be careful not to "Monday morning quarterback" after the smoke has cleared.

Another lesson we learned was that leadership is not something that should exist only at the top of an organization. He pointed out that most private companies wait until someone is promoted to a supervisory position to provide them with leadership training. Conversely, the military trains everyone to be a leader. What happens when the boss isn't there? The nature of law enforcement grants officers a great deal of discretion. How do you ensure that at 2 o'clock in the morning when no one is watching, they will demonstrate your department's values and provide the example you expect? You take affirmative steps to prepare them for that. A field training officer (FTO) is someone who provides a new police officer with on-the-job training. He or she is usually a seasoned officer but not necessarily a formal supervisor. This officer can have a tremendous impact on what kind of officer your agency produces because he or she will be the example provided for new officers when they are at the most impressionable stage in their career. This FTO is a leader in your department regardless of whether he or she is officially designated as such. If you want your new officer to adopt the philosophies and values of your department, you had better ensure that your FTOs are on board. You can do this by developing officers at every level early on as leaders, allowing them to help provide input, and securing their buy in.

A final lesson we learned was the importance of people. Durant told us that you should not hire for skill; you should hire people who are a good fit with your organizational values and philosophies. In other words, skills can be taught - character cannot. I am actually comforted by this because as I have progressed through my own training here, I have been receiving progress reports on several new officers we hired before I left. They are currently progressing through their basic training at the state police academy. Because they are new to law enforcement, having recently graduated college or having transitioned from another career, they will be taught new skill sets. Through a thorough hiring process, we have already ensured their character is intact. I am looking forward to the coming new year, seeing them graduate and get sworn in. But mostly, I look forward to helping influence them and applying what I have learned here to help equip and prepare them for the the struggles they will surely face as officers and to do what I can to ensure that they have honorable careers and go home at the end of every shift.

My time here at the NA is short. Tomorrow we begin our last full week of classes in preparation for final exams and graduation. We also will be tackling our final fitness challenge, the "Yellow Brick Road" - a 6.1 mile obstacle course comprised of hilly terrain, walls, cliffs, barbed wire, lions, tigers, and bears (well maybe not that last part). I am busy devising my own plans for squeezing everything I can out of these last two weeks, so until next time...