--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...