This Sunday, May 15th, will mark the official observance of “National Peace Officers Memorial Day”, and in all likelihood it will come and go without much in the way of fanfare from the populace. Those who are especially in tune with their surroundings may notice flags flying at half mast at government buildings and take to the internet in search of the reason, but by and large it is not a date that is marked on the calendars of those outside of the law enforcement circle.
Since May 15th falls on a Sunday this year, police week will actually begin with the National Peace Officers Memorial Day and will run until Saturday, May 21st. Undoubtedly media outlets will carry some sort of story during the week to inform the general population of the special significance of the week. Citizens will be encouraged to “thank a cop” or some other gesture as a show of support throughout the week.
Some well-intentioned citizens will reach out and offer up thanks in some manner or another to any officer they encounter in public before returning back to the business they had at hand. This will be the 13th year I have experienced police week as a sworn officer, and as a military veteran I have experienced quite a few more Memorial Days where the same sort of phenomenon occurs. Someone offers up a “thank you” and moves on, feeling better for doing so. A check in the citizen’s civic duty box.
Memorial Day falls two weeks and a day after the Peace Officers Memorial Day. By and large it receives a great deal of attention, even if it is currently misplaced as an opportunity for businesses to run special sales, for barbeques and the consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Invariably, as a veteran I’ll receive several “Happy Memorial Day” text messages which has always struck me as odd. Maybe I’m different, but Memorial Day isn’t necessarily supposed to be a “happy” event.
I sincerely didn’t join the military or choose to continue to serve as a law enforcement officer for someone to tell me “thank you for your service”. I’ve always strived to do my best in any endeavor, and those that may involve the loss of my own life if I’m found lacking have always received my focus. Call me selfish or cynical, but I don’t want your hollow “thank you”. Don’t feel compelled to try to pay for my meal or drink, I work for a living so I can purchase those by myself. It just makes things awkward.
All of us who have served our country or community by putting ourselves in harms way have made sacrifices. We’ve misssed family events, holidays, anniversaries, and the like. We’ve exposed ourselves to the elements, mortal danger, and public scrutiny. We’ve been subjected to the sights, sounds, and smells of death. Sometimes we lose sleep because we can’t unsee, unhear, or unsmell them. We often come home mentally and physically drained and struggle to return to a more normal state for our families.
These sacrifices aren’t for you. They’re for the collective you, not you individually. These sacrifices are only known by those who enter the arena, so please don’t reduce them to something trivial with a hollow thank you because it’s what you feel compelled to do. Like most of us in uniform, I do what I do because I’m internally driven to do so. I tried a life outside of the uniform, it didn’t suit me. I’m happy for you if you can do it.
I’ve always struggled with Memorial Day and Peace Officers Memorial Day on a personal level. Neither are meant for me, as both are meant to prompt reflection on those that we have lost. It’s to honor the memory of the men and women who answered the call and paid the ultimate price, or joined the ranks of the mangled masses who survived after sacrificing those things we take for granted like eyesight and limbs. These days are meant to pay respect to those people and their families who have had to continue on without a son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, mother, or father.
My personal struggles come from a sense of guilt for all of the times that I probably should’ve joined those names etched on a memorial wall in Washington, D.C. but somehow managed to walk away unscathed. It makes no difference if it was while I was wearing a camoflague uniform or one with a badge on the chest, those times will always stay with me. Some of these events were created by my own lack of attention and some were due to the actions of others. I have no idea why I was blessed with the good fortune to make it through when so many in similar circumstances did not.
I have a loving wife and three sugar donuts that deserve to have a husband and father, yet in spite of that I continue to remain employed in a career that may eventually take me from them. It’s an odd dichotomy, sort of a selfishness that continues to push me out the door in uniform into the unknown. I came to grips with my own mortality when I enlisted at the age of 17. At that point in my life I had little to offer and little to lose. Now I don’t stress about my own death in the least, however the thought that my family will have to deal with it at some point while I am on duty haunts me.
Death is a part of life, and the men and women of our armed forces and public safety are not granted an exemption. The difference between the death of most citizens and the death of someone in uniform is the willingness to intentionally go where others will not. It doesn’t make those who aren’t in uniform any less of a person in life or death, as they are someone’s son, daughter, brother, sister, husband, wife, mother, or father, too. Life is precious, and those in uniform that serve to protect it deserve our utmost respect when they answer the final call.
Since I’m a cop who responds to calls in uniform, it is my individual responsibility to honor the lives of those who have fallen by training to the best of my ability in the hopes that I will learn from their sacrifices. As a leader, it is my responsibility to ensure that those who report to me understand the importance of taking the inititative in the training environment and to expound upon it by training my shift as a unit that can overcome any threat. As an instructor it is my responsibility to provide worthwhile and engaging training opportunities that replicate realistic threats so those who are training can get practical repetitions in a safe environment in the hopes that they can overcome those threats in real life when it matters most.
As a military veteran and a current police officer, I don’t need or want a pat on the back from anyone. Unless I just did something specifically to help you, don’t thank me. If you truly want to show your support, do it in the form of advocating for more manpower, better pay and benefits, or better equipment for us in the political arena. Cast your vote for candidates that will work with us instead of against us. Shut down those who talk disparingly about us that have no knowledge about anything other than what some talking head says on the television. Teach your children the importance of service and citizenship. Donate time or money to organizations that support those who were wounded or killed in the line of duty. Find a way to be an asset, not an asshole.
I know there are folks who will offer a genuine “thank you” to me during police week that will notice how I recoil at those words. While I’m alone in my thought processes, I’ll be mentally pushing away the soap box as I find words like “you’re welcome”. I’ll politely decline an offer to purchase something for me and ask that the money be donated to help the families of fallen officers. By all means, ask how I’m doing and feel free to engage in conversation, but please don’t thank me for my service.
Honor those that have gone before us, or that have given of themselves in a way that can never be repaired. Ours is a great nation because of the sacrifices made by these brave men and women and those that have taken up the cause in their absence. Offer your thanks in action rather than hollow words.
It’s time to go patrol the Donut…