Several years back I was supervising a security detail at an Iraqi War veteran’s funeral. Westboro Baptist was in town. I was approached by a member of the Patriot Guard Riders, a fraternity of motorcyclists from across the nation who possess an unwavering respect for those who risk their lives for America’s freedom and security both overseas and on the home front.
He said his name was Oliver, an uncommonly scholarly and sophisticated moniker I thought. Oliver was a mountain of a man, with powerful hands and thick fingers, broad shoulders, a pronounced belly and a snarled beard of mostly grey. His forearms were thick like oak banisters and sported a collage of faded tattoos. I don’t know how old he was, late-60’s I suppose.
I learned Oliver was a Vietnam War veteran, one of five kids from a poor and dispossessed family whose modest income was generated by his father’s long hours in a sawmill of the Pacific Northwest. Oliver had seen 13 months of combat in Vietnam. He detailed how the trajectory of his life was impacted more by what happened when he came home than the horrors he experienced in Southeast Asia.
The condemnation and disenfranchisement of servicemen returning from Vietnam had a profound impact on Oliver, but with time he was able to put the war behind him.
Sure, he would suffer the occasional nightmare, and he would sorrowfully light a candle in the chapel of his local parish in remembrance of his fallen brothers on birthdays and holidays. But, for the most part he was able to wash away the stains of battle and live out a relatively anonymous life of marriage and raising two boys of his own.
He had enjoyed a good life he said. He had all he needed.
Without averting his gaze of the evil incarnation of a “church” whose members were displaying repugnant billboard and t-shirt messages too despicable to publish here, Oliver asked me why I do what I do.
Why not another line of work with equal or better pay, less danger and no hatred for simply showing up each day? While an experienced sergeant at the time, I was a younger man then. I had seen and absorbed less then than I have now, a veritable lifetime removed from the day I started out an idealistic and naive rookie.
I didn’t respond to Oliver with predictable and perhaps hackneyed remarks about honor, community service, or a desire to help others.
“Because it’s worth it,” I replied.
Oliver offered a nod of acknowledgement and walked away.
Some days, I don’t feel so resolute. I’ve achieved some of my most productive work in the 11th hour of my career as a Training Sergeant charged with revamping my department’s best practices and equipment permissions.
But, I’ve been battling a spiritual malaise that surfaced after the Ferguson riots and more recently in the wake of nationwide insurrection based on a deeply flawed narrative about white police officers and minority persons. It’s been demoralizing, but I never stopped grinding.
My message is one of affirmation to the younger generation of Paladins: Please don’t give up. Don’t throw in the towel.
Understand your lot in life is going to be exponentially harder than ours was 25 or 30 years ago, but don’t capitulate. Continue to dispatch your duties with abandon for the quiet majority who appreciate the public trust you safeguard and admire you for the risks you take in order to achieve it.
You are exactly .0025 of the American populace willing to do this job.
There is honor in serving a purpose higher than self.
You must continue on the warrior-servant path.
Because it’s worth it.
“Above all, it’s about going home at the end of the shift … “
We couldn’t agree more.
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