Brothers & Sisters –
I returned home late last May after four days in D.C. for Police Week 2016.
This year marked my tenth or eleventh year for me to participate. Some might think the annual pilgrimage gets stale after all those years. It never does. Each year brings a bunch of new experiences, new times with your Brothers & Sisters and a new friends who will last a lifetime.
I walked slowly past both sides of The Wall looking closely at the broken hearts which hung there. I surveyed those around me and saw many with tear-stained faces and pain to the core which was far worse than words could ever describe.
Like most who have worn the badge and given their oath, I yearned to “fix” the sadness about me. It is what we’ve all been trained to do. Alas, I could not.
I missed those who had been with me in prior years. We shared great laughter, many tears and moments which will bind us together for all time. I want to share some of this year’s unique experiences and I have some pictures to help bring it alive.
The two pictures below are from the surviving family one of our fallen brothers:
His name was Matt Rittenhouse. He was just 25 years old. He had worked for a few short years when on 9-16-2004, while driving on a rain-slicked road, he lost control of his patrol car and his watch and brief life came to an abrupt end. When his appointment with destiny came, he was giving his best to the Harriman [TN] Police Department.
Though it’s been nearly 12 years since that horrific day, these pictures reveal a family who is hurting just as badly today and they did then.
I rose from my stooped position where I had taken these pictures and realized there was a man of about my years standing at my right shoulder. His eyes were filled with tears – just like mine. On his chest hung a badge. From his mouth came these words: “Matt is my son. I retired as an officer from the same department where he worked.”
I searched for words that could somehow ease his excruciating pain. There were none. In that brief moment, we hugged one another. My experience and training pushed me to try to find a way to “fix” this too, but to no avail.
Matt’s Dad told me how proud he had been when Matt graduated from the academy he went on to say, “Matt was a brute … a really big guy of about 6’5” and 270 pounds. I figured he could handle himself. He got his size from me.”
He and I talked for some time. His Dad shared memories. Some made us laugh and others, not so much. All were from his heart. It was a heart that was aching more than I could imagine. We parted with a handshake and a look which allowed me to see his soul.
As I continued my walk, I thought about what it must have been like for Matt at that moment when his time with us ended. Had something startled him? Maybe an animal darting in front of his car? Or … maybe his attention was diverted: the computer, his cell phone, an incoming message on the radio or from a fellow officer which grabbed his attention.
The trainer in me kicked-in. Had we (figuratively speaking) done all we could to teach Matt how to balance the demands of stressful driving combined with all of the other gear, gadgets and gizmos that occupy physical and mental space in his work life? Maybe. Maybe not.
If those lessons were taught, were they reinforced regularly, regularly? Then I considered the hundreds of screws, nuts & bolts that we rely upon to hold everything in place. Did something fail? Was Matt’s demise the result of a shoddy installation of some of the gear inside the car? We will never know.
At the bottom line: it is up to each of us to do everything we can to ensure that our gear, our car and all that’s inside are up-to-snuff. Taking anything for granted could mean taking your own life due to negligence. Don’t let that happen to you.
As for today: when you go to roll call or arrive at a scene with one of your brothers, remember to love them. That may be the last time you’ll ever see them.
Protect your brothers and protect yourself. You are God’s heroes and you will always be mine. I welcome your comments. Please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org.
REMEMBER: It all comes down to saving just one life.