At the Starbucks today, I had a great chat with a police officer as we both were waiting on our orders. He is probably ten years my junior, but I had the sense, a “vibe” Californians generally would call it, that this man was formerly military. The bearing of a military veteran is different; I’ve talked with religious leaders whom I got that same sense and I then find confirmed they served in the military. And having the acquaintance of cops from other backgrounds, and cops who transitioned from the military, I think there is subtle differences. But I digress. This officer acknowledged that he transitioned into blue uniform of a police officer. However, his Army career and his public service had been in tandem: while recently retired from the Army National Guard, he was and is a 20-plus years veteran police officer civilian and military police.
In contrast, I got a different sort of vibe from a conversation I wandered into recently. It suggested (to me) a child’s encounter with a member of law enforcement was either embellished by the storyteller’s negative opinion of civil authority and biases, or a child’s encounter with a greenhorn LEO; the described first impression of flashing lights, and a rehearsed, “politically-sensitive” introduction to a preteen would have been handled differently by my Starbuck’s patron LEO. But in a time when it can be as hazardous for an officer – whether a conflict or a civil rights violation, in a suburb in the Southwestern U.S. as in Southwest Asia (aka the Middle East), tact might be a secondary concern.
In my childhood, a police officer would see my bike run over in the middle of the street, check to see that I was unhurt, and then bring me home to my parents in the squad car. Even a decade ago when my preteens were goofing off in the neighborhood and cops were called, my wife came out to find my kid and his friends placed against a squad car. They all were “released to the custody” of one really ticked-off Mom. It was a different time. But children of military veterans, and families where the military and law enforcement are family tradition, there is more respect given to those in authority. I’ve generally only known times when the community relied on law enforcement as much as the other way around.
I would prefer to think that a poor impression made on this young man, would be the outcome of a lack of mentoring. In the military, the best units have a reputation for building leaders and subject experts, through the years of mentoring and feedback. Such was my experience. And several of my mentors, and those who came after me excelled militarily and professionally. Several were law enforcement officers, federal marshals and agents. I’ve known a few servicemen who were an ego in a uniform, but most of the leaders I knew were humble. Such was this professional I encountered today.
But I may be biased. I support the fraternal orders of law enforcement. I am a Life member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. I am grateful for these citizen-soldiers who continue to serve our communities. Who serve our nation. Who raise sons and daughters to be responsible, thinking adults. Some choose other careers, hold different views, but treasure the country, respect its laws and order, and respect people who respect others in return. Among old warriors, a recognition and camaraderie, an appreciation of shared experience, discipline and service. Thanks for serving.