Having spent the morning conducting drug surveillance and making arrests, it was meant to be a well-earned lunch break for Brandon Rollins and three of his colleagues before hitting the streets again.
But that quick stop at a Lancaster, S.C., restaurant in November 2011 took a dramatic turn when an armed robber entered the premises to demand money from the front register.
"All four of us jumped up, dropped our forks and got out our guns," Rollins said, who sat with members of his drug task force toward the back of the restaurant.
Lt. Ryan McLemore made first contact and fired as the suspect, Rodrick Darnell Caskey, 19, drew. Caskey was struck once and fled from the scene, but not before firing a bullet that ripped through a wall and lodged into Rollins’ side.
Caskey was later apprehended and is currently in jail.
"I never felt a feeling like that before, but I knew suddenly I’d been shot," Rollins said. "I pulled my hand away and saw all the blood covering my hand and I said, 'I’ve been hit.'"
McLemore immediately rendered aid, and Rollins thought of his family.
"I thought about all the things you don’t want to think about," Rollins said. "Had I told my wife and kids goodbye and that I loved them?"
Then he remembered advice from police trainer Dave Smith, who at a recent Winning Mind seminar emphasized to Rollins and other attendees that "if you're thinking about pain and goodbyes, it means you're alive."
Other officers told Rollins to lay down on the floor, but he didn’t want to lay down — or give up.
"I started thinking about what I could do to survive. I slowed down my breathing. It’s all about your mindset."
An intent focus on winning the fight is the cornerstone of "Not Today," a mantra that has gained momentum among police. In 2011, officers were urged to make the year the safest yet by vowing to mentally rehearse overcoming a variety of threats.
"Not on this shift, Not on this call, Not on this stop, I will not be caught unaware," it says.
Rollins was taken to the hospital, where doctors told him he had three different wounds, all caused by a single bullet that travelled laterally through his body. They mended his liver and his artery and released him four days later.
Rollins refusal to give up has led to him being awarded Calibre Press' first annual "Not Today" award out of dozens of candidates who were considered for how well they embodied the mantra.
"There are so many law enforcement officers who have faced a deadly threat and responded courageously that choosing a winner was difficult. Brandon was chosen because of how strongly his training tied into the way he handled the incident," Kisty Fairchild of Calibre Press said.
Rollins' never-give-up mindset is one Smith hopes will spread to other law enforcement officers who can look to Rollins as a model for winning against violent offenders.
"Even wounded, he refused to just lay down and give up. He thought, ‘Not today, I will not surrender, I will not die!'," Smith said.
One of the first things Rollins did after leaving the hospital was make a phone call to Smith.
"It’s hard to tell the impact you have on others, and I wanted to make sure he knew that a thought he put in my head was what helped save my life and take me home to my family," Rollins said.