A while back I was teaching an academy class when at one point I asked, “Let me see the hands of those who have been in the military.” One bright young man with a contagious smile raised his hand. I could see he was a warrior so I asked, “Iraq or Afghanistan?
Still smiling, he humbly answered, “Iraq and Afghanistan.”
As the class progressed I could not help but notice the bearing and maturity of this young veteran who had stuck his neck out to serve his country and now was training to risk the same neck to serve his community. I was inspired to write these yet unpublished words, which I would like to share with you now.
The ‘S’ Generation
After September 11, 2001, thousands of young Americans were moved by the events of that fateful day and flocked to enlist in the fight against global terrorism. They joined the United States Army, The Marines, The Navy, The Coast Guard, The Air Force, The National Guard, and Reserves. Since then, many of them have been deployed repeatedly in war zones throughout Afghanistan and Iraq.
These young adults have seen things most people will never see, and performed repeated acts of courage out of a sense of duty to God, Country, and their buddies serving along-side them. Many have done these things before they even reached their 21st birthday.
These honorable young warriors have guarded the Khyber Pass and taken Baghdad. Some of them rolled into Tikrit and fought their way inch by inch through the steaming streets of Falujah. These warriors are now finishing their terms of enlistment, which many have even chosen to extend.
This generation has risked it all because United States of America was attacked. They courageously volunteered, and joined committing all to the fight. While many Americans wavered and vacillated at home these young warriors never did. They risked all against an enemy as dangerous as any ever faced on a battle field and they triumphed over and over again and continue to do so.
The Good News
Now these same American Heroes are trickling back to resume their lives in “the World,” and academy instructors are finding them choosing to extend this record of service by joining the ranks of law enforcement.
All of you have heard of the “Baby Boomers,” “Generation X” and “Generation Y” and the “Millenials.” Many of you have discussed the strengths and weaknesses of each. Might I offer that is a new generation emerging that could be dubbed the “S” for “Service Generation,” or even the “September 11th Generation.”
Some of these recruits arrived imbued with a taste of service and wish to continue to serve. Others were inspired by older members of their units, who were already police officers at home, who answered the call of their reserve units and donned fatigues to join their units in the desert.
Academy instructors can enter a class and spend an hour with the students and pick out with great accuracy the students, who have “extended their tour of service,” into law enforcement. There is a certain visible, commitment, maturity, knowledge, base, skill base and record of sacrifice that one can not help but notice subtly on display. This can only be good news for law enforcement.
These young veterans are joining with non-military recruits, who do not have the same experience, but are similarly motivated by the dangers of a post-9/11 world. The words serve and protect have great meaning to this generation.
It bodes well for law enforcement that such a large number of honorably motivated young veterans are joining the law enforcement ranks. They bring to the table discipline as well as unique life experiences. It has left many an academy instructor to ponder if they are seeing the same amazing attributes possessed by “The Greatest Generation,” returning home from victory in World War II as 1945 gave way to 1946.
Could there be a changing of the guard? Has the next greatest generation, Generation S, arrived? Is it a distinct generation of young Americans forged in the fire of war and honed by service to God and country? Are they stepping forward, laying down the sword, while they pick up the shield. Are they about to lift American Law Enforcement to new heights? Only time will tell...
A Fallen Warrior
I would like to dedicate the above column to the memory of the young warrior, Craig Birkholz, who inspired these words in my imagination. This Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin Officer was gunned down from ambush as he was responding to assist fellow officers who had just come under fire. In life, Craig set a standard for his agency, our profession, and an entire generation.
Craig Birkholz — the young warrior— represented his generation and our profession well. He has given the “last full measure of devotion,” and on March 26, 2011 he became the 50th police officer laid to rest this year. A bullet silenced his young heart, but only served to send his noble spirit soaring as the sad but beautiful wailing of the bag pipes played, and the harsh, echoing crack of the 21-gun salute crossed the skies.
I will close with the words Craig closed each one of his memos with, for those who might wish to pick up his fallen standard and carry on:
“Stay Safe, Stay Strong, and Stay Positive.”