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September 10, 2008
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Andy Casavant Lessons Learned: The Power of History
with Andy Casavant

Heroes for today

Throughout history, cultures have traditionally had a cadre of citizens who have risen to stand in defense whenever chaos disrupts the life of its people. They are known by different names, but whatever they were called they all possessed the warrior spirit. In fact, in many societies they were simply called "warriors." But they were warriors in the classic sense of this concept. The term "warrior" did not mean that they were the ones who fought the wars. The warrior spirit or ideal meant that these men and women were driven by the concepts of fearlessness and selflessness to their communities.

Now each of you has chosen the way of the Hero, he who possesses that warrior spirit. As in feudal Japan, these highly trained scholar/warriors were members of an elite group. They knew as much about life, art, music, and meditation as they did about combat and the art of war. They were balanced, highly disciplined human beings. They were the heroes of their culture.

As police officers, you must view yourselves as heroes, possessing that warrior spirit. It will be up to each of you to regain and maintain that position in our society. You are all members of an elite group and have chosen to put yourselves on the line, ready to deal with social chaos and uncertainty that exist in our society on a daily basis.

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Cadets enter a graduation ceremony at the United States Military Academy at West Point earlier this year. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

You must learn, as those ancient heroes did, to master and control the "warrior" side and develop and nurture the "scholar" side. You must find that balance in everything that you do, both with your career and in your personal life.

You set an example for all who see and come in contact with you. To do this will require a change in how you view your job and how you live your life. It will require total commitment to others and tireless self-sacrifice. Most importantly, it will require you to establish a solid set of values and beliefs, starting with yourself. Our society abounds with stories of unethical and immoral behavior in all areas and levels of life. Our way of life is being attacked on all sides by improprieties. The need has never been greater for the wisdom and knowledge of what is right and wrong and the everyday practice of doing that which is right in our professional, home, and personal lives. You must clarify your values and act rather than react.

This reminds me of a story of two men hiking in the woods when they saw a bear charging at them. One man quickly sat down, pulled his tennis shoes from his pack and began putting them on. The other man looked at the onrushing bear and then back at the other man and said, "You know you can't outrun that bear." To which the first man replied, "I don't have to, I just have to outrun you."

Do you know what you will do should certain situations arise? Do you have a game plan? A deep set of personal beliefs and values will help you in those times? When a person adheres to a set system of values, this person more often than not will discover more productivity, harmony, fulfillment, and profitability in all areas of their life. Having the right values and beliefs requires having discipline and discipline requires having character.

The officers possessing the "warrior spirit” value their relationships, their families, and themselves. They concentrate on their bodies, exercise, eat well, and rest. They celebrate their mind and spirit, and this self knowledge and balance in all things carries over into the field. An officer who obtains mastery in his art reveals it in his every action. You must know your strengths and weaknesses, your equipment and weapons, and especially your limits. As society's protectors and peacekeepers, you will be called upon to display great discipline and restraint, even when the situation calls for chaos and violence. You will be asked to go into situations the normal person would dare not go.

As it often happens with heroes, you will be viewed as fearless by those you protect. This fearlessness is not being without fear, but rather possessing the spirit to go beyond that fear. It has been said that fear complements courage and that you cannot have one with out the other. You have to believe in yourself more than you believe in anything else in this world. Courage can be learned. The establishment of strong beliefs will give you strength to persevere. Lack of these beliefs will leave you weak and hollow. Man has been described as a creature that must be filled by four basic beliefs if he is to draw strength: belief in a God, the universe, his society and a model to live his personal life by.

All cultures have prized them and even nurtured those beliefs and values with powerful stories such as Homer's Iliad. These heroes were specific models for life that anyone could follow. They provided true strength and joy to all who read them and listened to the tales. All heroes possess intense loyalty, will, honesty, integrity, courage, obedience, strength, ability, and above all else: selflessness. This last trait above all others is so valued, so sought-after, and yet so rare a quality in today's culture. All these values, I believe, are not lost even in our society. I think they are present in our profession, but that we have not openly developed or nurtured them today as was done in the past.

The "warrior" spirit leaves no room for self-doubt. You must possess a belief in your survival skills, your intellect, your weapons and equipment, your fellow officers, your department, and especially in yourself for nothing is impossible to the willing mind. You must always remain positive. When the time comes, you must be fearless, holding nothing back. If you have enough determination you will be hard to put down. If you make up your mind that you are going to do whatever it takes you will succeed. You must battle as if your very life depends on it, because it may come to that. You must think and act a winner.

You will know what you are doing if you do your homework and prepare, if you believe in what you are doing, if you have strong commitments and beliefs and if you practice, practice, practice, with both your mind and body, visualizing how you are going to perform. Relax and stop worrying. Control your emotions or they will control you. Create your own opportunities and don't wait for things to happen. Take the first step because things are happening so fast today that the person who tells you it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

You must remain focused on your task, eliminating physical and mental mistakes. However, don't be afraid to make mistakes. That is failing forward. Remember, a mistake is only a mistake if you learn nothing from it. You must possess initiative and constantly take advantage of every opportunity to win smart on the street. You must have persistence. Don't ever, ever quit. All failure is temporary and an opportunity to try again.

When you feel like getting down on yourself remember the words of President Teddy Roosevelt: ''The credit of life does not go to the critic who stands on the sidelines and points out where the strong stumble. But rather, the real credit in life goes to the person actually in the arena, whose face may get marred by sweat and dust, who knows great enthusiasm and great devotion, and learns to spend himself in a worthy cause; who at best, if he wins, knows the thrill of high achievement; and if he fails, at least fails daring greatly so that in life, his place will never be with those very cold, timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

Remember, failure is not an outcome as much it is an attitude. You must remember that you are part of a team of elite professionals, no part greater than the whole. It will take everyone's efforts at all times to hold the line. Set for yourself and demand from each other, standards of excellence. Anyone who accepts mediocrity in training, on the job, or in life is someone who compromises. And if we compromise, then our whole society compromises. If we begin to substitute rules for judgment, we start a self-defeating cycle, since our judgment can only be developed if we use it. Learn to do the common things uncommonly well. Have a sense of responsibility to yourself for your actions at all times. You will be held accountable by those you serve. Seek and develop trust, allowing others to build a firm reliance on your integrity, abilities and character. For without trust, there is no glue to hold any relationship together. Trust is the cornerstone of the true professional. Those you protect have placed their trust in you to conduct yourself in a professional manner. Violate this bond and you lose the respect so necessary to function.

First, we must be our best, then, we will be first. If we are to be first we cannot under any circumstances, compromise our integrity. You must realize that at some point it may become necessary to "fall on your sword." As Lt. General Arthur MacArthur stated, "I have just been offered two hundred and fifty thousand dollars and the most beautiful woman I have ever seen to betray my trust. I am depositing the money with the treasury of the United States and am requesting immediate relief from this command. They are getting close to my price." You must remember that integrity is built upon your interest in the good of the service, the organization and, it must at all times be greater than your personal pride. You must hold yourself to the same standard of duty when unobserved as you would when you are being observed.

So, what do you believe in? How strong is your core? What is your essence? Only you can answer these questions. Do you have faith in yourself and your family? Do you have a sense of mission in your life? Only you can answer that, but I assure you that until our society revalues it's true heroes, ordinary men and women like yourselves doing extraordinary things, and not the present day celebrities, it will remain for each of you to struggle to fill yourselves with the true weapons the "warrior" elite needs – faith, family, unselfish devotion, and courage.

About the author

Andrew J. Casavant is currently the Training Coordinator/SRT Commander for the Walton County Sheriff’s Office and an adjunct professor at Northwest Florida State College. Prior to this he was the Bureau Chief for all Advanced/Specialized Training in Iraq while assigned to DOJ’s ICITAP program. He retired as a Lt. Colonel US Army Military Police Reserves. Andy has a Masters of Science Degree in Technology, Training/Development from Eastern Illinois University. He also served as the Chairman of the Board for ASLET and was a member of the Board of Directors for IALEFI.

Andy currently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Okaloosa/Walton College and was the recipient of the Silver Star for Bravery, Police Hall of Fame. Contact Andy Casavant



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