We were just having breakfast at the 2001 Western Canada Use of Force Conference when I received the phone call from my wife. The conference was a four day training event bringing law enforcement professionals from across Western Canada to Calgary. The list of presenters featured Alexis Artwohl Ph.D, Ed Davis (FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit), George and Lisa Demetriou (NYPD), and Phil Messina (NYPD retired). My wife informed me that a plane had just flown into one of the towers of the World Trade Center in New York. As we scrambled to turn on the televisions throughout the hotel, the tragic events of that day continued to unfold.
Two things became clear to everyone at the event:
1.) The world had changed forever.
2.) As law enforcement professionals, we needed to focus on preparing for what was to come next.
As a result, we carried on with the conference. During the breaks and lunch hour the participants were glued to televisions throughout the hotel desperately seeking more information and trying to make sense of the unfolding events.
A Sense of Service
The tragedy brought people together as it so often is the case. The airports were shut down so our guest presenters and others were going to have difficulty getting home. The staff at the hotel came forward and offered to open their homes to conference attendees if they were unable to get flights out. The airlines worked with us as we sought to get our friends from New York home to their family, friends and fellow warriors. They had all lost friends that day and were anxious to get home.
Those attacks have certainly created a domino effect for the law enforcement and military personnel in our countries. They shattered people’s innocence and ignorance about the reality of terrorist attacks coming to our countries.
The attacks also showed people around the world what the warrior spirit was about. That warrior spirit was displayed by the law enforcement professionals, firefighters and medics who ran into the burning buildings to save those inside. Many of those warriors lost their lives that day when the towers collapsed. The warrior spirit was displayed by citizens like Rick Rescorla who is credited with saving 2,700 lives that day and those on Flight 93 who chose to fight.
In the weeks and months that followed, the stories of the heroic deeds of the men and women of law enforcement, the fire department, EMS, and citizens continued to be told. For a time, the warrior spirit was a positive thing and the people of North America celebrated the warriors who stepped forward in that time of crisis and made a difference. The stories were retold in print, television, and movies. New stories of heroism continually emerged.
As the years went on however, our level of vigilance as a whole has diminished and our tolerance for the term warrior, the luster and allure of the warrior and the power of the warrior spirit has faded. As we now approach the 10th anniversary spirits are buoyed by the killing of Osama Bin Laden. The anniversary itself will cause people to pause and remember those who died, those who sacrificed and the warrior spirit will be celebrated again.
What About Now?
What about the last ten years however? What about the next ten years? Is the warrior spirit only in vogue when events of this magnitude happen? What about the warrior spirit that lives on every day in the men and women who have chosen to pursue a career in law enforcement? Those men and women perform heroic deeds every day. Deeds that too often goes unnoticed. Those men and women are dying in the line of duty at an alarming rate in 2011 and yet many law enforcement trainers are being told they cannot refer to their officers as warriors, they cannot teach about the warrior spirit. Why? Why is something that we embrace in times of massive tragedy somehow a negative in the intervening years?
Being a warrior is about embracing the spirit of leadership, commitment, humility, courage, honor, integrity, selflessness, empathy and respect. The same values that are part of the core values of every law enforcement agency in North America. The same values we seek to instill in out children. The same values that are taught in leadership programs around the world. Values that can be wrapped up in three words — the warrior spirit.
I often speak and write about Life’s Most Powerful Question — What’s Important Now? What’s important now is to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice on September 11, 2001 by embracing the spirit that made them heroes – the warrior spirit. The warrior spirit is part of who we are as a profession, it is part of our culture, it is what we seek to instill in our young officers so let us embrace it, let us teach it, let us find ways to honor it and let us hold those who would tarnish it accountable.
Take care, and always remember Life’s Most Powerful Question — What’s Important Now?