After a tragedy, remember the living

As remembrances of the 19 elite firefighters killed in the recent Yarnell fire in Arizona continue, one hero in particular deserves special support and attention.

Brendan McDonough is the sole surviving member of the extremely-tight team. 

Chances are  strong that at least to some degree, he is struggling with the phenomenon of survivor’s guilt — as unjustified as that guilt may be — and thinking of McDonough gives me impetus to address the need to support survivors of tragic events.

A Longtime LE Challenge
​Survivor’s guilt has haunted many law enforcement officers who have survived, while their brother and/or sister officers have fallen. 

For example, in Killeen, Texas earlier this week, a suspect armed with an AK-47 fatally shot Officer Robert Hornsby. In the same gunfight, Officer Juan Obregon was also shot and injured, but Obregon survived the fight.

In high-risk missions, personal survival is just one of two ultimate goals — the other goal of course is ensuring that to every degree humanly possible, you ALL survive as a team. Sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Sometimes some survive and others don’t, and there was nothing more that could have been done to prevent the tragedy. 

It’s terribly painful, but it’s true. Those who live to give firsthand testimony to the heroics of their brothers and sisters in arms, although physically alive, may sometimes feel like they’re dying inside.

They may not admit this feeling, so even as you remember the fallen, be sure you’re also remembering and intensely supporting those who face the potentially-painful road of a survivor.

Lt. Col. Dave Grossman — author of On Killing and On Combat — recommends in Chapter Six of On Combat that the right response to a survivor is to say simply, “I’m so glad you’re okay.” 

Grossman teaches — and I wholeheartedly agree — that it’s important to plainly state to a survivor that you’re happy they survived the ordeal and that they’re okay.

The message should be: “I give a damn about you, and I’m glad you’re okay.”

Calling this the “ready round,” Col. Grossman says this is the one that’s “in the chamber, ready to go when you do not know what to say or do.”

So, in the event that wither Juan Obregon or Brendan McDonough (or both!) stumbles upon his name being mentioned in this space, and checks out this post, I want to address them directly.

“Juan and Brendan, although we’ve never met, I care about you and I’m glad you’re alive. If ever there’s anything I can do for either or both of you, my email address is”

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