After over 12 years of having the privilege of serving as a law enforcement officer and fourteen years of adjusting to the hard fact of living with chronic injuries and illness, I’ve figured out that I’m not dead yet, so I must still have a purpose. For a long time I stumbled around in the darkness many experience when everything they’ve dreamed, fought, and bled for is upended. I often thought that all that time was wasted. As events unfold all around me, things I’ve learned not just through successes, but also failures that have helped me see, understand, and appreciate things I would never have otherwise.
In seeking answers, nothing was left unexamined, including my faith. Some of that examination was quite painful. Yet each time I was ready for each phase, just the right person or book would pop up to provide focus for that lesson and move into the next phase. Even with that, because I had been out so long, I wasn’t sure if I had anything left to offer a profession that has my undying love. Technology changes, society changes, the laws change and the new officers seem to have a whole new world to deal with.
As a result of self- examination, experiences, and an insatiable desire for knowledge, I’m rethinking things. I don’t delude myself in thinking I have answers, only better questions and time to reflect. One of the conclusions I’ve drawn is that often we rely too much on so-called experts and talking heads for learning history, understanding politics, news, and even how to rear our children. Far too many of these experts are basing their expertise on diplomas gained in universities, controlled environments and philosophies or theories insulated from the effects they have on real people.
Living on the razor’s edge of life and death presents many lessons. Some lessons steer us in a life affirming direction that connects us with others. Too often in our profession we narrow our view and discount the impact we have on others.
Our society, in general, reinforces cynicism, apathy and a sense of helplessness to make any difference at all. Hollywood, the media, pop culture, and college campuses all present overwhelming obstacles churning out messages of mediocrity, victimhood, inevitable decline or failure, and idolizing the worst in human behavior. Worse yet, our educational system has not provided any support for developing critical thinking skills in decades, much to the detriment of generations now making decisions that have long term effects they will not comprehend until it’s too late.
It seems hopeless until we look at people who specialize in overcoming seemingly hopeless situations. Our Navy SEALs successfully achieve training developed from warriors with objective performance-based criteria designed specifically to weed out physical, mental, and psychological weaknesses. Most importantly, the training is designed to test commitment to something greater than oneself and to team mates. I say “our” because they come from and distill all the best that is America which is being lost to ideas foreign to her founding.
Too often, we make the mistake of mythologizing SEALs, putting them in the realm of superheroes with supernatural powers. We can think of them as almost inhuman icons that macho warrior wannabees distort, thinking all they have to teach is how to kill, missing the most important lessons of accountability, commitment to each other, and service to others. The reality is that these human beings, who love, cry, grieve, bleed, die and achieve so much have far more to offer than being a mythical superhero far away from daily life.
Some people teach us things that uplift and improve us, others teach us things and attitudes to avoid. The things I look for in choosing people to advise me, learn from or influence my thinking is first, humility and secondly, “walking the walk” and thirdly a willingness to continue improving with a positive attitude. While we can learn from all who served either in a military or LEO capacity, there are some who stand head and shoulders above the rest. These inviduals are the ones I look to learn from and reject those consumed with themselves or bitterness. Reading books by Medal of Honor recipients and more recently books written by SEALs have been high on my list of required reading to further my understanding and motivate my endeavors to improve my thinking.
Marcus Luttrell, SEAL, surviving overwhelming tragedy and odds, wrote about his experiences in his book “Lone Survivor”. This grace-filled man has given of himself to share with us another book, “Service”. It is one that I think should be required reading for every high school, every college, and every parent. Through this book he brings together all those eternal things that many never learned through a lifetime, let alone through the finest schooling. Through the things he has learned, through tragedy, experience, and his pursuit of excellence, we gain a better understanding of what is truly important.
The thing that surprised me most was his experiences transitioning from SEAL to civilian. Finding many of the same thoughts and personal struggles to deal with it mirroring my transition from LEO to civilian, with no delusions of grandeur on my part, encouraged and further motivated my hope that I still had some useful service left in my years remaining. Speaking from my own personal experience, at the edges of life and death, it is the seemingly small human kindnesses, connections, getting up from failures, perseverance and honor that make all the difference. Some of them having far flung positive effects that may never show up in history books, but changes the course of events. His experiences and thoughts reaffirmed my deepest conviction that as important as coming home is, there are things more important still.
Being out of the fray, having time to digest, reflect, and study what happened gives a perspective that most of the time cannot be achieved in the midst of surviving our battles. It is this perspective that offers something of value that may make a difference to the right person, at the right time and the right place. Through technology, our lives are made more frenetic, news cycles are no longer months or weeks, but becoming moments in time that leave most with no time to think and reflect on the implications of what is going on in our culture, communities and our country.
Our very human heroes teach that the things that matter are not the hottest person, but the right person; the newest things often fade away, winners never cheat and cheaters never truly win. Small kindnesses, keeping commitments, and building on successes, rather than allowing failures to defeat us, keep America the greatest country ever to have existed. Those principles rather than politics, race, gender, class, fame or any other superficial measure, including political correctness, is what so many have suffered, sacrificed and died for. The increasing rarity of these principles is why so many who’ve served as quiet professionals are speaking to preserve what they sacrificed for. Will we who reap the benefits of their sacrifice and wisdom or squander their gift?
Juli Adcock began her career in law enforcement with the Escambia County Florida Sheriff’s Office as a patrol deputy until she was injured in a riot situation. She transferred to Judicial Security and retired in 1998. Juli pursued career advancement training with an emphasis on officer survival, interviews and interrogation. She worked with a local Rape Crisis Center and in victim’s advocacy, complementing her college course work in psychology. She currently resides in New Mexico and is an instructor with The Appleseed Project (www.appleseedinfo.org). The Appleseed Project is a rifle marksmanship clinic teaching the fundamentals of firing an accurate round downrange every 3 to 4 seconds, out to 500 yards, as well as American history. She has trained military personnel at White Sands Missile Range who are certifying as Squad Designated Marksmen. Juli instructs basic handgun skills to new gun owners in preparation for responsible personal gun ownership and the Concealed Carry class for the State of New Mexico. She can be reached at [email protected] or through Law Enforcement Today.