Sunday, April 7, 2013

Risk of death from another perspective

Couple things happened recently that inspired this week’s blog.

The first was our annual SWAT banquet.  An opportunity to socialize with each other and a chance for our significant others to meet the guys their husband / boyfriend kicks doors with.  A way to put faces to the names and stories they have heard.  A way to get to know the guys they are entrusting with the life of their loved one.

Every year at the banquet the SWAT Commander thanks everyone for coming especially all the significant others.  He makes a point that we couldn't do what we need to do with out them or with out their support.  He also makes a point that we understand it is hard to be woken up by a page in the middle of the night and to watch their loved one hurry off, potentially to risk their life, and thanks them for putting up with us.

We are sorry to put them through that but do we really understand it?

The second was a project my oldest daughter did at school.  My wife told me about a drawing that she made.  She was told to draw herself and draw lines from her head to things that worry her.

I was one of those things.  No father wants to here that.  So I asked my wife why was I causing my daughter anxiety.

My wife had asked her that same question.  She said she was afraid I was going to die on an operation.

I've really only looked at death from my own perspective before

I've written my thoughts about it in part here:

You go on those calls because someone has to go on those calls.

Chance favors the prepared mind.  Do every thing you can to be the best there is at what you do ahead of time.  Assume you will have to use the highest levels of force on every encounter and be pleasantly surprised when you don’t.

Despite the officer friendly, community policing, social worker in body armor many would like law enforcement to be, it is still and will always be a warrior’s profession.

As such you risk death every shift. 
Are you ready?  Do you have your shit together?  Will your family be taken care of financially if you die?  Are you cool with your loved ones?  Are you good with your God if you have one?

If you answered no to any of the above, get your shit together.  Get your life insurance ironed out.  Hug the loved ones you live with before you leave for work, it might be the last time you do.  Do you really want to argue with your spouse about the pile of dishes in the sink?  Do you want your last words to your kid to be clean your fucking room? 

Do what you need to do to be good with the people you love. 
If you have religious beliefs do what you need to do to be good with your God.
Not only in the case of your death, but in taking the life of someone else as well.

You have a warrior’s profession and as such death is reality of your job.  Even the best of us can fall.  None of us are invincible (even the cocky ones that have their own blogs).  However, ironically, being ready to die (for lack of a more eloquent term) increases your chances of living. 

Having your shit together lessens the likelihood of freezing in conflict and greatly diminishes the length of a freeze.  Having your shit together, being prepared for death increases your quality of life.  (Don’t sweat the small stuff)

My family will be taken care of financially if I die
I have made peace with / I am good with my God

But can I be cool with my loved ones if my daughter is scared?

Has my perspective made me caviler about death?
Have things I've said about death around my daughter frightened her?

I guess maybe I should have seen this coming.  

About a year ago we planned to take the girls to the American Girl Doll store in the Mall of America to celebrate their birthdays.  

Sure enough, late the night before the page comes out.  I got up and threw my gear together.  Kissed my wife, looked in on the girls (Hug the loved ones you live with before you leave for work, it might be the last time you do) and headed for the door.  I looked up and saw my oldest at the top of the stairs.  I told her I had to go to work and that she should go back to sleep.

She said, “Be sure not to die, I want to go to the mall of America tomorrow”
I replied with something like you got it kiddo now go back to sleep.

I just thought it was cute and was already planning tactical solutions to the call out.  I never considered that she was actually afraid I was going to die, nor that it was a constant fear of hers until I heard about that picture. 

I wasn't afraid I was going to die.  So of course no one else would be right?

Wrong dumb-ass!, you live in a house with four women.  They might have a different perspective on the matter

So, time to follow my own advice.  Get your shit together.  Make sure you are cool with the ones you love.

And by sharing my thoughts on the matter maybe help:
  • People with high risk professions help alleviate the fears of their loved ones
  • People who love people with high risk jobs

Ok smart guy - How do I ease the concerns of a 9 year old girl? 

I am a firm believer that past performance inductive of future success.  How did I explain this to my wife?

When I applied for the SWAT team I talked it over with my wife.  She had concerns for my safety obviously.

I explained to her that even though it seems to be a higher risk (than regular patrol) in many ways it is safer because of all the additional training you receive and the quality and numbers of the guys you work with.

I told her I would rather go on a planned warrant with 12 highly armed, armored, and skilled Operators than a traffic stop on an isolated road all by myself.

I made analogies to stories I had heard about ‘Nam era special forces vets.  In a military filled with drafted personal that did not want to be there you are better off in Special Forces.  The assignments are more dangerous, but at least everyone in your unit wants to be there.  They had to work hard to earn that.  Much more dangerous to go on routine assignments (there really are no such things as a “routine” assignments when any assignment could include a gun fight) with guys who do the least amount possible just to get by and don’t give a fuck anymore. 

Any cops reading this work with guys that don’t want to be there and don’t give a fuck anymore?
Rhetorical question jack ass every cop has to work with someone like that.

I’m not sure if that explanation made her less afraid of SWAT or more afraid of patrol.

Either way I made the point that the extra training I would receive would make me safer doing both.
That seemed to work.  That is a start

We understand it is hard to be woken up by a page in the middle of the night and to watch a loved one hurry off, potentially to risk their life…

We are sorry to put them through that but do we really understand it?

The closest I have come to seeing this through a loved ones perspective are they few times I have been unable to go to a call out.  Either because I was out of town or had other obligations I could not escape, there have been a couple times where I had to listen to the radio from the side lines.

And that really, really sucked.

When there is nothing you can do to positively influence the outcome that really sucks.  All you can do is wait to hear the all clear, and hope everything went well.

How I dealt with this:
1) I trained these guys, they know their shit, and they will be fine
2) Get over yourself.  Yes you are good, but you are not so good that they can not do this with out you.  There are other very skilled Operators on the team.  You count on them to watch your back.  You can count on them to watch everyone else’s back

That made it suck slightly less. 

How can this help my daughter?
How can this help anyone who loves someone with a high risk job?

They have not trained the team.  So if the quality of training gave me some comfort it would stand to reason that it could do the same for her.

I can make sure she knows how good we are.  How hard we train.  And even though we do dangerous things we do them in the safest way possible.

(Maybe a video of training highlights at something like the banquet so spouses can see it?)

I can also make sure she knows a couple of my close buddies that work hard to be sure I come home safe

(Another reason why social events with your families are important)

Ok, so I have some ideas about how I can talk to my daughter about this.

But the title of this blog is "Risk of death from another perspective"right?  So I did some research and found this:

Question: How Do I Explain My Deployment to My Kids?

Thousands of military parents face the challenge of explaining an upcoming deployment to their children.

Answer: Your strategy will revolve around your children's ages, personality, coping mechanisms and familiarity with deployments. Kids of active duty service members may already possess a general knowledge of deployments, whereas it may be a foreign concept to children of Reservists and Guardsmen
Young Children: When dealing with preschoolers, many military parents opt for a simple approach such as, "I have to go away for awhile and do my job." Common inquiries from small children include the basics: when, where, and how long. A sense of security is important to these little ones. Don't be surprised if your son or daughter exhibits uncharacteristic clingy behavior.

Older Children: These kids may have a basic understanding of what deployment means, but don't fully comprehend how it'll impact their world. There's a lot of unpredictability in children aged 6 to 12. Some will barrage you with inquiries during your first discussion. Others may have one or two questions, process the information and approach you days later.

Some military parents approach the topic by utilizing another service member’s deployment as a frame of reference. "Remember last year when Caitlyn's dad had to go away for his work?"

Regardless of their reactions, expect a lot of questions from these inquisitive minds.

Teens: Compared to the other age categories, teenagers have a much better understanding of deployments. Besides questions about your well-being, they often want to know how their role within the family will change during your absence. Your teenager may react to the news by expressing a wide variety of emotions.

Anger and feelings of abandonment are common, especially if you'll miss a major milestone in their life such as a high school graduation. Others might respond by assuming an adult-like role, reassuring you not to worry about the home front because they'll "take care of everything."

Don't Make Promises You Can't Keep
Seeking reassurance, children often put their parent on the spot by asking tough, direct questions. A natural parental reaction is to promise them the moon, stars and everything in between. However, doing so can backfire and have serious repercussions.

For example:

Don't promise your child you'll maintain daily communication—even if you believe you can. Communication blackouts, missions and a host of other variables may make this impossible. A better alternative is to explain that staying in touch is important to you, followed by informing them you'll do your best to e-mail, call or write letters as often as possible.

At the forefront of most young minds are the questions, "Could you get hurt?" and "Could you die?" Some children will verbalize the question, others will not.
Again, don't make promises you can't keep.
To calm their anxiety and fear, offer reassuring statements. "My top priority is coming home safely to you and the rest of the family. I have a lot of gear to protect me and a lot of training." To instill your point, you may want to show your child a Kevlar helmet and vest.

When presented with tough questions, some military parents insert the family's religious preferences into the conversation. "God (or whatever higher power you believe in) will help protect not only me, but you too."
Contrary to young children, teens have a better understanding of this subject matter. Often preferring logic and facts over theoretical concepts, they may ask, "What are the chances that you'll be hurt or killed?" Simple responses such as, "The odds are in my favor that I'll return home safe," may satisfy your teen's logic-driven mind. Before discussing the deployment with your teen, you may want to gather facts and statistics to support your statements.

The methods used in explaining deployments are unique to each child and family. You possess a powerful asset: first-hand knowledge of your kids. Don't underestimate this tool. Often, it's this knowledge that will guide you through the difficult discussions.

Support Material
If your child responds well to visual cues, consider acquiring videos, booklets and coloring/activity books before you approach your children. To get you started, here are a few options:

Numerous free videos, covering various aspects of deployment and military service are available at the Sesame Street Web site.
Military provides a nine-page document designed to help parents explain deployment to their children.
Helping Children Cope During Deployment covers all stages of deployment, including telling your children to helping them through the separation.
Promoting Resilience in Your Family is a free video designed for children aged 12 to 18.
Most installations offer service members a wide variety of educational material designed to help children cope with deployments. For example, soldiers can find useful information at their Army Community Service (ACS) center.

While I was writing this, thinking about seeing things from a different perspective I had a thought.

I work out with her
I play ninjas with her (see also sneaky way to teach close quarter combatives)
I shoot guns with her.

What if a couple years down the road she flips the script on me.  What if she wants to become a cop?  What if she wants to join the military?

That thought process led me to look up some resources online that I thought might be useful for this blog

Tips To Help You In Your Decision-Making Process

Tip 1 — Take A Step Back
It’s a good idea to take some time to process your thoughts and feelings about your daughter or son
joining the Army. This will allow you to keep an open mind and focus on the best decision for them.

Tip 2 — Get The Facts
Professional Development
• The Army offers career opportunities in a wide range of areas — with over 150 jobs in law
enforcement, engineering, medicine, law, arts & media, technology and more.
• Soldiers participate in a variety of leadership training courses and get expert on-the-job training,
putting them on the fast track to success both in Army careers and related civilian careers.
• Deployment is an opportunity to broaden one’s horizons by going overseas. A common
misperception is that deployment always means combat, when, in fact, units are often deployed to
noncombat regions. It is also important to note not all Soldiers get deployed.
Education Benefits
• The Army provides a well-rounded education beyond the traditional college diploma —including
leadership training and other experiences that help Soldiers find career opportunities others
don’t get.
• There are various scholarships, grants and education benefits the Army offers Soldiers to help
them pay for a college education or pay off existing student loans.
• Soldiers participating in the Education Career Stabilization program are able to attend college
and earn their degree without the risk of deployment.
• Soldiers enjoy a dynamic lifestyle that affords them the time to pursue hobbies and spend time
with their families, while continually strengthening themselves through ongoing training.
• Soldiers and their families get comprehensive health care coverage that comes at little or no cost.
• Soldiers on active duty receive 30 days of vacation along with weekends, national holidays and
unlimited sick days.
• The Army provides low-cost life insurance regardless of a Soldier’s age.
• The Army offers Soldiers, families and retirees a strong network of support and recreational
services that enhance lives, build resiliency and promote a sense of balance.

It may help you to hear from parents who have been through this process.
Go to to see some parents’ stories.

Tip 4 — have an open dialogue
Use these thought starters to help you have a productive
discussion with your son or daughter.
1. What do you hope to get out of the Army?
2. What is the main reason you are thinking of joining?
3. What are your long-term goals and how will the Army help you achieve them?
4. Have you thought about what you want to do in the Army?
5. What talents do you hope to strengthen in the Army?
6. Have you thought about going to college before or after the Army?
7. What would you like to be in the Army Reserve or on active duty?

Tip 5 — Talk to a recruiter
Talking to a recruiter is a great way to get questions you have about the Army answered.
They are here to help you make the best decision for your family. Recruiters can also help you
determine the right timetable for enlistment and tailor an Army experience that meets your
child’s goals and needs.
You can talk to a recruiter online at
or call 1-800-USA-ARMY, ext. 181.

If you have a warrior’s profession, you risk death every shift. 

It is your responsibility to make yourself ready for death
  • Do you have your shit together? 
  • Will your family be taken care of financially if you die? 
  • Are you good with your God if you have one?
  • Are you cool with your loved ones? 

Are you cool with your loved ones?  - I realize now, that part of that is, it is your responsibility to ease the anxiety they may have with your warrior’s profession.

Make sure they know:
  • The quality of training you receive
    • This only works if you do every thing you can to be the best there is at what you do.
    • So if you don't, then pick it up a notch.  If not for you, then for them!
  • Even though you do dangerous things you do them in the safest way possible.
  • A couple of your close buddies that work hard to be sure you come home safe

Don't make promises you can't keep.

Offer reassuring statements.
  • "My top priority is coming home safely to you and the rest of the family.”

Show them you protective gear (Kevlar helmet and vest.)

Train Hard, Train Smart, Be safe – get back home to those loved ones

1 comment:

  1. Just curious -- which came first, kids or SWAT?

    My son was born after I'd been a cop for several years, including a couple on a fairly high-speed specialty assignment that did some SWAT-like (lite?) things... His birth certainly has changed my perspective on some things; he's not old enough yet to really get what daddy does... but I certainly think twice about some things I didn't sweat before.

    And -- I want to second or emphasize your point about hugging your loved ones before you leave... I'm not ready to go to work until I've hugged/kissed my son & my wife. If something happens -- I want to know that was the last thing I "said" to them.