If you are a regular reader of my columns, you know that I am wound pretty tightly to Our Brotherhood and to the National Memorial/Museum in Washington D.C. and all that they imply. In the opinion of this humble writer, Police Week trumps all of the activities, ceremonies and functions held by and for cops anywhere at anytime.
I have been blessed because I have been able to attend each year for nearly a decade. It is always fresh. It is never the same. Each person there does make a difference.
This year, I have tried a new tactic that I want to share with you. I encourage readers to give a try, as well. Here it is: Just Invite 'Em. The response has surprised me, in a positive way.
I have done it in lots of places. There are the two cops I know from the gym. There are cops in classes that I've either taught or attended. Then there is that cop that always catches coffee at the local McDonald's. Not too long ago, I was the beneficiary of a motorist assist from a nearby agency. I invited him, too.
I worked up my courage and just invited them.
Most cop reactions have been something like, "I have wanted to go," or "I thought only the honor guard members could attend," with some expressing surprise, "You mean any cop can go?"
BEEN THERE, DONE THAT
I am thinking about those of us who have been to Police Week before. You already know that going to D.C. and really participating in the events of the week makes an indelible mark on an individual. The first Police Week experience changes a cop's outlook, their priorities and their emotional ties to The Brotherhood.
However, I judge there is a gap. We need to close it. There is an untold number of cops who want to go, mean to go and don't know how to go about it.
I believe that all of them simply need to BE PERSONALLY INVITED BY SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN THERE. They want to know that someone will show them the ropes. Their fear of the unknown is real. If you have been to Police Week previously, you can take that fear away on a buddy's first trip.
A WAR STORY (MAYBE TWO)
Last December, I was on a flight from Florida to Michigan. Seated a few rows back was a group of people who were having way too much fun. They were laughing, joking and just having a good old time from the moment that they boarded.
About an hour into the flight, a young man was standing in the aisle next to my seat. He was a cop: haircut, stance, and overall appearance gave him away. He had recognized me from my picture with these articles. He invited me back to join the group of fun-seekers. By the time we were ready to land, the 7 of them had been invited to Police Week and heard about some of the experiences. I believe many of them will be there this year for their first time.
There is a father/son cop duo from a local department who workout at my gym. I have come to know them pretty well. Yesterday, I broached the issue and invited them to Police Week. The son said he has wanted to go for a few years. Dad said their department always sends the honor guard. I told them that everyone is welcome and needed. I told them I would show them around and answer any questions. I could even help them get a room for their stay, if they would like. We could fly together. I suspect they will be there.
There was the phone call I got a midnight last night from across the country to ask me if I would show someone the drill for Police Week. There are email messages, as well. My point is this: there will be new faces at Police Week this year simply because a veteran took the time to invite them.
If YOU are a veteran, reach out to someone right now. Ask them to go with you. Tell them you will show them the way. They do not need to fear the unknown - you will be with them all the way.
TELL THEM YOUR STORY
The city is swarming in cops. Most are in plain clothes. Some have badges hanging around their necks. Others don't. But there is no mistaking them for who and what they are: COPS. When you first get there, it feels like you are arriving at a huge family reunion that is already underway.
The Wall is divided into two large sections. On each section are the names of the 18,661 fallen officers that have been etched into its stone surface. The newest names are always on the very bottom rows of each panel. You now have a sense of what it's like from a physical standpoint.
There are usually throngs of people there. Along the Wall are mementos that have been left there by friends, by survivors, and by agencies from all across the country. Those mementos tell a message of love and of loss. Some start out, "Dear Daddy, I miss you."
The totality of the experience is overwhelming to say the least. Grown men are shaking hands as old friendships are renewed. There are pats on the back. There are eyes filled with tears and hearts filled with pain, everywhere.
Each year, I have worried that I won't feel it. That hasn't happened so far. Each year is as touching as the first time I was there. I hope it always will be that way.
Sharing a beverage is also a must-do function on the Washington tour circuit (wink). There are a few nearby haunts: The Irish Channel, Kelly's and the FOP Beer Tent, to name a few. In those places life-long friendships are created and renewed. It is common to meet someone and within minutes feel like you have known them all of your life.
By late evening, the local establishments will be jammed with cops. Yet, there will be no arguments. Aaaah yes, cops, guns, and alcohol - what a great mix. Everyone acts as if you are their best friend, I guess, because you are. There are no strangers here: only family.
To me, the Candlelight Vigil is the high-point of the week. I am awed as I watch a sea of 25,000 candles come sweeping to light as we hear Amazing Grace sung while watching a laser driven Thin Blue Line appear over our heads.
Then, there is the Final Roll Call where the name of each officer who has been added to the Wall each year is read aloud one, last time. 25,000 of us stand together. We cry together. We pay our respects together. We grieve together. We try to support the survivors whose pain is even greater than our own.
At the end, we migrate, en masse to the FOP Tent and fine solace in the company of one another along with some liquid refreshments.
The annual Police Memorial Service is held on May 15th on the steps of the Capitol. It is always attended by thousands of cops from around the world. There are speeches, songs and tears. That is the day and time when we pay homage to those who have given everything in service to our country.
THE MOST IMPORTANT REASON TO BE THERE
There are the survivors. They are the families who have lost a loved one. They are the cops from agencies who have suffered the loss of a brother or sister. We are there to remind them: they are not alone. They are surrounded by warriors who share their grief and support them.
Whose job is it to minister to the survivors? It is yours, mine and it belongs to the new people that we can bring, as well. Which one of us will end up being very important to someone at Police week this year? Only God knows.
A few years ago, I decided to take one last walk by the Wall on the night before our return trip home. I had been with brothers, consuming a few barley pops, and thought it would be my last chance to see it for another year.
Just before leaving the Memorial grounds, I came upon the most profound memento of the entire week.
I saw a single sheet of loose-leaf paper, complete with 3 holes that had been taped to a very low spot on one of the panels. The writing was in pencil. I stooped over to read it. It looked like a memo, with headings and all.
Realizing what it was, I checked the area, and sat down right on the ground in front of this panel so that I could fully absorb that letter.
TO: Officer Joshua Mathew Williams
FROM: Your daughter, Lisa
I am 13 now, and am really growing up fast. I'm very different, looking like a young lady. My mouth looks like the front end of a Cadillac because, you see, I have braces.
I am playing soccer this year and I was in the school play. I just had a small part, but I did my best, because that's what you taught me to do.
Johnny is 10 now, and he really makes me mad sometimes. But, Mom says that I have to be patient because he's my little brother and we all need one another. We're doing OK, but I know that Mom really misses you. I see her sitting in her favorite chair looking at your picture. I think she cries sometimes.
We miss you, Daddy, and we wish so badly that you could be here.
P.S. Thanks for taking the time to paint the pictures of the sunsets, Daddy. They are hanging in the hallway. I see them every morning when I get up. They remind me of you and how lucky we are to have a Daddy like you.
I have read that letter to the students of every class that I have taught since that day. I've made sure that a copy is in their student books.
We cannot tell this story too much.
Now, the time is right to share the story with your buddies and pals - cops who have thought about going to Police Week. There are plenty of cops who are not sure of exactly where to sign up, where to stay and what to do once they arrive. If you have been to Police Week, you already know.
Just Invite Them! Take away their fear of the unknown. Show them the ropes. It is a real treat to be along with a first-timer just to see their reaction to all that is unfolding before them for the first time.
Mention it at roll call. Talk about it over your lunch break. Throw it out there while you are waiting your turn to testify at Court.
If a person is a cop because it is in their heart, I say to them: "You deserve to be there - at least once," knowing full well that once they have experienced it, they will likely return. That is just the way it is.
Police Week is the experience of a lifetime. Please come. I would be happy to show you around.
Be safe, my brothers & sisters. I hope to see you in person in D.C. in May.
Comments or questions are welcome. Email messages can be sent by simply clicking on my name below. I look forward to hearing from you.