Photo credit: International Association of Police Chaplains
It was mid-June, 1755 in the early afternoon. The battle weary army under General Braddock was just a few miles from Fort Duquesne, when they ran into disaster. The sudden deafening barrage of gunfire from the forest took out numerous officers, and men on the front line. Nine hundred French soldiers and Indians hid in the woods waiting for just this moment to strike. Officers on horseback were easy targets. General Braddock was one of the first among the wounded. His aides were all down except George Washington. The big Virginian had two horses shot from under him, and a bullet shot through his hat. Three more bullets passed cleanly through his coat without touching him – still he fought on.
Colonel Washington tried to keep his men from panicking - mostly British troops trained for regimented warfare on the fields of Europe - firing aimlessly into the forest or shooting their own men in confusion. Many survivors simply dropped their weapons and fled. It was impossible to rally them being in such a panic. Finally the whole regiment was forced to retreat.
Washington was considered the hero of this battle. People called him fearless and praised him for how he fought with remarkable courage. But he was haunted by the defeat. He hated to speak of it, and considered it scandalous.
Officers involved in shootings are often praised as heroes. They do act with courage but most never feel like a hero. Everyone I have talked to felt like they had lost a battle rather than done something heroic.
In shooting incidents LEOs go into an automatic pilot mode. They fall to the level of their training. They have a job to do, and will do that job until finished no matter what.
There are common reactions reported after a shooting. Some LEOs become emotional, cry, or yell. Others say they feel numb, and don’t feel anything at all. Physical reactions often include puking, the shakes, loose bowels, and headaches. These are all normal reactions to critical incidents. Some have nightmares, insomnia, and other symptoms. Symptoms may be immediate, within a few hours, or may show up weeks later.
Talking things out with a trustworthy person brings some relief. A verbal purge can often help. It’s almost like a K-9 when called off before getting to bite someone. The officer and the bite dog both need to do something to come down. The dog needs to bite (preferably a toy) the cop needs to talk.
Strenuous exercise and lots of water will help eliminate some of the chemical dump that occurs during a high-stress incident. Adrenaline and other chemicals were dumped into your body to give you a burst of energy, strength, speed, etc. Most shooting incidents happen quickly not allowing your body to use all the chemicals it has produced. These need to be eliminated by sweating, urinating or crying them out. Obviously, sweating or urinating are the preferred methods of most first responders.
Finally, avoid excess sugar, caffeine and alcohol after critical incidents. These only add to the chemicals your body is trying to eliminate.
A common question often asked of the chaplain after officer involved shootings, even from those not particularly religious is ”What about the ten commandments,” and “Thou shalt not kill?”
Lt. Col Dave Grossman, the author of On Killing does an excellent job addressing this question in his seminars. He starts with explaining how the word “kill” in the Bible is better translated “murder.” In other words “Thou shalt not murder.” He goes on to talk about how the Bible describes King David. David was a warrior king. Songs were sung about his killing tens of thousands in battle. The Bible records God gave victory to David, and even called him a “man after His own heart”. David’s troubles began after he “murdered” Uriah. Grossman lists numerous other examples, including how the first gentile Christian in the Bible was Cornelius, a Centurion (modern equivalent would be the police officer or soldier).
Well trained chaplains and peer support can be invaluable assets after a shooting. Chaplains and peer support are often those safe individuals with experience working through critical incidents, and the ones who can handle hearing what you need to say. Talking to these professionals can help raise the level of resiliency.
An “Indian prophecy” was pronounced to George Washington fifteen years after the battle near Fort Duquesne. In the fall of 1770, Washington traveled with a group of men to Ohio to examine some of the western lands granted to colonial veterans after the French and Indian War. A large group of Indians came to visit them. A great chief was among them.
The chief told of the first day he ever saw Washington. He told how he called his young braves together and pointed out the “tall and daring warrior”. He said, “He is not of the red-coat tribe - he has an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do - himself is alone exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies.”
The old chief’s best braves, who never missed, couldn’t hit Washington though their rifles were all trained on him. He said a power mightier than they must be shielding him, because he could not die in battle. He then told the colonial veterans he wanted to speak a work of prophecy over Washington before dying. He said, “Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies - he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.” It seems this was a prophecy that came true.
Washington was a warrior, yet also a devoutly religious man. He led the Revolutionary War, and served as our first president. He didn’t have issues with killing in war - it was necessary, and just. If you are involved in a righteous kill, consider it, as Washington, not a sin when it is in the line of duty.
About The Author
Chaplain Terry Morgan is an ordained minister with almost 30 years of experience. He has spent 15 years as a law enforcement chaplain. He is the Senior Chaplain/Executive Director of Gold Country Chaplaincy and Press4hope. Morgan is a Master Chaplain Level member of the International Conference of Police Chaplains, and is a member of the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation. He received his Board Certification in Emergency Crisis Response through the American Academy of Experts in Traumatic Stress. Chaplain Morgan has extensive training, and is a certified trainer for suicide intervention and prevention. Chaplain Morgan has sat on several boards representing the Faith Community including the boards of the “Campaign for Community Wellness,” “Advocates for the Mentally Ill Housing” and is the president of the “Placer County Veteran Stand Down Committee”. He is also a Board member for the “Fellowship of Marketplace Christians International.”
Chaplain Morgan was one of a handful of law enforcement chaplains chosen to work with Louisiana Mental Health and the New Orleans Police Dept. immediately following Hurricane Katrina. He has also been one of only a few chaplains selected to work with surviving family members of officers killed in the line of duty during “Police Week” in Washington D.C. through the C.O.P.S. organization.
Chaplain Morgan earned his Masters degree in Ministry in Public Safety, from Trinity Biblical University and his Bachelors degree in Theology from Pacific Coast Bible College. He also has an Associate of Science Degree in Business Management from Sacramento City College. He has taught Bible college courses, and teaches crisis counseling for chaplains. He is often called upon as an expert in dealing with traumatic stress, and stress management. He has been frequently published in Officer.com magazine on a variety of topics related to law enforcement, and has been featured in “PORAC” magazine and “Extant Magazine”. He teaches various ministries how to help their own parishioners through critical incidents, crisis, and traumatic events, while exercising good stress management techniques and preventing compassion fatigue or burn out in their ministers.
Chaplain Morgan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 916-259-1001