Embrace ‘the Suck’

These are especially difficult times for law enforcement. Optimism is hard to come by and maybe doesn’t cut it anymore. Val Van Brocklin discovers from a younger generation of officers a new model for policing and leading during difficult times.


The suck.

These are particularly trying times for law enforcement. There are the long standing difficulties:

  • Intense exposure to the worst in human behavior
  • A public that doesn’t understand what police work entails
  • A justice system that frequently fails to do justice
  • Failures of management
  • Politics

To name a few.

But the struggling economy has added albatrosses. Budget cuts mean:

  • Hiring freezes
  • Lay offs
  • Forced furloughs
  • Pay cuts
  • Uncertain funding
  • Competing demands for decreasing resources
  • Pressures on unions
  • Rocky succession planning
  • Difficulty hiring and maintaining quality people
  • The need to train people in multiple areas.

Doing More with Less has become Doing Everything with Nothing and 2011 has started off with too many officers giving the greatest love of all.

John 15:13 – Greater love hath no one than he lay down his life for another

Looking on “the bright side” doesn’t cut it.

I used to be a fan of optimism. These days I’ve lost my oomph for extolling, “Look on the bright side” and “Every cloud has a silver lining.”  I can’t find bright sides or silver linings in laying people off, requiring those left to do everything with nothing, and being 5 months into a year that is surpassing the preceding one in officers lost to us.

But I also can’t roll over – not when I read about the young officers attending a memorial service for Lt. Eric Shuhandler last year in Gilbert, Arizona. Some of them were facing potential layoffs. Like a newspaper reporter attending the service, I wondered what kind of person would enter a darkened building with an armed intruder inside knowing they might not have a job the next week.

After the service the reporter asked them whether their comrade’s death and the fact they could be laid off soon might affect how they did their job. They each paused thoughtfully and, to a person, answered firmly, “No.” Their response compelled me to find something that might help officers stay the course in these difficult times.

Embrace the suck.

I found that something from the same younger generation – a way that warriors and “ordinary” heroes both have relied on across the ages to deal with the most difficult of circumstances

Embrace the suck.

I first heard this phrase last summer in a radio interview with Captain Benjamin Tupper about his book - Greetings From Afghanistan: Send More Ammo.

Captain Tupper belonged to an Embedded Training Team (ETT) stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan that fought alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA). Asked about the phrase in his book - “Embrace the Suck” - Captain Tupper tried to explain to the civilian reporter.

Circumstances in Kandahar suck. The heat is often triple digits and you work in a helmet, long pants, boots, long sleeves and 50 pounds of body armor. The food is lousy but since you’re running and gunning, the heat and adrenaline suppress your appetite. Tupper shed 14 pounds from his slender build in the first 3 weeks.

Sleep deprivation is common. You’re on night patrols and even when it isn’t your watch you’re thinking about how night time is one of the most likely for getting killed. Hygiene is a memory. Within 30 minutes of getting clean you’re shrouded in sweat and filth. Tupper recounted shedding his boots and peeling off his socks – along with parts of his feet that smelled like rotting flesh.

These are just the living conditions. Then factor in the killing and dying. So, Tupper explained, you figure out a way to embrace the suck and ply it with wry humor because, if you don’t, you will lose all morale and motivation for the mission. The greatest generation of WWII had FUBAR and SNAFU. This generation has Embrace the Suck.

Two examples.

I’d like to share two examples of embracing the suck: one historic, the other recent.

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