In today’s world, every minute has the potential to turn into a life or death decision for law enforcement officers. A decision made by a cop in a split-second of sheer terror, judges and law makers can ruminate over for months or years. They will take all that time to judge those actions made in the blink of an eye. Thankfully, police officers react in times of threat based on their training and experience. Sometimes, the bad guys win the moment; but, not the day. What you take away from this article may mean the difference between your own or your officer’s survival and not letting the evil, that sought to destroy, win.
Professional police prepare physically to enhance their strength and their endurance to handle the fights which come after the foot chase of someone ten years their junior. They build upper body strength and they diligently work to improve their competence with their firearms, both on and off-duty guns. They are aware of which holster works best in specific circumstances and they jealously watch over their tactical equipment keeping it all in place and ready. I never left the house for a shift without the pat-check by my wife. That’s the tap that comes during the ‘see you later – have a good night’ kiss assuring her that her cop had his protective vest on.
Over 30 years ago, police survival instructors developed the concept of survival role-play. It is a mental exercise where officers on patrol visualize a possible scenario in their jurisdiction of an armed encounter and how they would react. The training stressed the need for positive outcomes. Even in the mental role-play, if the officer visualized themselves as shot in the encounter, they always also visualized themselves as surviving the event.
Being mentally prepared for whatever is coming next is perhaps the most difficult area for being survival strong. How can you be prepared for something when you have no idea what it might be? The possibilities are almost endless. So, how does one figure out which ones are the most likely to be on your horizon? What if you can have no way of knowing what it might be? What do you do? There is only one sure way of being completely prepared for whatever might come your way and to be the one who will be ready to respond no matter what.
In firearms training, for accuracy and consistency it is critical to have a solid shooting foundation. If the shooter is in a standing position, there is a certain way that the feet should be planted, the knees, flexed, the shoulders and forearms aligned, the wrists kept straight. If not able to shoot from a standing position or it is necessary to move while shooting, there are still foundational methods which enable the shooter to keep aim on target and effectively send the shots down range.
When involved in a high-speed pursuit, there are very specific skills the driver must use to keep the car upright, on a solid path and box-in or overtake the offender to affect a safe apprehension. None of those skills can be completely effective, however, if the vehicle the officer is driving is not in good shape, with good tires, solid steering and dozens of other normally minute issues which become incredibly important when speeds scream past 100 miles per hour. If the foundation of the driver’s training and well-cared-for equipment is not solid, the risks spiral upward and the expectations for a safe end to the pursuit dwindle.
Award-winning author and columnist, Regina Brett wrote, “It doesn’t matter what has happened to you, it matters what you do with what has happened to you. Life is like a poker game. You don’t get to choose the cards you are dealt, but it’s entirely up to you how to play the hand.”[i] I’m going to ask her to indulge me when I add a qualification to her quotable-quote. Let’s consider the poker analogy. First, players, must ante up. They put in the chips agreed upon for beginning the pot. Then, once they see what they have been dealt, players can opt to fold or continue to play. A player who folds risks nothing further; but, they lose what they have put in so far. Even though there is nothing left for them to lose, they have no opportunity to gain anything more either.
Those who have not folded are known as active players. When all active players have contributed an equal amount to the pot, the betting round ends. According to the variant being played, further cards may be dealt, or players may have an opportunity to exchange some cards, after which there is another betting round, and so on. When the last betting round has ended there is a showdown. All active players show their cards, and the owner of the best five-card hand takes the contents of the pot. If at any point only one active player remains, that player automatically wins the pot without having to show any cards.
The objective is of course to win money, and there are two ways to do this.
- To have the best five-card hand at the showdown.
- To persuade all the other players to fold.[ii]
When you decide to sit in this poker game called life and you choose, as many reading this article have, to serve your community in a very hazardous, life-threatening role which few people understand and even fewer appreciate, your ante is in and you have already decided folding, at this point is not an option. You came to play and not to fold. The betting round has begun, and you are all-in, right from the beginning. Every chip you have, your time, your talent, your skills, your family time and yes, even your life is on the table and how you play your cards matters more than anyone can imagine.
Here is where part of the analogy of Ms. Brett’s needs to expand just a little. Technically, she is correct; you don’t get to choose the cards you’re dealt. But, as part of your deciding how to play the hand, you may opt to replace some of the cards you were dealt originally and get new ones. You do not know what they will be; but you do have the option to initially discard those which do nothing to help you, those you believe will hinder your success and keep what you believe are best. It could be staying stuck in bad past experiences – that’s a card to discard. Your tendency to have habits which are detrimental to your health – another set of cards to discard. Being forced to ‘play the hand you’re dealt’ is not completely true.
According to the rules of the game, the objective is to have the best hand at showdown or convince all the other players to fold. Remember what I wrote? You have all your chips in. Once all your chips are in it includes your family and your life. You have only two options when it’s time for showdown. You must either have the very best hand or force the others to fold. There can be no other options. Everything you do to prepare to play the game will set the foundation for the showdown. It may be the tactical training you have absorbed. It may be your attention to your situational awareness senses. However, it may also be a divine appointment.
There is one given about the poker game we call life. So far, in history, only two persons got out of this life without dying. One was Enoch (Genesis 5:24) and the other Elijah (2 Kings 2). One was simply no longer, and the other God took up in a whirlwind. Very likely, both will be back in what is called the “End Times” and they will be killed and resurrected during that time. Even Jesus died before He rose again and then returned to heaven. Everyone who sits down at life’s poker game will have a divine appointment and then the showdown. The foundation upon which you have built your hand must have one specific card in it – the card of your acceptance of Christ as Savior and Lord. You have prepared to survive every dark evil that comes your way as a strong, gifted, committed, professional law enforcement officer. That foundation is strong. Why would you risk your eternity by not preparing to survive? That one card is foundational.
Then, learn this well. Every game you play in life, for every showdown – before your divine appointment, will only come together if you keep, in every hand, the card of your acceptance of Christ. It will change how you play each hand. You will no longer be looking for what it is to win; but you will know every win you receive is a gift from God. Everything you do will be focused on how that card impacts every other card in your hand. It is your choice to keep that card and not to fold; but, to play each hand with everything you have – all in.
Many years ago, there was a cartoon posted on our bulletin board at work. It showed a stork with a frog in its bill. Reaching out from the beak of the stork, the frog had his hands wrapped around the stork’s neck, trying to choke him. The caption read, Never Give Up! The strength of your faith will be the foundation upon which you survive. Regardless of the rest of the cards in your hand and no matter how the evil of this world throws every jagged barb at you, your foundation will remain strong as you exercise your faith, you nurture it and you sustain it. An interesting thing about faith, it is not something you acquire for yourself or for which you are responsible to obtain, it is a gift. God’s Word tells us that we are saved by grace through faith and that God is the One who gives us that faith. We can nourish it, but God grows it!
In today’s world, if you work your entire career in law enforcement or other similar public service, you may never hear one single of word of thanks or appreciation for what you do. I hope you do. In fact, if you are reading this right now, I am telling you that I, and every member of my family, appreciates you. I can also assure you of two things. First, God sees everything that you do in His Name. Second, He will reward you for it some day in the not too far distant future. Keep building your foundation, keep strengthening to be survival strong, keep training, keep practicing and preparing, and NEVER FOLD.