I recently wrote an essay about the Michael Brown shooting (http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2014/08/24/a-dose-of-reality-for-ferguson-missouri/comment-page-4/). In the essay I debunked some of the most commonly used arguments to “prove” the shooting was unjustified (i.e., “Shooting an unarmed person is always wrong”). Not surprisingly, many readers took my essay to mean I’m part of the “blue wall”, and that I’ll back up a cop no matter what he does. That’s not the case.

If a cop is guilty, he’s guilty. During my career I’ve known three officers who were charged with committing rape while on duty. Two of them went to prison, because they deserved it. I didn’t hear anyone defend them. Every cop I know hates a rapist, especially one wearing a badge. I’ve known other officers who went down in flames for other crimes, because they should have.

So I’m not always on a cop’s side. Law enforcement isn’t a gang. Loyalty doesn’t override principle.

Now that I’ve shown where I stand, I’ll point out that my essay wasn’t about law enforcement’s many problems, or racial bias in society, or how to fix everything that’s wrong with everything. The essay was intentionally very limited in scope; all I did was address misconceptions many people have about violence and lethal force encounters. I avoided the other issues because I’m no sociology professor. I’m just a cop, soldier and community college non-graduate.

However, a few readers asked me to comment on the larger issues, because they thought my perspective was important. So I’m going to address three ways I think we cops can get the public back on our side.

And let’s face it, we police are losing more and more public support with every high-profile incident like we just had in Missouri. Parts of the public have never trusted police and never will, but we’re also losing support from traditional allies like the military. When a retired Marine officer says we’re the standing army the founding fathers warned everyone about, we have a serious problem. And it’s a problem we created.

It should go without saying that every opinion I write is mine and mine alone. I don’t speak for my department, and won’t even publicly acknowledge which department I work for. I don’t represent the military either. I’m just speaking my opinion, based on two decades as a cop.

Method 1: Lose the military gear

Even though I’m a minority and police allegedly want to murder me because of my skin tone, for some odd reason I’ve never been afraid of a police officer in America. And in another strange twist, neither I nor any of my dark-skinned friends or family members have ever been shot by a cop. I grew up lower middle class, obviously Hispanic, but never felt oppressed.

But I was scared of cops once. In another country. During a war.

In 2001, while I was working as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo, I had to stay overnight in neighboring Macedonia to catch a flight early the next morning. Macedonia was at that time embroiled in a civil war between the Slavic Macedonians and ethnic Albanians. The Macedonian military and police were run by Slavs, and they believed Americans were backing their Albanian enemies. Despite the war, borders were open and the capital’s airport was still running. One of my Albanian translators in Kosovo lived in Macedonia and invited me to stay with his family before the flight.

I had a very nice dinner with his family. Then the translator, his brother and I walked to the town square. Before we left the house they warned me: “If we get stopped by the police, don’t talk. Most of the police are drunk, and they hate Americans. You look Albanian, so if you don’t talk they won’t know.”

The town square was nearly empty because of recent fighting. We only spent a short time there before heading back. And as we walked back through a darkened neighborhood, we turned a corner and ran right into the police.

There were maybe four or five of them. The “police officers”, if you could call them that, looked exactly like soldiers. They were dressed in camouflage fatigues and black combat boots, wore chest rigs and carried AK-47s. They were closer to a fire team than a police patrol.

When they saw us they almost stopped, and glared hard at us. My heart rate quickened. One officer in particular, a small dark guy, focused on me. Crap, I thought, and looked away. I was unarmed, had no idea where exactly I was and had no realistic expectation of either fighting or escaping. If one of those guys decided it would be fun to throw an American in jail, into jail I’d go. And jails in semi-third world, former communist countries aren’t known for being pleasant.

My Albanian hosts gave the officers a friendly greeting in Serbo-Croatian. The officers mumbled back a reply. We turned toward the house, which actually put us in front of the police. I didn’t look back, but I expected to hear “Stop!” in Serbian any second. My friends whispered, “Just act like everything’s normal. I don’t think they figured out you’re American.” Eventually, several minutes later, one of them looked behind us. The coast was clear.

I relaxed, but it had been an odd feeling. I had never been scared of a cop before. I guess when police are geared up like soldiers in a war, and look like they hate you, they can be intimidating.

Anyone else ever seen a cop wearing so much military gear you literally couldn’t tell whether he was a cop or soldier?

Police officer at a demonstration in Anaheim, California

Police officer at a demonstration in Anaheim, California

I’ve been a Marine and Soldier longer than I’ve been a cop, and I served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I understand that military gear can be useful to cops. If some wacko with an AK is dumping rounds out his bedroom window, I want an MRAP there. If ISIS is attacking a school, I want SWAT teams to be fully geared out like I was overseas. Other than those extreme situations, why do we need to look and act military?

This is a fine line. We soldiers have learned a lot of hard lessons in the past 13 years of war, and anything we learn that can help make police safer, which then makes the public safer, is a good thing. But there has to be a balance. Yes, officers should carry tourniquets and pressure bandages, because those items save lives. No, officers don’t need to wear desert boots or camouflage uniforms on the street. And good God, someone please explain to me why a cop on duty in America would ever need to wear a shamagh (Arab head scarf).

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Do desert boots, camo and shamaghs make us safer or help us do our jobs? No, but they do accomplish two other things: making us look like wannabe soldiers, and gradually eroding public respect for police. The cool gear some of us wear isn’t worth the bad feelings it generates.

People get why we cops do what we do. Most of them respect what we do. But they don’t respect us if we look like we’re trying to be someone else. A cop in all camo with desert boots, a shamagh, chest rig and carbine looks like he’s trying to be a soldier instead of a cop.

Americans don’t want soldiers patrolling the streets looking for combat. They want officers there to help people who need help and keep the community safe. They understand we need to fight sometimes, they understand we need to shoot sometimes. But they don’t want us all geared out unless the crap hits the fan. And that’s not unreasonable.

Yes, the EOTech is mounted backwards on the officer's carbine. That's not exactly confidence-inspiring.

Yes, the EOTech is mounted backwards on the officer’s carbine. Not exactly confidence-inspiring.

We’re not at war here in America. We don’t need to look (or act) like those “cops” I encountered in Macedonia. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have any military-type gear; on patrol I carried a carbine, plate carrier and helmet in my trunk for special occasions, and I broke it out several times. We should put that gear on when circumstances demand it. But we shouldn’t break it out simply because circumstances “permit” it.

Method 2: Cameras. Lotsa cameras.

Many cops don’t like having cameras in their car or on their body. I understand why. Even in cases where we do everything right, police work can still be ugly. There is no nice, gentle, eye-pleasing way to take down a violent suspect. And the language of the street ain’t too pretty either. Cops are human, and there are cases (lots of cases) where we use bad language during a high-stress incident. Some police actions just look bad on video, no matter how right we might be. And it’s a bit unreasonable for someone to watch a video of a violent struggle between a cop and criminal and say, “Just because that PCP addict attacked an officer with a tire iron, there’s no reason for the officer to curse. The officer should have called him ‘sir’.”

Video doesn’t always tell the whole story, either. An officer in the middle of a critical incident may miss something that’s readily apparent on video. There are good reasons for this: an officer may have been stunned by a blow, or had a brief visual obstruction, or may be suffering from physiological responses to stress such as tunnel vision. People watching video of an event might say, “Why didn’t the officer see that? It’s totally obvious!” And maybe it is obvious – to the camera. To the guy fighting for his life, it may not have been.

I hate comparing any real-life activity to sports, but consider how often players, refs and fans see something in an instant replay that they missed during the actual play. If someone never played sports and only watched instant replays, “what should have been done” might seem real obvious. It’s not so obvious to the guy playing the game. Video doesn’t capture everything, and even when it does it may not show what the officer saw.

Here’s an interesting example. A dash cam captured part of a fight between an officer and suspect, but didn’t capture the suspect hitting the officer. If the officer hadn’t been wearing a body camera, he would have been stuck trying to convince the public that he was assaulted.

Without question, video has its limitations. But even if it doesn’t tell the whole story, it still provides the public with critical information.

Consider this shooting, which superficially compares to the Ferguson shooting. An unarmed black male was killed by a white police officer. The officer claimed he was attacked and had no choice but to shoot. Without video, and absent any significant injuries, that officer would be hard-pressed to explain why a grown man with a Taser and maybe baton and pepper spray couldn’t defend himself against one unarmed guy.

The video shows just how big and aggressive that suspect was. It clearly shows the officer did not provoke the fight. It shows his Taser fail. It shows the first punch that floored him. In short, it removes the “he said/she said” atmosphere swirling around the Ferguson shooting.

Here’s another one. Officers kill a suspect trying to stab his girlfriend.

Two major points from this incident: officers accidentally shot the girlfriend in the arm when they killed her boyfriend, and the girlfriend says repeatedly “Y’all didn’t have to do that.” In many domestic violence cases, the victim will claim she wasn’t in any danger and the officers didn’t have to take the action they did. This woman insisted the officers didn’t have to shoot; however, in the video (at around 00:57) we see the suspect trying so hard to stab her that the knife blade actually bends from the downward pressure.

The officers were obviously justified. The video proves it. But imagine how it would have been reported without that video.

“White officers shoot black woman while allegedly trying to save her from her black boyfriend. ‘They didn’t even have to shoot him,’ woman says. ‘He wasn’t really trying to hurt me.’”

Cameras may not be perfect, but they give us a better option than expecting everyone to believe us just because we’re cops. The public doesn’t give us that much benefit of the doubt anymore. But if we all have car and body cameras, and the public hears us testify to facts that are backed up by video, we’ll start getting that benefit of the doubt when there is no video. We cops should start demanding that our departments provide cameras. They’ll save a lot of officers who might otherwise be going through the same thing Darren Wilson is.

Method 3: End the Drug War (or at least legalize marijuana)

Many years ago I responded to a robbery call. A local teenager tried to rob a business owner at an ATM. The business owner knew who the teenager was, because he was a frequent customer. He gave me the name, I found an address in our system. Another officer and I went to the suspect’s house and knocked on the door.

A red-eyed man in his 30’s answered. The smell of marijuana flowed from the house. The man’s eyes widened when he realized we were cops. He yanked his head back into the house and almost slammed the door, but left it open just enough for me to see about half his face.

I asked, “Does John Smith live here?”

“Yeah he lives here. Why you asking?”

“Are you his father?”

“Yeah I’m his father!” the man blurted. “But he ain’t here!”

“Do you mind if we come in and check?”

“Why do you need to do that?” the man defensively asked. “I just told you he ain’t here!”

The man was nervous as hell. “Sir, your son is a suspect in a robbery,” I said, in as calm a voice as possible. “All I need to do is confirm he’s not inside. I don’t care about the marijuana.”

As soon as I said “I don’t care about the marijuana,” the man’s expression changed. The tension seemed to drain from his face. He relaxed, exhaled deeply, and opened the door.

“He’s not here, officer. I haven’t seen him for hours. Come on in.”

And just like that, an uncooperative family member became cooperative. He led us through the house, showed us his son’s room, gave us information about where his son might be, and thanked us as we left. He knew his son was a bad kid, and didn’t begrudge us for trying to catch him. He just didn’t want to be jacked with for smoking marijuana by himself in his own house. And I didn’t blame him.

Obviously, not every pot smoker will suddenly become pro-police if we ignore their marijuana use. But there are many people who smoke marijuana but aren’t criminals. They don’t get angry at us for arresting robbers, rapists and murderers, but they do get angry at us for throwing people in jail over the functional equivalent of drinking a few beers.

The Drug War, in addition to being unwinnable, has gained us more enemies than anything else over the last half-century. We’ve gained all these enemies because we cops have embraced drug enforcement and all the tactics that go with it. Every time we dig around someone’s groin for drugs, or breach a door for a no-knock warrant against a marijuana grower, or throw a flash-bang into a toddler’s crib during a raid, we turn more and more people against us. The excesses committed in our crusade to eradicate drugs have been so egregious, we’ve actually seen a grand jury in law-and-order Texas refuse to indict a marijuana dealer who killed a cop raiding his house. That grand jury, and much of America, decided drug use may be bad, but kicking in people’s doors to stop drug use is worse.

In most cops’ minds, “anyone involved with drugs” equals “bad guy”. I used to feel that way myself. And granted, a lot of drug users and dealers really are bad guys. But when we arrest for simple possession, we’re not discriminating between peaceful users and actual criminal thugs who happen to use or sell drugs. We don’t need to treat the kid smoking a joint in his apartment the same as the Mexican Mafia murderer who makes his living selling tons of weed and killing rival dealers.

For years I’ve heard drug users say, “Aw man, I ain’t hurtin’ nobody,” when we arrest them. For years, I’ve heard cops jokingly say, “Aw man, he ain’t hurtin’ nobody,” when they’re making fun of someone under arrest for drugs. I’ve said it myself. But now I realize a lot of them actually weren’t hurting anyone, and arresting them literally did nothing to protect the public. All we did was further overload the criminal justice system, create years of problems for people who weren’t criminals, and convince ourselves we had somehow accomplished something positive for society. And at the end of the shift many of us went home and had a beer, even though all cops know alcohol causes the same problems we accuse illegal drugs of causing.

Many cops will have a knee-jerk reaction against everything I just said. They’ll say, “We can’t legalize any drugs, not even marijuana! We don’t want people driving stoned!” or “Would you want your kid smoking weed?” Well, we don’t want people driving drunk either, but alcohol is legal. I don’t want my kids to drink at all (I don’t and never have), but it’s legal. In fact, whenever cops object to legalizing marijuana by saying “But marijuana is bad because (insert bad thing here)!” they should just switch out “marijuana” with “alcohol” and repeat the statement.

Of course, we cops can’t end the drug war on our own. But we can oppose it at the voting booth and make our feelings known, and we sure as heck don’t have to be enthusiastic about drug enforcement. A lot of cops already have shown their support for legalization in a survey conducted by PoliceOne, a law enforcement web site. 44% of officers surveyed were either pro-legalization or receptive to the idea.

http://www.policeone.com/chiefs-sheriffs/articles/4835061-Legalizing-marijuana-Police-officers-speak-out/

Guys, imagine an America where cops wear regular uniforms with body cameras and don’t jack with people for smoking a joint. Imagine how we’d be viewed if we’d only arrest bad guys for hurting others, instead of throwing people in jail for the type of cigarette they smoke. I think we’d get tons of support if the public knew our only job was to help victims and arrest the people who victimized them.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe all the ideas I have are off base and would lead to national disaster. Maybe. But I think it would be worth a shot to try them out anyway. Because what we’re doing now sure as hell isn’t working.

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com.


After I published my opinion piece about the shooting in Ferguson Missouri, I received many emails from police officers and private citizens thanking me for writing it. I also received one message from a police officer who tried to explain how the job has changed him, and why he is the way he is. I thought his piece was well-written and extremely powerful, and received his permission to post it here. I think it might help some people to understand how difficult the job can be, and what can happen to even the best of us after we’ve worked the street long enough.

Again, I AM NOT THE AUTHOR OF THIS ESSAY. Furthermore, I have no way of verifying that the author is who he says he is, or that these incidents truly occurred. But his feelings and experiences certainly ring true.

I’ve written several posts about my experiences as a street cop. They can be found at http://chrishernandezauthor.com/category/what-police-work-is-really-like/. There’s one I haven’t written, about having to leave a screaming three year old boy with his worthless mother and her piece of crap ex-con boyfriend. The boyfriend hadn’t broken the law, but he hated the boy and constantly scared the hell out of him because the boy’s father belonged to a rival gang. The mother refused to let her sister take the boy out of the apartment. And I had to drive away and leave that little boy there. It’s not something I like to think about.

One of the stories this author tells reminded me a lot about driving away from that apartment while that little boy cried in fear. I understand why the author feels so guilty about it.

If you have any feedback I will pass it along to the author. Thanks,

Chris

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One of the reasons that police officers tend to be so passionate in police-related discussion threads is because they have personalized their jobs. Police work is not some YouTube video they watch, theorize about, and then go on about their regular life. For them, it’s not theory. Many police officers tend to define themselves by their jobs and their experiences in policing. Many counselors and LE trainers will tell you that it’s wrong and misguided to do so (“you” being cops in general). They’re right about that too. But such warnings rarely work in the real world. When a cop hears people earnestly criticizing police without knowing all the facts, it stings for some very personal reasons. When we hear others second guessing us, we are prone to simply saying that our critics don’t know what they are talking about. We get angry about it even though we probably shouldn’t. Please let me try to explain why.

This a very small sample of some real-world situations I have personally had to handle while serving as a police officer. Nothing is exaggerated. My experiences are neither unique nor special.

We received a call from a concerned citizen who stated that her friend may have done “something bad” to her family. Her friend had left her a rambling voicemail about “ending it all” and sending her family to Heaven. We responded to the house and made entry with our pistols drawn. We performed a slow search of the house and began to find bodies inside. Our search and the subsequent investigation revealed that the woman had taken a .38 revolver and murdered her husband by shooting him in the head as he slept. There was a perfect hole in his left ear where she missed his skull and put a bullet through his ear and into the bed. The other bullet had landed dead center in his skull and killed him while he was taking a nap. Her daughter in the next room had obviously heard the shots and had piled her clothes and bedding on top of her bed and then attempted to hide under the pile. The women then went into her daughter’s room, pulled the clothing out of the way, and shot her daughter two times in the face. The girl did not die immediately. She lingered for hours. The mound of pink foam that collected on her face and throat was evidence of her labored breathing that lasted for some time before she finally died. After shooting her daughter, the woman went into her bedroom and sat on the bed. She reloaded the revolver from a small box of ammunition. She fired a single “test round” into the ceiling (this is common in suicides). She then fired a single round into the side of her own head and died on the bed. So there we are searching a house and finding a scene with three dead people…a whole family dead. And we’re supposed to act like everything is routine and fine, especially because there’s so much media there with their high-quality cameras and super long lenses. We secure the scene, call CID, call the ME, and do our reports. We help load bodies into the Meat Wagon…yeah that’s what we call it….and then we go home. The man died quick but I try to forget what that girl’s face looked like.

We receive a call of a single car accident near the High School. The call notes state that a car struck a pedestrian. By pure luck (either good or bad) I am literally around the corner when the call comes out. My response time is about 10 seconds. When I arrive on the scene, I observe a small 4-door import vehicle at an intersection. There is a 15-year-old female laying in the street. The amount of blood coming out of her head is the same size as the flow of water that comes out of my water hose when I turn it on. Except this is bright, red blood flowing out of her head in a stream that is about ¾” of an inch in diameter. I can smell the blood. The odor is thick in the air and it flows in a thick, viscous stream on the pavement. She looks me in the eye and says, “It hurts,” and then she dies right in front of me. I maintain my composure and then I find out who the driver is. It’s a 16-year-old girl who just got her license. She mistook the gas pedal for the brake pedal when the victim stepped out into the roadway and she panicked when the car accelerated instead of slowing down. I look at the windshield on the car and see a large tuft of hair and scalp lodged in the spiderwebbed glass. I realize that it’s from the dead 15-year-old girl. The boy who had been walking with the dead girl just before she got hit has speckled blood all over his face and he doesn’t even know it. He was just a young man trying to hold her hand and maybe sneak a kiss. He asks me, “Is she going to die?” I tell him the truth because I owe him that much. Later, as I direct traffic and watch that girl’s blood literally run down the gutter and into the street drain, a crowd of citizens gathers nearby. One loud-mouthed man in the crowd says, “This kind of stuff wouldn’t happen if these cops would do their jobs.” My first instinct is to leave my post, walk over to him, and cave his ignorant face in. But I don’t. I show no emotion. I hold my anger inside because I also want to cry for the girl and her family. I am the last person she ever saw on this earth and there was nothing I could do for her.

We respond to a call at a Section 8 apartment where a baby is not breathing. It turns out that while the mother was earning minimum wage at Wendy’s, her Mexican Mafia boyfriend got tired of the crying baby. He pulled the 3 month old baby out of the crib, raised her over his head, and threw her on the floor as hard as he could. The fall fractured her skull, shattered her pelvis, broke her pliable ribs, and killed her. As we investigate further, we find there’s another bedroom with a hasp lock on the outside. Entering the bedroom, we find two more girls in there. They look like they are 2 and 4 years old. We later learn they are actually 4 and 6 years old but they are malnourished and under-stimulated. They are wearing filthy, stained panties and nothing else. The room is void of toys or decorations of any kind. There are two little beds on either side of the room and the whole filthy room stinks of urine. There are screws in the window so that it cannot be opened. A search of the room reveals that there is another hasp lock on the closet door. I look into the closet and a chill comes over me when I realize that Mexican Mafia boyfriend was keeping these little girls prisoner inside that closet for God knows how long. There are scratch marks all around the doorknob inside the closet where they tried to get out. The closest reeks of human waste and the carpet is matted. As I help them get dressed so they can go with Child Protective Services, the younger girl clings to my arm. She squeezes my right arm as hard as she can and will not let go. The other girl lets me tie the three little bows on the back of her blue dress and then she starts jumping up and down in pure excitement while she asks me over and over and over again, “Are we going for a ride? Are we going for a ride?” It’s all I can do to maintain my composure. This 6-year-old girl is the same size as my own 4-year-old daughter. No matter how much I drink, and no matter how far I ride my motorcycle, I cannot shake the effect this girl has had on me. I was powerless to stop it. I couldn’t fix it. I couldn’t solve it. I used to weep, shake, and cry as I thought about how happy those girls were to be taken out of there. I am later ashamed that I did not try to adopt them. I curse myself for not trying harder to take them both into my own home even though I know that I could not afford to take on two more children in addition to my own. Even as I type these words, I feel intense guilt for not taking those girls home with me….as if that would ever be allowed. Every time I drink too much, I think about those two little girls imprisoned in that room and their dead sister in the room next door. But I’m a tough cop who’s not supposed to admit to those emotions. I later learned that the mother gave up all parental rights to the two girls and they were put in the foster care system.

I’m working as a Sergeant on evening-shift Patrol. A citizen calls in and says that he lives across the street from a house where we just responded to a disturbance. He says that he watched as the officers confronted his neighbor who is normally a nice guy. He explains the horror that he experienced as he watched the police use a Taser on his neighbor and he angrily describes the screams that he heard from his neighbor as he was Tasered and then arrested. He uses words and phrases like, “torture,” “excessive use of force,” and “Nazis,” to describe his perspective of the arrest. He says that one of the officers used profanity while wrestling in the mud with his neighbor and that he is offended that his wife heard this profanity from a member of what used to be a professional police department. He explains that he wants to file a formal complaint on the officer who used the profanity and every officer who was party to using the Taser on his neighbor. He states that he is concerned with the quality of officers that we are hiring these days. There’s no way the citizen can possibly know that his normally nice neighbor beat his wife’s face in with an angel figurine and that she will require major reconstructive surgery to ever look normal again. All he knows is that he saw some unpleasantness in the front yard of his neighbor’s property and it didn’t look right to him.

My mind begins to wander as the citizen continues speaking and repeating himself for the fifth time. I wonder if he and his family are healthy. I can’t help it but I think about whether or not he’s ever had someone else’s blood on him. I think about how my rifle has felt in my hands on critical calls and I wonder if he has ever been fired upon or had to return fire. I think about the meth freak who shot at us with a 12 gauge shotgun a few weeks ago. I listen to the citizen rant and rave and rage against the Department and I think about how just last week, I tried to talk to an 8-year old boy while the brains and blood of that boy’s father dripped from the ceiling and onto my uniform. His father put his brains on the ceiling with a .357 Magnum which he fired into his mouth as the boy watched. The boy asked me if his Daddy was going to be OK even as his father’s blood was spreading across the floor behind me. I can still smell the dead man’s brains and blood and I can still see the face of that boy as I tried to tell him that his Daddy was gone. I try as hard as I can to take the citizen’s complaint seriously but there is a part of me that wants to reach through the phone and strangle him with all the strength I have in my hands. I listen patiently and speak in a monotone, emotionless voice. I take his name, and promise him that I will address his complaint with the officer, which I later do. There are times when I wish with all my heart that the biggest problem I had to deal with was watching some cop use a Taser on a non-compliant suspect. I would subject myself to a thousand Taser shots if I never had to see that little girl’s face again. I would plead guilty to almost any offense and throw myself on the mercy of any court if I could just get that little girl’s voice out of my head with her little child-sing-songy voice saying, “Are we going for a ride? Are we going for a ride?”

Have I personalized some things? Yes, I have. It’s impossible not to. Am I normal? Hell no, I am not normal. I’m pretty far from normal. Shortly after taking that last complaint, I spent the next three years overseeing investigations of aggravated sexual assaults against children, burnings, cuttings, electrical cord whippings, child pornography, beatings of almost unbelievable magnitude, and mothers whoring out their 10 year old daughters, among other wonderful things. At the end of the day, I would go home and just sit quietly for a while and look at my normal, healthy kids as they ate or played.

These days, I occupy a slightly higher position in the Department and I’m almost done with my Master’s degree. I pore over peer-reviewed, scholarly articles and I write formal papers for school. I deal in facts and figures and spreadsheets nowadays while also overseeing the Training Unit. I am asked for my opinions on policy issues. I attend meetings with upper-level administrators in aseptic rooms where everything is under control and there is no hint of danger. Still, the faces of the dead and the smell of their blood are always with me. Even so, it’s not the dead I fixate on, it’s the living. I think about the hand that others have been dealt and how there’s nothing I can do to change it. I think about how those children will turn out in 20 years and how so many cops out there are just trying their best to hold everything together in a sea of entropy.

I carry my own weight. Whether you want to believe it or not, I also carry your weight sometimes. All cops carry the weight of others because that’s one of the things we are paid to do, even if it’s not listed on a civil service job description anywhere. I consider myself a servant. Ultimately…that’s what police officers are. They’re servants.

I have nightmares sometimes but my experience is not unique. It’s commonplace among police officers. That’s why some cops get irritated when citizens suggest that we are overpaid or that we don’t deserve the pension that was promised to us after 25 years of service, or criticize things that are only theory for them. It’s not theory for us. It’s not theory for me. I have the scars on my knuckles and my soul to prove it.

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Thanks very much to the anonymous author for that insight. I hope everyone who read it learned something worthwhile.

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook author page at https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve?ref=bookmarks.


Sorry guys, I got all tied up with the furor over the Ferguson essay I wrote and haven’t posted the remaining chapters of my Iraq war crime series. I realize I’m inherently biased about this, but I think it’s a hell of an interesting story. Please check it out, and links to each chapter can be found in the last chapter. Thanks,

Chris

http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-viii/

http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-ix/

http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-the-aftermath/

http://www.breachbangclear.com/hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-lessons-learned/

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com.


Unlike much of America, I’ve stayed quiet about the shooting death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. As a cop, I know initial media reports about any incident are usually wrong. I also know that many media outlets and internet commentators deliberately twist facts to inflame emotion. They’ll throw out empty, meaningless phrases like “he was shot in broad daylight, in his own hometown” even though that has literally nothing to do with the legality or illegality of the shooting.

And it goes without saying that in any incident involving a police officer, many people with absolutely no understanding of police work or lethal violence suddenly think they’re experts. After Brown’s death I expected a loud chorus of hysterical cries from people who had no idea what the hell they were talking about. I haven’t been disappointed.

“But he was unarmed!”

I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the term “unarmed teenager”. Yes, Brown was an unarmed 18 year old. He was also 6’4″ and 292 pounds. Anyone who thinks an unarmed, 6’4″, 292 pound man can’t be a threat has never been punched in the face. Unarmed people can be extremely dangerous.

In 2012 an unarmed 17 year old beat an El Paso police officer to death. The officer was 29 years old, a former Marine and veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan.

http://www.elpasotimes.com/tablehome/ci_21708260/el-paso-police-officer-dies-from-sept-25

An off-duty police officer in New York City was beaten almost to death by an unarmed man last November.

In July, an unarmed 21 year old “felt like killing someone” and beat a 56 year old random victim to death at a train station in San Antonio.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/suspect-in-san-antonio-beating-death-i-feel-like-killing-someone/

In 2012, an unarmed 24 year old man beat a man to death for raping his daughter.

http://abcnews.go.com/US/charges-texas-father-beat-death-daughters-molester/story?id=16612071

Those chanting “but he was unarmed” are pathetically ignorant of the reality of violence. Unarmed people hurt or kill others on a regular basis. No, that doesn’t mean every unarmed person needs to be shot; it does, however, mean an aggressive, unarmed person can be a threat to your life. The bigger and stronger that person is, the bigger the threat.

“All Michael Brown did was shoplift cigars.”

No, he didn’t “shoplift” anything. He committed a robbery. Shoplifting is a nonviolent crime, usually committed by people desperate to avoid confrontation. Robbery is violent. When someone uses or threatens force to take anything, no matter how unimportant or inexpensive, that’s robbery. If someone grabs you by the collar, reaches into your pocket and takes a single piece of chewing gum, the problem isn’t the lost gum. The problem is that someone used force to take your property.

Many media outlets refer to Brown’s crime as theft or shoplifting. That’s probably a deliberate lie, chosen specifically to downplay the crime Brown committed. The Daily Kos, which can always be trusted to produce inflammatory stupidity, said “Brown shoplifted some cigars on the day he was killed”, which does not in any way describe what happened (the same article also claimed “Michael Brown was gunned down by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, apparently for the crime of jaywalking”).

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/08/22/1323751/-Ferguson-Missouri-The-case-of-the-vanishing-fractured-orbital-bone-and-journalistic-integrity

Cracked magazine, which usually does a good job of cutting through nonsense, mentioned “robbery” but then decided to go full propaganda: “…the officer (who was aware of the previous robbery) saw Brown walking with the same cigars that had been stolen and suspected that he was the shoplifter.”

http://www.cracked.com/quick-fixes/4-facts-about-ferguson-media-keeps-screwing-up/#ixzz3BEelkF41

No, Cracked. He wasn’t a “shoplifter”. He was a robber. There’s a huge difference between someone who sticks cigars in his pocket and walks out of a store, versus a guy who grabs cigars, pushes a store owner around and threatens him, and then walks out. The first act is simple nonviolent theft, the second is a violent robbery.

Both Kos and Cracked assert the robbery didn’t matter, either because the officer didn’t know about it or because stealing $50 worth of cigars doesn’t justify a shooting. I offer a counterpoint: yes, the robbery is hugely important. We’ve heard conflicting reports about whether or not the officer was aware of the robbery, and I can’t say for certain he knew Brown was a robbery suspect. But Michael Brown sure as hell knew he had committed a robbery. He knew he was about to be arrested for something more serious than shoplifting. Does that mean Brown would likely react more aggressively toward the officer than someone who had committed simple theft? Based on my experiences dealing with suspects who just committed felonies, I’d say yes.

“The officer shot him six times!”

Yes, the officer shot Brown six times. That sounds excessive. It’s not. On TV and in movies, people get shot one time, fly through the air in a spray of blood and immediately die. In real life they don’t.

A police officer got into a gunfight with a robbery suspect in 2009. The officer shot the suspect 14 times with a .45 pistol, and 6 of the bullet wounds were nonsurvivable. The suspect still didn’t go down. The officer finally shot the suspect three more times, in the face and top of the head. The head shot finally stopped him, but didn’t kill him; he died later, at the hospital. An autopsy determined he hadn’t been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

http://www.policeone.com/patrol-issues/articles/6199620-Why-one-cop-carries-145-rounds-of-ammo-on-the-job/

Last year I wrote an essay about what bullets really do (and don’t do). I described incidents I worked where people were shot but didn’t react the way most people think they should. These incidents include a robbery victim who was shot three times including once in the forehead and still ran 500 yards to find help, a young female shot through the thigh who showed no reaction at all, and a man with part of his head blown off who was still conscious and alert.

http://chrishernandezauthor.com/2013/01/28/seven-rounds/

Police officers are trained to shoot until the threat is neutralized. Under stress we’re not counting bullets, we’re shooting until we’ve eliminated the threat. It is not at all uncommon for a person to take multiple bullets before they stop being a threat.

“The officer should have used his baton, Taser or pepper spray instead of his gun.”

Here’s a little-known reality about intermediate weapons: they don’t always work. In 20 years as a cop I’ve used my baton twice. Both suspects wound up in the hospital… eventually. At the time I was hitting them, they weren’t impressed. I’ve also pepper sprayed around 30 suspects. Pepper spray works on everyone… eventually. Some people don’t react to it right away. And even if you get a hit, that hit might not be enough to stop the suspect.

In 1992 a police officer responded to a domestic disturbance and confronted a violent wife abuser. The officer sprayed the suspect. The unarmed suspect beat and disabled the officer, then fractured the officer’s skull with a stick of firewood. The officer died shortly afterward.

http://www.oregonlive.com/pacific-northwest-news/index.ssf/2013/05/grant_county_cop_killer_to_be.html

Here’s a video of a March 2014 encounter between a police officer and suspect in a Philadelphia train station. The officer pepper sprays the suspect and hits him with a baton, to no effect. During the fight the suspect tries to disarm the officer.

http://www.cbsnews.com/news/video-captures-intense-fight-between-suspect-philadelphia-officer/

Here’s one of an officer who pepper sprayed a combative suspect. It didn’t work. He then shot the suspect. The suspect disarmed the officer and tried to shoot him, then almost beat him unconscious.

But what about Tasers? Tasers work great, except when they don’t. If there’s not enough spread between the darts, the shock won’t disable the suspect. If one dart misses, no shock. If one dart gets hung up in clothing, no shock. If the Taser itself malfunctions, no shock.

And any intermediate weapon takes time to deploy and properly use. If a large, aggressive suspect charges me, I know I have mere seconds to choose a force option and hope it works. Whatever I choose, I know it’ll likely be the only weapon I can employ before the suspect is on me. Batons, pepper spray and Tasers all have significant failure rates. In some cases, the best option is to go straight for the pistol.

“Witnesses said Brown was giving up when he was shot.”

Witnesses have said a lot of things. Brown’s friend insists he and Brown were innocently minding their own business until an evil racist police officer cursed at them, ordered them out of the street, grabbed 6’4″ Brown around the neck (without even getting out of his patrol vehicle!), shot Brown as he was running away, then shot him again after Brown put his hands up in surrender.

There is no reason to disbelieve this version of events. Except for the fact that Brown’s friend was with him during the robbery, has a warrant for theft and giving a fake name to police, and, being Brown’s friend, is biased in his favor. Oh, and the multiple autopsies that show Brown wasn’t shot in the back.

This might be a shock to some, but sometimes people lie to protect their friends. Every time we cops show up to a bar fight, it’s practically a comedy routine from each “victim” and their friends. “Officer, I was walking by the pool table and that guy bumped into me. I said ‘Excuse me sir, I didn’t mean to bump you and I profusely apologize’, but the guy punched me! For no reason!” I’ve lost count of the hours I’ve wasted taking statements from bar fighters and their friends who insist they’re all sweet innocent angels who were viciously attacked for no reason.

I worked one shooting where the victim’s girlfriend swore – SWORE – that her boyfriend’s ex-wife had driven by and shot him as he and the girlfriend were leaving a restaurant. No other witnesses said anything even remotely like that. No physical evidence corroborated the girlfriend’s story. Eventually investigators figured out the boyfriend was shot by an unrelated woman during a fight between eight drunks in the parking lot. The woman even confessed. But the girlfriend still swore – SWORE – it was the ex-wife. Amazingly enough, witnesses with an axe to grind sometimes lie.

There are witnesses who insist Brown was attacked for no reason whatsoever. But at least two of those “witness” statements don’t match up to the physical evidence.

“Johnson [Brown’s friend] said the officer hit Brown with another round as he was running away and fatally gunned him down after he stopped and raised his hands in surrender.”

“Brady [another alleged witness] said Brown and Johnson then ran away, while Wilson got out of his car and began shooting.”

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2014/08/21/here-is-everything-police-and-witnesses-said-happened-when-michael-brown-was-killed/

No, the officer didn’t shoot Brown in the back as he was running away, unless all three forensic pathologists managed to miss the gunshot wound in his back during their autopsies. Call me crazy, but I’m not going to take their “That cop shot Brown for no reason as he was running away” statements as gospel. Another as-yet-unidentified witness made a statement in the background of a video taken right after the shooting. He said a shot was fired in the police car during a struggle, then Brown ran away, then was shot repeatedly after he turned and charged the officer. The witness statement begins around 6:30.

We will likely never know the identity of that witness and I’m sure that statement will never reach any court. But I think it was from an actual unbiased witness, and is probably closer to the truth than any other “witness” statement we’ve heard.

Bottom line

You’ll notice I said “I think” the videotaped witness statement is true, instead of saying “I know”. I’ve formed an opinion but can’t claim I know what actually happened. Officer Darren Wilson may have stopped Brown for walking in the street, then shot him repeatedly for absolutely no reason. Crazier things have happened.

But you know what’s more likely? Wilson simply ordered Brown and his friend to get out of the street, then realized they were robbery suspects and tried to stop them. Instead of complying, Brown shoved Wilson back into his vehicle, punched him (and maybe broke his eye socket), then ran away after Wilson fired a shot. Wilson jumped out and ordered Brown to stop. Brown chose to charge Wilson, who fired until Brown fell dead.

That’s what I think happened. But I don’t know for certain.

Since I don’t know the actual truth I’ll keep this opinion in the land of conjecture, where it belongs. I won’t scream about racism. I won’t demand prosecution as a way to curry favor with a particular demographic. I won’t excuse the thieving, brutal punks who use this alleged injustice as an excuse to be the murderers and looters they already were. I won’t let dumbass fantasies like “unarmed people can’t be a threat”, “he could have just used pepper spray” or “there’s never a reason to shoot someone more than once” influence my opinion. Instead, I’ll stand by and wait for actual evidence.

If that evidence shows Officer Wilson murdered Brown, I’ll fully support his prosecution. But if the evidence shows Wilson acted both legally and morally, I’m 100% on his side. Either way, I won’t let emotions drive my decision. Maybe a few others on TV and online, and a whole bunch of people in Ferguson, should try to keep their emotions in check as well.

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Chris Hernandez is a 20 year police officer, former Marine and currently serving National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com, Iron Mike magazine and has published two military fiction novels, Proof of Our Resolve and Line in the Valley, through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).


Part VII: Eric Lauzier, continued

Not long after they were pulled from the field and assigned to FOB Mahmudiyah, the chaplain invited first platoon to gather at his tent. The chaplain tried to give the men some encouragement, to help them deal with everything they had been through. Then Colonel Kunk and the operations sergeant major came in and joined the conversation. Lauzier remembers Kunk being friendly at first, asking the soldiers how they liked life at the FOB. And a soldier made the mistake of giving a totally benign, honest answer.

“It’s pretty good, sir. We have a gym and everything.”

“The gym?” Kunk roared. “You guys already fucked up the gym! It’s a mess!”

The colonel’s friendly talk turned into a profane, hostile tirade. He told the soldiers they were undisciplined pieces of crap who failed at their jobs. Soldiers made seething, near-insubordinate remarks back at him. The sergeant major stood by and said nothing. When their lieutenant tried to protest, Kunk screamed “You shut the fuck up!”, humiliating him in front of his subordinates. The lieutenant shut up. John Diem wound up being the voice of the platoon, professionally telling Kunk that he was wrong. Kunk wasn’t impressed.

After Kunk stormed off, the chaplain quietly said, “Well, that wasn’t what I expected from this meeting.”

Lauzier walked into the battalion Tactical Operations Center one day while a group of officers were having a discussion. One of the officers saw him and said, “Look, there’s one of them now,” which caused the others to burst out laughing. Furious, Lauzier left the building.

At the FOB the company held a “command climate survey”, where soldiers were asked how they felt about their leadership. After the results came back, the first platoon sergeant gathered the squad leaders. “I came out looking pretty good,” he said. Then he looked directly at Lauzier. “But according to this, some of you should face criminal charges.” Lauzier didn’t know what the hell the platoon sergeant was talking about, but the veiled threat shook him.

Lauzier felt abandoned, then started getting paranoid. One day he left a piece of paper with his Social Security Number, address and wife’s information on his cot, then briefly left the room. When he came back the paper was gone. He confronted the other soldiers in the room, demanding to know who took his paper. One of the men made a smartass comment. Lauzier drew his pistol, chambered a round, and pointed it at the man.

After a brief standoff, Lauzier holstered his pistol and walked out. When he returned, the paper was back on his cot. He won. But he knew he had lost control, and almost killed someone for no good reason.

The day he got back to the United States, Lauzier had a nice welcome home surprise: an FBI agent with a subpoena. He remembers thinking, Damn, guys, at least let me go home and see my wife first.

Lauzier’s career continued in a slow downward spiral. The effects left by his past combat experiences, threats of jail time over his head, and feelings of isolation combined to suck the drive out of him. He was removed from his position as squad leader and moved to division staff. Lauzier hated staff work. He wasn’t built for PowerPoints and operations orders. As time went on, he felt less and less like a soldier. And in effect, he was no longer treated like one.

In our first conversation, Lauzier summed it up: “They took my honor.”

Eric Lauzier

Eric Lauzier today

Despite the fact that I barely knew him, those words stung me. Honor comes from inside, not from others. There are people who truly believe all of us war veterans are deluded fools who were tricked into murdering innocent foreigners so rich people could get richer. Our sense of honor doesn’t depend on their opinion of us. And Lauzier’s sense of honor shouldn’t depend on the opinions of senior leaders who badly failed his entire platoon.

I told Lauzier that. I don’t know if he bought it.

As months went by, Lauzier slid into a deeper and deeper depression. He drank heavily every day. He lashed out at anyone who annoyed him. One day at a division formation, he heard a support company call out “Assassins!”, their company nickname, when they came to attention. Lauzier blew up at them. “Who the fuck do you guys think you are? Assassins? What the fuck ever. Not a single one of you has ever killed anyone!”

In another instance, Lauzier heard an officer talking about the attack on the Alamo. This officer hadn’t been in Bravo in Iraq. The officer told someone “That platoon was all screwed up, they had no idea what they were doing. That’s why the enemy was able to capture those two soldiers.”

Lauzier almost lost it. He angrily approached the officer and yelled, “You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about! Sometimes I was at that outpost with just one other guy, because we were stretched so fucking thin that we couldn’t spare anyone else! Don’t tell me we were fucked up, you weren’t there and you don’t know what the hell was going on!”

Someone pulled Lauzier away, and later apparently explained to the officer what had really happened. The officer apologized to Lauzier. Lauzier doesn’t know how he wasn’t Article 15ed for what he did.

With the depression, anger, alcohol abuse and threats of jail time came the almost inevitable thoughts of suicide. Lauzier started setting parameters: he wouldn’t do it unless he personally was court-martialed, he wouldn’t do it unless he was sure he was going to prison. “I can deal with a lot, but I wasn’t going to prison for something I didn’t do. I would have taken myself out first.”

More than once Lauzier sat at home, alone and drunk, with the muzzle of his .45 in his mouth. One tiny motion of one finger would have ended it all. And more than once, the thought of his wife’s horror at finding him with his head blown off stopped him.

Yet he still resisted seeking help. He didn’t relent until a civilian contractor he worked with, a man he barely knew, took him aside one day. The contractor was a combat vet from the 75th Ranger Regiment. He bluntly told Lauzier, “I’m worried about you. You’re fucked up. You can be an absolute killer at work, but still be a total wreck at home. Right now, you’re a total wreck. And you need help.”

Lauzier finally went to a psychiatrist. About twenty minutes into the conversation, the psychiatrist told Lauzier he needed to be chaptered out. Lauzier’s career was almost over.

Months after he came home from Iraq, Lauzier ran into Justin Watt on post. Lauzier was at this point barely hanging on. “By this time, I didn’t give a fuck. I just didn’t care.” And he had heard rumors of soldiers from his old platoon plotting to retaliate against Watt.

If Watt had never turned in the murderers, Lauzier wouldn’t have suffered the loss of his honor. He would probably still have been leading troops, preparing them for their next deployment, instead of fighting alcoholism, depression, anger and suicidal impulses. Lauzier might be forgiven for feeling anger at Watt.

But he wasn’t angry at Watt then, and isn’t now. When he saw Watt that day, he told him he’d watch his back. He offered to let Watt move into his house if he didn’t feel safe on post.

Lauzier is rightfully proud of standing up for Watt, But, oddly enough, he continually blames himself for what he feels are leadership failures. When Lauzier and I talked about the firefight where he directed supporting arms onto the enemy and got his men out without casualties, Lauzier didn’t brag about it. Instead, he berated himself for going on that patrol too light, without enough men or firepower. He gets angry at himself for forgetting details of certain events, an inevitable byproduct of a traumatic brain injury. When we talked about how others in the platoon praised him for always being outside the wire, how they said he always led from the front and never made his troops take risks he wouldn’t take, he didn’t respond with pride. Instead, after several conversations and maybe a few beers, he revealed a not-so-hidden emotion:

Eric Lauzier thinks he didn’t do enough. He thinks he allowed his platoon sergeant to walk all over him and strip his squad of manpower. Because they were stripped so bare, not enough supervisors were around to keep tabs on the men. That lack of supervision at least contributed to the Yusufiyah murders. If he had just stood up for his squad, they wouldn’t have been so shorthanded, supervisors could have done their jobs and the murders would never have happened. Long story short, Lauzier thinks the murders were at least partly his fault.

Lauzier told me that about two hours into a phone conversation. When he discussed other aspects of his story, he was calm. There was nothing exciting in his description of the invasion of Iraq. He mentioned his hand-to-hand kill in passing. The ambush outside Rushdie Mullah where Lauzier and his troops barely escaped death could have been a ping-pong game, for the utter lack of passion Lauzier displayed when he talked about it. But when he talked about his perceived failure to stand up to his platoon sergeant, the tone of our conversation changed. Lauzier became serious, passionate and angry. And guilt poured forth from wounds I never thought he’d have.

Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-vii/


First platoon soldier on guard at the Alamo

First platoon soldier on guard at the Alamo

Staff Sergeant Eric Lauzier heard the gunfire at the Alamo. Sudden and heavy, multiple weapons opening up on full auto at once. And Private First Class Tucker screaming on the radio that they were being overrun.

Lauzier was at a patrol base maybe 1300 meters away when it happened. He and several other soldiers scrambled to load up and haul ass toward the gunfire. When they arrived a few minutes later, Lauzier didn’t see a soul. Just a Humvee with two M4s on the hood, and spent AK shells. Dozens of them.

Less than half an hour before the attack, Lauzier had driven past the single Humvee pulling security at the bridge they called the Alamo. PFC Kristian Menchaca and Specialist David Babineau had been standing on opposite sides of the hood, while PFC Thomas Tucker manned the turret machine gun. Lauzier and the others ran around trying to find their soldiers. The only thing Lauzier saw was a huge pool of blood where he had last seen Menchaca.

Someone spotted a trail of AK shells leading away from the Humvee, along the road. They followed it to a spot a short distance away. And there was Babineau in a canal, helmet off and weaponless, half submerged in muddy water, dead from multiple gunshot wounds.

Lauzier was on his second tour of Iraq. He knew the enemy. He knew what was happening to the captured soldiers. He thought Tucker had been taken alive, but actually hoped that Menchaca had died at the Alamo.

Lauzier kept it together. Like everyone else in the platoon, he had been through a lot already. The constant stream of casualties, incessant IED and small arms attacks, and near-total loss of faith in senior leadership had taken their toll. Their company had lost all three platoon leaders in less than three months, something that probably hadn’t happened to an American infantry company since Vietnam. Five helicopters were shot down in their area of operations during their deployment, and helicopters stopped supporting them except in the direst of emergencies. Medical evacuation requests for wounded Americans were sometimes denied, sometimes birds wouldn’t provide air support during firefights. But they’d always come out for a wounded Iraqi civilian. It would be difficult to describe how bitterly angry this made first platoon.

Lauzier had been dealing with all this for eight months, usually getting no more than four hours sleep a night. He was worn out. And he felt he was being singled out by the platoon sergeant, who overloaded his squad with tasks while simultaneously stripping the little bit of manpower he had left. But he hadn’t shut down, hadn’t backed off his responsibilities.

Just weeks earlier, Lauzier had led a small team on a patrol near the town of Rushdie Mullah and was ambushed by insurgents firing from multiple positions. The team was pinned down and in trouble. Lauzier kept his calm, directed mortar fire onto one group of enemy, had his men suppress the remaining insurgents, and managed to pull everyone out without a single casualty.

Eric Lauzier in Iraq

Eric Lauzier in Iraq

Lauzier was widely regarded as a dedicated and proficient squad leader. He had served an enlistment as a Marine Corps infantryman before joining the Army, and planned on retiring from the military. Before Iraq he had tried and failed Special Forces selection, and was planning on going back after the deployment. He liked combat, and was one of very few soldiers in the Army who had a confirmed hand-to-hand kill. He knew war, and expected pain and tragedy from it. The loss of three more first platoon soldiers at the Alamo was a hard blow, but Lauzier could take it.

A few days later, just after their missing soldiers were found, Lauzier heard the platoon sergeant call the company commander on the radio. The platoon sergeant told the commander he needed to come to the patrol base, but wouldn’t tell the company commander why. Then he dropped the hint, “Haditha.”

Word started floating around that something bad had happened. This obviously wasn’t something like a lost sensitive item, and as far as Lauzier knew there had been no serious incidents between any soldiers in the platoon. It couldn’t be any of the normal things that the Army says are bad, it had to be something far worse. He went over the possibilities in his head. Nothing stuck out. Nothing, except for the murder of the family near Checkpoint 2 back in March.

Lauzier had been home on leave when the family was murdered. When he came back to Iraq, the platoon sergeant showed him photos from the scene. Lauzier had never seen anything like it. He had been to Iraqi homes where the father and oldest son had been murdered, but had never seen women and children targeted. And the young girl had been left on the floor with legs spread, her body burned. Lauzier thought she had probably been raped.

Lauzier hadn’t connected his soldiers at Checkpoint 2 with the crime. But when the battalion commander came around asking questions, it suddenly hit him. After Tony Yribe came out of his interrogation, Lauzier asked him what it had been about. Yribe said, “I can’t tell you.” Lauzier held up two fingers and mouthed, “Checkpoint 2?” Yribe nodded. And Lauzier thought, Those motherfuckers.

Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-vi/


Sergeant John Diem: “We can only do our best to deserve the public’s trust.”

Sergeant John Diem in Iraq

Sergeant John Diem in Iraq

Sergeant John Diem had four hours to think about his decision.

After Justin Watt told Diem about the war crime, Diem had guard duty. He had decided, within seconds of hearing Watt’s story, to report it. But then he sat in a guard tower, with hours to change his mind.

He didn’t know Watt had already reported the crime. As far as he knew, he would be the whistleblower. He knew the turmoil that would result from reporting it. Heads would roll, and not just the heads of those responsible. He initially brushed off Watt’s fears of retaliation, because he “just couldn’t see a firefight happening between American soldiers.” But he eventually realized Watt was right; the soldiers he reported might try to kill him. Diem was in the same platoon, and logically would face the same danger of retaliation.

And Diem could have just washed his hands of the whole thing. He thought Watt was going to report it anyway. Diem didn’t have to get involved at all.

But Diem never considered staying quiet.

When Watt told Diem about the murders, Diem saw only one course of action. He had to notify his chain of command. The probable second- and third-order effects of reporting the crime were obvious, and substantial. He never let those concerns affect his decision.

As soon as his guard shift was over, he went straight to his platoon sergeant and platoon leader and relayed Watt’s story. He intentionally went around his squad leader. He made the platoon leader tell him when he was going to report it higher. The report went up the chain exactly the way it was supposed to. Diem never doubted for a second that he had done the right thing. And he never worried about retaliation, either. He did what he had to do, and didn’t look back.

Watt and Diem shared traits which suggest Watt’s decision should have been as “simple” as Diem’s. In 2006 they were only twenty-three years old. Both are smart guys. Both had substantial combat experience. So why, I wondered, was Watt so terrified about reporting the crime, but Diem so calm about it?

Diem was calm partly because his circumstances were different. While Watt and Diem were both young, Diem was far more experienced and established. He was a veteran of the Iraq invasion and had been promoted to sergeant shortly before the 2006 deployment. Watt was a peer to the men who committed the rape and murders, but Diem, as a sergeant, was above and intentionally distant from them. He was there to lead soldiers, not to be their friends. And despite all the problems with discipline and failed leadership in first platoon, Diem still had a solid NCO network behind him. Watt only had the few people he trusted for support.

Strangely enough, nobody seemed angry at Diem for reporting the crime. Nobody I spoke to mentioned threats against Diem, and Diem says he was never threatened or rebuked. Apparently, nobody in the platoon expected him to do anything other than report it. Watt has been the target of much anger for his decision, but Diem seems to have been given a pass. Maybe that’s because Watt, as a lower-enlisted soldier, is viewed as having had a choice.

But Diem was, well, Diem. Nobody thought he would do anything but report it. Watt is seen as the whistleblower, Diem simply the conduit.

But I don’t think differences in their status or situation are all that made Diem so confident in his decision. I think Diem just believed so strongly in the mission and in what being a soldier means, he simply didn’t feel fear over doing the right thing. I suspect he wouldn’t have been scared even if he had been in PFC Watt’s shoes, rather than being a sergeant in another squad. Which doesn’t mean Watt shouldn’t have been scared, or that Diem would have been right not to be. It just means his confidence in his beliefs somehow transcends fear.

Iraq is Hell 118

In Blackhearts, Diem is described as a Dungeons and Dragons-playing nerd. Diem bristles at that depiction. So does Watt. Watt says, “Yeah, John plays computer games. And he’s an absolute killer in combat. The rock-steady tone he uses in phone conversations is the same tone he uses when someone’s shooting at him. He’s just a solid, unshakeable guy.”

None of the soldiers I interviewed about this incident are stupid. All are well above average intelligence, but Diem is brilliant. As a former armorer, range coach, tanker, scout and current intelligence soldier, I’ve made many good-natured jabs toward my “dumb infantry” friends. But nobody who spends ten seconds talking to Diem could even joke about him being stupid (during the recent FIFA championship he posted on Facebook, “I think the current uptick in soccer’s popularity is a fairly strong case for a considerable amount of slumbering nationalism present in the US population. We are just looking for an acceptable opportunity,” to which I replied, “Are you sure you’re infantry?”). Diem could be, and probably will be, a college professor someday, despite the fact that he doesn’t yet have a college education.

Some of the nonveteran public likes to view soldiers as poor, stupid, mostly minority kids who only joined the military because they couldn’t find a job. If they meet Diem, a profoundly intelligent man who willingly chose an infantryman’s life and four combat deployments, they’ll likely never buy that stereotype again. He truly believes in the Army and in soldiering. Like me, he’s not a blind idealist; he sees the problems that plague the Army, and recognizes institutional shortcomings that contributed to the Yusufiyah murders. Unlike me, he believes the solutions to those problems lie within Army doctrine, training and education. He’s self-assured, introspective, and brutally candid about leadership failures.

About his 2006 deployment, he says, “We did not deploy to win, we deployed to bring everyone home at the company level. Some junior leaders wanted to conduct combat operations but did not tie these operations to a coherent tactical vision. It was too reactive. For the most part we only did what we had to.”

Alone among the men I interviewed for this story, Diem chose to stay in the Army. And he’s not just staying for a paycheck, or biding his time until he can retire with benefits. He’s actively trying to make institutional changes that will prevent another incident like the one that destroyed an innocent Iraqi family and nearly tore his unit apart in 2006. He’s one of the few “true believers” I’ve met during my military and law enforcement careers.

I know a little about true believers. As a cop I helped train many officers how to respond to mass shooting incidents like Sandy Hook or Columbine. One thing we stressed to our students was belief in the mission; if you truly believed in what you were doing, you were less likely to hesitate when circumstances demanded action. An officer who thinks “I’m not dying for someone else’s kids” or “My only job is to get home at the end of my shift” isn’t who you want to show up when someone opens fire inside a school. You need an officer who believes in his heart that the lives of strangers’ children are just as precious as his own. You need someone who doesn’t view survival as the only indicator of success, you need cops who know that dying to defend the innocent is better than staying safe while innocents are slaughtered. You need true believers.

Many of us look back with envy at the warriors of World War II because, in our idealized view of that war, they epitomize the true believer. Yes, they faced horrible combat and staggering losses, much worse than what most of us Iraq and Afghanistan vets faced. But unlike our generation’s dubious struggles to create democracy for people who don’t want it, the causes during WWII seem pure. Hitler’s evil and the Imperial Japanese Army’s inhuman brutality were worth dying to defeat. As a child I often heard my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles discuss family and friends who died in Europe or the Pacific. They never discussed those losses with bitterness or resentment. Yes, the deaths were painful and tragic. No, those young lives weren’t wasted. They died for a just cause.

In Iraq, I struggled to believe in the mission. My company had the unglamorous job of escorting supply convoys to various bases. We didn’t often escort material vital to the war effort, instead we usually guarded food and creature comforts. The objective truth was that we were risking our lives to ensure “fobbits” had weekly steak and lobster, the latest gangsta rap CDs and every XBox game known to man. And I was bitterly resentful about that. That made convoy missions harder for me, because I just didn’t think they were worth my life. I never tried to weasel out of one, but I never truly believed in their importance.

Afghanistan was, to a point, very different. I did believe in the mission. For most of my deployment I felt, should I have died there, it would have been worth it. The belief helped me through difficult times. During one fight, a captain simply suggested I help him do something vitally important. I knew, without question, this thing had to be done. We all would have died rather than leave it undone, and there was a very good chance we would die doing it. Because I believed so strongly in this task, I did it without hesitation. Looking back now, five years later, I don’t remember feeling any fear at all. I had accepted its importance. I understood that my life was worth less than this task. I was, for that short time, a true believer.

John Diem leads his life as a true believer.

Read the rest at http://www.breachbangclear.com/war-crimes-hard-choices-and-harder-consequences-part-v/



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