Mike was sworn into his city police department on March 18, 1996. On that day, I too took an oath. It was silent and to myself, but that day, I swore I’d do everything within my control and power to ensure Mike was able to fulfill his No. 1 job responsibility: to return home at the end of every watch.
As a FNW (fabulous new wife) and even today as a veteran wife partner of 15 years in the job, married 17 years this July, every day I’m still learning new skills to assist Mike in being physically, mentally, emotionally and tactically strong, stable and ready when he needs to put his survival skills—those learned and inherent job skills that are done to ensure the greatest chance of physically and emotionally surviving any eventuality—in motion.
To be honest, I had no idea what the term survival skills meant and how crucial they are to Mike’s existence as a police officer until I attended a two-day seminar with him where the main focus was teaching LEOs how to be mentally prepared to kill. After attending the first day, I came home mentally horrified and with symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), especially after instructor Dave Smith ended the first day with an exercise that went something like this:
I want you each to go home tonight and to visualize over and over how you are going to win in this scenario: You’re on a routine traffic stop. As you approach the car, the driver was prepared for you, and you are shot. Now visualize being shot and lying on the ground. Visualize how you will return gun fire and how you will continue to fight. Visualize how you will win this fight including the medical treatment. You need to fight to win.
That visual exercise was horrifying for me. I’d never heard of such a thing, visualizing being shot. Isn’t that being taken to an extreme? But to Mike and the woman officer from Mike’s department, Tracy, whom I was sitting next to, this was a normal survival skill. To add to my horrification, we also watched real time video after video of officers being shot and killed as they performed their job. I learned over those two days that this is one of the ways officers stay alive, by learning from tragedy. However, as the second day progressed, Mike will report I was fully engaged in the seminar and that my PTSD has begun to subside.
What I took away from that seminar was priceless and it added to my arsenal of skills that support Mike is performing his number one job responsibility to come home at the end of his watch in the same emotional, physical and financial state as he started.
With that, I give you my Spousal Call to Duty Top 10 List, which isn’t all inclusive but it’s my belief. It also incorporates some of the tenets of Law Officer’s Below 100 initiative. My hope is that we’ll share our knowledge of how we assist in keeping our LEO alive in the comment section below.
1. Remember: Complacency kills: I always keep in the forefront of my mind that traditionally the No. 1 killer of cops is complacency, not being tactically sharp physically, mentally and emotionally. This golden rule guides the rest of my top 10 and how I support Mike. But in knowing this I often have a very frank conversation with Mike where I look him right in the eyes and ask, “If you were shot today, would you survive? And how do you know that?” It’s hard for me, the non-LEO, to ask because it’s a frightening reality of the job, but I suck it up because that is my role. He will also tell others that my willingness to initiate this conversation gives him the drive to come home, because it’s a sacrifice I make to let him know he’s deeply loved.
2. Encourage them to train like their life depends on it (because it does): The training budget at Mike’s department was cut to the bare minimum, but training is crucial to staying current in his skill base. I’ve added it into our budget, money for him to seek trainings out on his own. This isn’t an option, but a must.
3. Make sure their equipment is up to par: I routinely ask Mike, “Is there any equipment you need that the department doesn’t supply or pay for that you need to feel safe and confident in your job?” I’ve found money in our budget for Mike to obtain a second on-duty gun and a new vest cover with pockets to better accommodate his comfort and necessary gear.
4. Stay educated: I read about the LEO world to keep myself educated. One of the best books both Mike and I have read is Kevin Gilmartin’s Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement and Their Families. If you only read one book this decade, make sure it’s this one. Encourage your LEO and adult family members to read it too. Then put Gilmartin’s suggestions into place.
5. Help them find balance: I guard Mike from emotional burnout. I have a strong rule that guides our life: However intense our work lives are, our time away from work will be as intense in enjoyment to create an emotional balance. Simply put, we have fun to balance out the negativity. I’m intentional about making sure there are fun activities on our calendar and that our home is carefree, as well.
6. Promote healthy living: I encourage Mike to be physically healthy by having healthy foods in the house, maintaining his gym membership and going to the doctor. Annual physicals, regular dental check-ups and eye doctor visits aren’t optional but part of our survival plan. I also encourage him to get proper sleep so his body and mind are restored when he starts his watch.
7. Encourage them to have fun: I ask Mike often, “Is the job still fun for you?” When and if he says “no” to that question, I ask him, “Why, what is different, and what do you need to do to have fun again?” Generally after having this conversation a few times and, as Mike sets goals to reset his morale, his outlook changes. However, he also knows, because I’ve told him many times, that if this job becomes miserable to where he will not recover, it’s time to quit and I will support him in the decision. Having the option to leave takes pressure off because he doesn’t feel stuck. However, the prior conversation helps Mike see he has control over his immediate future.
8. Encourage them to be more than a cop: We need, not only for ourselves, but for the survival of our marriage, interests outside of the cop world. Too much of one thing is bad. Diversification is good and needed.
9. Listen, cheer and praise: I listen to Mike’s day, his frustrations, his victories and his worries. He knows what he shares is safe with me. I’ll never tell his secrets. I also cheer him on and, whenever I get the chance with him alone or in public, I tell him how proud I am of him.
10. Keep it drama-free: The last thing on my list, but maybe one of the most important, is a drama-free relationship so that he’s able to leave home at home, enabling him to have a clear mind at work. Now this isn’t always possible because life happens, but what we can control is our relationship and how we treat each other and how we engage in conflict.
My list could go on and on with what I believe my call to duty is as a police partner and spouse. I’m committed to his survival in all areas of his life. My hope is you’ll share some of yours both from the perspective of the one who loves the one who carries the badge as well from the voice of the LEO. Lastly, I’ll add the salutation and reminder I say to Mike every chance I get: Be safe and have fun!
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