Law Enforcement Memorial Week means more to me this year than it ever has before. When I was first asked to say something at this memorial, I really didn’t know what to tell you. I still really don’t. Law Enforcement Memorial Week is meant to be a time of reflection and remembrance for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice. It’s something that I hope that you never have to experience. I hope that here in Lyon County we only have to participate in Memorial Week, not make it be a part of our lives. I hope that we always stay safe.
In my 8 years as a dispatcher, I could never be prepared enough for what has happened to me in the past 5 years. Nobody ever sits you down and prepares you for what it’s like to be involved in a in the line of duty death. Nobody gives you any tools to cope. Nobody ever tells you how much your heart can hurt. The possibility of a death is always there, always implied, but you always hope that it won’t be your agency, your family, and your friends. A death changes the way you look at your job in law enforcement and how you do it. You question your every move. You reevaluate everything. “Why do I keep doing this?” “Can I really keep going on?” “Maybe I should just find another job.”
Fourteen days ago, two Alaska State Troopers were gunned down in the line of duty after responding to a call for service with a man brandishing a gun in the village of Tanana, Alaska. These two troopers were my former co workers and my friends. I knew them, knew their families. Sgt Scott Johnson and Trp Gabe Rich were good men and squared away troopers. Both of them pushed me to be better, learn more and see the world in a different way. They both demanded excellence in themselves and in there coworkers. I’m a better dispatcher knowing them.
Sadly, the death of my two friends is not the first time I’ve dealt with deaths in the line of duty. In August 2010, I took a call from the police chief of Hoonah, Alaska, screaming that all of his officers had been shot. All of them were dead. I was new to Alaska. I had no idea what to do. It was my first officer involved shooting. Everything I did to help them, I question to this day. It was the worst call that I have ever had. What I didn’t know until much later was that both Sgt Anthony Wallace’s mother and Ofc Matthew Taroka’s entire family watched them get shot in the street. My pain could never equal that. I cannot imagine to this day what that was like for them or what their life has been like since.
Later in 2013, our agency dealt with the deaths of VPSO Thomas Madole, who responded to a domestic disturbance in the village of Manokotak, Alaska. He was shot before he made it to the front porch. A month later, former Kansas State Trooper Tage Toll responded to a call of a man stranded on the side of a mountain top in Talkeetna, Alaska. Shortly after picking up the man, the HELO that Trooper Toll and Alaska State Trooper pilot Mel Nading were in went off the radar. They never were heard from again. Trooper Toll used to patrol west of Manhattan during his time at KHP. He used to tease me horribly about being a Jayhawk fan. We used to have some pretty rousing conversations as the KU/K State games approached.
The commonality with all of these men was that their deaths were only a direct result of them doing their jobs. They weren’t being reckless. They weren’t doing anything extraordinary; they weren’t doing anything that they hadn’t all done a million times. But because of one thing that went the wrong way, seven men will never return home to their families.
On Saturday I watched grown men weep at the sight of their brothers being carried past them into the funeral. I hope none of you ever have to witness that. I would pay a million dollars if I never had to listen to another last call over the radio. I sat along with 6,500 people and tried to understand. I tried to figure out what to do next. Can I really do this again?
It’s easy to believe that the world is full of evil. It’s easy to succumb to bitterness. I’ve learned after all of this how unfair life is. Nothing in this world is guaranteed. Nobody’s life is guaranteed. But what I saw this week reminded me of why we do this job.
Thousands lined the streets to watch the procession of my friends from the airport to the funeral home. I saw women who brought lunch for the trooper’s everyday last week. I saw loads of people pulling into our trooper post putting flowers around a makeshift memorial in the front of the building. I saw a elderly lady, in her eighties maybe, watering some of the older flowers in an attempt to make them last. People sending all of there well wishes and kind words from across the country. It taught me that for every person who hates us, a hundred more understand our struggle each day to protect them. They care about us and want us to succeed.
This has all made me understand that the best way to honor my friends is to continue on. Sgt Johnson always taught us that no matter what is happening, the world still goes on. The world still needs us. We still have to be there to guard the gate.
Please be safe friends. Watch out for each other, protect each other..
As we would say in Alaska.. “Stay frosty”..