Last week, I was thrilled to have the honor and privilege of being the guest speaker for the graduation of Chattanooga Police Department's Police Academy Class 2017-1. It was wonderful to be back in Chattanooga, but it was really special to be in the presence of some of my favorite and most highly esteemed people on the planet.
Chattanooga Strong. I suspect that I’m not the only one that loves that phrase. Chattanooga Strong means something and really sums up what happened to this community following the July 16th 2015 terrorist attack on the recruiting center on Lee Highway and the Navy and Marine Corps Reserve Center on Amnicola.
When my wife, Franicia, and our then 6 children learned that we were coming to Chattanooga, we were SO excited. We knew that Chattanooga was a beautiful place. In fact, every time we told someone that we were moving to Chattanooga, their eyes would light up, and they would say, “Wow. Chattanooga is a beautiful place!”
We were also looking forward to a relaxing tour after a few very challenging tours of duty -- including those 2 overseas tours in Guam. Little did we know that our relatively simple life in Chattanooga would be short-lived.
July 16th 2015 was a day that we’ll never forget. But, through the difficult circumstances of that day and the days, weeks, and months that followed, we were blessed over...and over. We experienced what it meant to be part of a tight-knit community -- one that stands with those who feel alone, laughs with those that laugh, and mourns with those who mourn.
This great city rallied around the first responders, law enforcement officers, and families. An attack that was meant to weaken and divide us actually brought us closer together and made a scenic city, a truly beautiful community -- special and extraordinary.
We, as a community, committed to being strong -- strong together. We joined hands and declared to the world that, though we may be horrified by an attack, we will not be terrified. We will not cower in the corner. We will not be controlled through fear but will fight for our freedom -- together. We showed the world what it meant to stand together.
Please don’t misunderstand me -- I don’t want to take lightly the pain and suffering that also came from the terrorist attack. That pain and suffering was and is still very real. Families are hurting still. Husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons went to work that Thursday morning and never….returned to their friends and families. I honor their service and sacrifice and their bravery as they faced grave, mortal danger.
I also honor today the bravery of the police officers of the Chattanooga Police Department. Many of them who I have the honor of calling my friends rushed headlong into a situation that could’ve easily led to serious injury or death.
I asked one of those heroes just a few days ago what thoughts were going through his head when he was choosing the actions that he was going to take that morning. His response was really telling.
If not me, then who? If not now, when?
If not me, then who? If not now, when?
Honestly, there was a swarm of police officers that dropped whatever they were doing and rushed to the danger. He was alone at first, but only for a short while. But, through his actions, he put his life on the line to preserve the lives of others. He is a hero, and there are heroes just like him all throughout this room.
And July 16th was a very notable event that received a lot of attention, but there are so many heroes here that never received formal recognition. You know what? That’s OK with them. But may I do something now?
I just want to tell you right now that words cannot express how much I respect and honor your service. So often, your selfless, heroic acts day in and day out never receive the recognition that they deserve, but you stay at it even though you’re not appreciated like you should be. And sometimes, you’re even criticized by those that have no concept of what it’s like to be in your shoes. Thank you. Thank you. Ladies and gentlemen of CPD, thank you for your sacrifice.
Class 2017-1, as you join the ranks of the officers and staff of CPD, I commend you. This career field that you’ve chosen is special. It’s honorable. You’re heroes because of the choice that you have made. I warn you, though, that this career choice can become who you are, and that may not be healthy.
Once you raise your right hand, you’re a police officer -- whether on duty or off duty. But your friends -- they aren’t your friends because you were going to be a police officer some day. They’re your friends because you’re YOU! And those of you with a spouse and children, when you’re at home with your family, your family doesn’t need a police officer at the dinner table. They need you -- their husband, wife, daddy, mommy, son, daughter.
Life is all about relationships -- relationships with the people that we come into contact with. In the good times and the bad, we need each other. You’ll need each other and your other fellow CPD officers when times get hard. You’ll also need your friends and your family. They need you too. Be there for each other. Be there for your friends and your family.
You’ll have rough days -- days where you’ll get off duty and will be spent. You’ll be spent physically, mentally, emotionally, and sometimes even spiritually. You’ll need your friends and family in those moments -- invest in those relationships regularly so that they’re there when you need them. And remember that they’ll have those days too, and they’ll need you then as well.
Life is short. Live it well.
As great of a career as law enforcement is, it’s temporary. Today is a huge milestone in your life and the beginning of a new, exciting chapter. This chapter, though, will someday end. Keep that end in mind because it will come.
No matter how long you’re a police officer, some day you won’t be one any more. And then? You’re left with what you’ve done with the other relationships in your life -- your family and your friends.
I ask you also to remember that life is short -- even at its longest. Being a police officer, you’ll have reminders from time to time how brief and fragile life really is. This is a great blessing because the preciousness of life can be easy for others to forget. Live with this in mind. Live each day to the fullest. Be all in -- present in each moment. And treasure the precious things in life that money can’t buy. If you do that, you’ll probably have very few regrets.
Cut from the same cloth
You know, you and me, we’re not so different. I may be a little bit older (or in some cases, a lot older). I may not be as good looking, but I think that we probably have more in common than not.
Firefighters, paramedics, police officers, military service members -- I think that we’re all cut from the same cloth. We know that there is more to life than living for ourselves. We have chosen a life of service and sacrifice. The sacrifice that we make is not a theoretical or conceptual sacrifice -- it’s a very real sacrifice where our very lives are on the line.
I know very well the feeling of saying goodbye to my family wondering if that was the last hug and the last kiss that I’ll share with them in this life. And I know what it’s like to accept that but still to walk out of the door to do what my country needs from me -- to serve in harm’s way. This is now your reality too. You have committed to this same sort of service. Both you and your families have committed to this level of sacrifice. Why do we do this?
Is it for the money? No. We both know that we’re not in our line of work because we hope to get rich from it. The thing is, no amount of money could compensate us and our families for the sacrifice that we have made and will make during our careers.
Is it for the recognition? No. Is it for the fame? No.
Why, then, would we ever put our lives on the line? It’s because we care. We care about Chattanooga, our communities, the great state of Tennessee, and we care about our country. Deep down, we believe that the future is worth fighting for -- for our families, our loved ones, and our fellow man.
Love is the reason
Money, recognition, fame -- none of that can hold a candle to the real reason that we serve -- LOVE. I’m not trying to get soft on you here -- I truly believe that love is the only thing that could make someone put their life on the line for someone else -- someone they don’t even know -- thinking, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”
And when you’ve had a hard day and feel alone, remember -- you’re not alone. I’m sure that your family and friends are big fans of yours, but there are a lot of people outside of your circle of friends and family that stand behind you and will support you through thick and thin. The community needs you and depends on you. And, while you may have some outspoken citizens here and there that will criticize you no matter what you do, I believe that you have something very special here in Chattanooga. A city that is ChattanoogaStrong.
You are heroes and you’re joining the ranks of an organization full of heroes that has a legacy of selfless service to this great city, Chattanooga. As we part, may I challenge you? Will you make a commitment with me?
Let us commit together that we will live each day to the fullest. Let us commit that we will be ready always to do whatever it takes to serve with courage and honor. Let us commit that we will remember that love for our fellow man is why we’re here and that love must govern our daily, sacrificial service. Let us commit that we’ll invest in the essential relationships in our lives -- especially our family.
Live to the fullest.
Love our fellow man.
Invest in relationships.
If our lives are characterized by these things, we will have lived well. We will have lived a life worthy of the calling to which we are called.
My prayer for you is that you will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office in which you are about to enter.
Thank you for the honor for inviting me here. I’m humbled and encouraged to know that the future of this community and this country is in good hands -- the hands of faithful servants like you. It truly gives me...it gives all of us hope for the future.
May the Lord bless and protect our law enforcement officers. May He bless you. May the Lord bless this community, and may He bless this wonderful country. May He guide us, protect us, and may He make us to be faithful in His service. Thank you.