When the uniform comes off.
"As I said before, I never fought in the border war. My military service after training (which prepared us for a possible flare-up or restart of the border war) was spent on the border with Mozambique and Swaziland, trying to keep illegal immigrants out.
But having said that I do feel that the time after military service, the 8 years I spent working as a police constable at John Vorster Square, Johannesburg, qualifies me to speak on behalf of at least some of the vets. The sense of loss, anger, hatred, helplessness and yes, sometimes fear, when you see that flag-draped coffin is equally real for any person serving in uniform and faced with the possibility of unexpexted and violent death, be it military or law-enforcement.
We were young men still approaching the prime of our lives when we were trained in the art of war. And war is never glorious. By the same token the work of a cop is far from what TV series or movies make us believe. During training one bonds with certain people. Those bonds are stronger than blood in some cases. You mess up together in training. You suffer together in training. You share everything in training. Right down to giving a buddy your last water during a route march, knowing full well the next hydration point is a day and a half away.
That sharing and that realistion that these guys are all that you can depend on when shit hits is what builds that bond that no civilian can ever grasp.
This is even more so in law-enforcement where one has one partner. One person that you trust with your life (literally) in some situations.
Then you start working the streets. And there is a very bad year where almost 1000 cops die in the line of duty in one calender year. That is aproximately 3 per day. The odds at bigger stations were bigger to meet with violence, due to the areas covered by these stations. So it becomes a habit to really greet your loved ones when you leave for work, really greet them because in the back of your mind hovers the names and faces of too many people you knew. Men and women that were doing nothing other than uphold the law. Men and women like yourself . So the question worms its way into your soul. "Will I come home after this shift or will the chaplain come knocking on my door to tell my loved ones I died bravely serving my country.
These circumstances makes one act in the extreme. You use more force than is really neccesary to effect an arrest. You drink more than you should. You sleep less than you should, because you keep remembering names and faces and lives of dead colleagues.
Finally it gets you. Even the strongest break in some way. The ones that do not break are normally wise enough to move into an office job before they break.
In some cases breaking means developing an addiction. In others severe violence manifests. In some others it gets too much and a cop ends his or her life because the (human) fear and uncertainty pushes them to find an end to these emotions by suicide. Only to be branded a coward, even by colleagues made dysfunctional on some level due to the same emotions leading to the suicide.
Add to this the things some cops see and experience. The violent crime scenes. The indescribably pain of parents looking for a missing child. The dumbstruck questioning of the senseless behaviour acompanying certain crimes. And on top of that the responsibility to keep your head when all else is (rightly) going crazy.
This is the downside of being a cop. The upside can be summarised in one sentence: Nothing breeds more pride in a cop than to see, realise and remember in whose lives he or she made a positive change when nobody else would step up and face the monsters and demons to make that change.
This is the perspective of a veteran and retired cop. I know my military brothers feel the same in some ways and differently in other. Please open up and private the admins with your stories. You will remain unnamed if you choose. But your healing and that of a buddy will come quicker if you can share your story. There are People like you that will understand, simply because they too, served."
Chat Shack Help and Support