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How to care for the warrior within

Many fail to recognize the wisdom of the ancient warrior cultures —we must maintain ourselves as warriors by attending to our emotional and mental health

Dave Grossman has used the analogy of the medieval knight as a model for the modern law enforcement officer. I agree. My warrior women: don’t exclude yourselves from this exercise. Remember Joan of Arc and the Celtic queen Boudica, to name just two great warrior women.

Envision a warrior clad in armor astride a war horse, a shield on the left arm with heraldic symbols declaring who the warrior is and where they come from. Mentally examine the armor, hand-crafted and articulated so that the warrior can move easily while enjoying maximum protection. Focus now on the helm that covers the face. Watch as the right hand lifts the visor to reveal the warrior’s face — your face.

The badge that you carry each day is symbolic of the shield the knights carried. The sword and lance have been replaced by your tools of arrest and control: pistol, TASER, patrol rifle, baton, chemical spray.

Maintaining Your Armor
The armor that they wore back then has been replaced by those things that you wear today to protect you: lightweight body armor, seat belts, and that garish, OSHA-required reflective vest. A warrior back then wouldn’t have even considered entering the field of battle without all their armor. Do you?

To keep their armor in good working order, knights spent time each day cleaning it to prevent any rust from setting in. You keep the rust off by training and practicing on a frequent basis.

Your armor is necessary. It’s also part of your professional face. It’s what you show most of the time to the public — the calm, detached, emotionless warrior doing their job.

Try to wear that armor 24/7 and it will quickly become your prison, because inside that armor is a living, breathing human being. That person has basic needs physical needs: food, sleep and going to the bathroom. Fail to take care of those needs and your body will quickly remind you of your failings in various, usually obvious and potentially messy ways.

In the case of food and sleep, you will have reduced energy, slowed thought processes and a loss of strength to fight off things like disease and open yourself to an assault of illnesses.

That armor without the person inside is just an empty hulk, devoid of motion or thought. Yet, when you think of a knight, you probably envisioned the armor but not the person inside. Too often the same mistake is made by the public, the media, our politicians, our administrators, our supervisors and ourselves.

The person inside feels joy, sorrow, horror, fear, courage, terror, bravery, doubt, confidence, anger and a host of other feelings — some of them can be shown while on duty in public, others need to be dealt with off-duty.

By dealing the feelings you release them. If you fail to deal with them, they collect and can create a cesspool of chemicals and thoughts that over time can start to corrode you from the inside out.

The Cleansing Ritual
The ancient warrior cultures understood this. In some cultures the warrior returning from battle was isolated for a specific time before they could return to their home communities. During this period they were allowed to talk about their experiences with the older warriors — an old-school debriefing.

They often went through a cleansing ceremony to wash away the spirits of the slain enemy so that they would not be brought into the warrior’s home or community. It also symbolized the washing away of whatever stigma was attached to the acts of war.

The cleansing period also served to remind the warrior that the battle was done, the ways of war that were needed and cherished in battle had little place around the hearth of home and kin.

As law enforcement officers, our battles are fought each day and rarely involved the taking of a life. Yet what we do on a daily basis has a cumulative effect. The emotions that we feel — along with the chemicals that accompany them — will pool and grow, potentially drowning us if we don’t have a way to drain them off.

Angry outbursts, sleeplessness, moodiness, impulse buying, unnecessary risk-taking (on and off duty), extramarital affairs, drug and alcohol abuse, depression and suicide are all possible outcomes if the emotions go unchecked and unchanged.

Unfortunately, many fail to recognize the wisdom of the ancient warrior cultures — we fail to recognize that we’re in a daily battle to maintain ourselves as warriors by attending to our emotional and mental health.

Create a personal daily cleansing and healing ceremony. Most days it will only require a few quiet moments of reflection to acknowledge and process what you have been through. Other days it may require more time, energy, and effort.

The Warrior Within
A warrior understands that they have needs that must be met to be their best. A warrior strives to be at their best at all times. A warrior understands the benefit and the need for their armor. They also understand that there is a warrior within.

The armor of a warrior serves to protect and cushion you from the blows of battles. It deflects the impact of physical blows, blunting the power of those who attack it.

To be completely protected, you have to develop your own mental and emotional armor to appropriately deal with the impact of the psychic blows, blunting the power of what attacks you through sleep, exercise, daily reflection, meditation, seeking the counsel of older warriors, family and friends, and if need be a professional.

Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman famously said, “I will not give up my life, not even at my own hand, without one hell of a fight.”

Make it your pledge.

In February 2014, Duane Wolfe retired from his career as a Minnesota Peace Officer after more than 25 years of service (beginning in 1988). During his career, he served as a patrolman, sergeant, S.R.T., use of force and firearms instructor. He was a full-time law enforcement instructor at Alexandria Technical & Community College in Alexandria, Minnesota for 28 years. Duane has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice from Bemidji State University and a Masters Degree in Education from Southwest State University.