Policing podcast profiles: The Transition Drill podcast assists military, LE veterans through career change
"Both professions are good at recruiting members in but are lacking in adequately preparing members to exit out."
By Police1 Staff
The Transition Drill podcast, hosted by Paul Pantani, focuses on providing content for members of the first responder and military communities approaching pivotal career transitions. The podcast delves into the intricacies of veteran transition and highlights the challenges and opportunities of retiring from police work or military service. Through real-life stories and advice from former military personnel and first responders, listeners gain insights into job prospects post-service and the importance of ensuring physical and mental health.
In this Q&A, host Paul Pantini, a 30-year LEO veteran, talks about his motivation for starting "The Transition Drill Podcast," his favorite episode to date and provides tips for other officers looking to start their own podcast. Listen and share "The Transition Drill" podcast with your public safety colleagues on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and YouTube.
What prompted you to start a podcast?
The concept of preparing for life after law enforcement, and thus the podcast, began as a work project. The idea came from my former chief who suggested having a network of the organization’s retirees who had gone on to other professions and how this network could be a resource and mentor for other members closing in on retirement. The idea was to host short question-and-answer sessions where a retiree could talk about their experiences with transitioning and offer advice on making the process smoother. Since I was already an avid fan of podcasts, I offered to take the lead. This was during the COVID-19 lockdowns, so these sessions were conducted online.
After several of these chats, I received compliments on my hosting and recommendations that I start a podcast. The fuse was lit! I began researching what it takes to put out a podcast. Very quickly into doing the research, I realized that the podcast would not simply focus on the first responder community but also on the military veteran community; both professions are good at recruiting members in but are lacking in adequately preparing members to exit out.
The other aspect I knew the podcast would focus on is caring for our mental and physical health so that we can succeed when tomorrow comes. My goal is to normalize that it is OK to ask for help when it comes to mental health. Far too many of our brothers and sisters are taking their lives, and we need to change this. We must eliminate the stigma that asking for help or admitting you are struggling means that you are weak or have failed. All asking for help means is that you are human, and what we experience by being members of these communities will impact us.
What is the goal of your podcast?
Once the podcast’s focus was set, the podcast name came rather quickly. It has a personal meaning to me in addition to what I hope to give with the podcast. From my years of SWAT/tactical training, I have done countless transition drills. It is drilled into us when your primary platform fails (e.g., jams, malfunctions, is out of ammo, etc.), and the situation does not allow for time to address the problem, you instinctually transition to a secondary weapon (usually your pistol) and stay “in the fight.” The thousands of repeititions makes this transition just a part of you. When I developed the podcast, I knew I wanted to bring this same sense of planning and preparation for life after these careers. I want first responders and veterans to be prepared. Be fully focused on your career today, but before the ride stops, start planning and preparing for what you will do tomorrow.
How do you find guests?
Initially I pulled on my friends and acquaintances; more told them instead of asking them. However, two years later I still rely heavily on recommendations and constantly being on the lookout for potential guests; I never know when I will meet someone, see them make a presentation, read an article about them, or hear them on another podcast. I regularly send “cold emails” and LinkedIn messages to potential guests. Not all have responded, but those that do are generally receptive and most agreed to be guests.
A logistical constraint I have put on doing the podcast is all the interviews are in person. As a fan of podcasts, I believe conversations and interactions are more organic when they are in person. Because of this, I am significantly limited to the options for potential guests. However, I am not opposed to traveling. Over the last two years I have taken the podcast on the road to various spots throughout California, as well as Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and South Carolina. But as much as I enjoy traveling, I do not have unlimited vacation and financial resources to do this regularly. For this I am fortunate to live near San Diego and I have many veterans in close proximity.
Are you doing anything unique with the podcast to connect with your audience?
My goal is to personalize each guest. I like talking with them about their childhood, their families, how they were as students, what were their aspirations as a kid for their adult life, what factors took them to being a first responder or the military (in some cases both), did they plan for their transition out, how was their transition, what are they doing today, and what advice can they provide for others who might be interested in the same career.
Also, I want to take every opportunity to share stories of struggle with trauma and injury and have the guest explain how they overcame their adversity. Several of the guests have talked about getting into some very deep, dark, and self-destructive holes but they were able to fight their way out.
I will also continue having guests who may not be a former first responder or veteran, but what they do gives back to these communities and helps with mental or physical health.
This is not unique, but it takes thought and curation. Embrace social media! I was not against social media before I started the podcast but I realized that I had to “use” social media to help me. Every platform is an opportunity to get the word out about your podcast. Be thoughtful about the content and make sure what you are posting represents you and your podcast well. Put yourself in the position of the person ingesting what you post and would that person be drawn to or pushed away from your podcast.
What has been your favorite episode so far and why?
To not, but at the same time, give a politically correct answer, I do not have a favorite episode. I have been fortunate to meet and talk with amazing men and women with equally amazing and interesting stories. Guests have come from backgrounds that in hindsight should have destined them for failure, but they persevered and went on to achieve incredible goals and accomplishments. I have had guests who lost limbs, or almost their lives, to ensure that our families are safe. There are guests who have battled inner demons and contemplated, and even attempted, taking their lives from the trauma they experienced being a first responder or member of the military.
Every guest has been unique, from their journeys to these careers, the reasons for their transition, and how they moved forward after their transition. For some, their careers were taken from them, and some were forced to give up their careers because of poor decisions they made. What has been inspiring is that they maintained a love and allegiance to their former professions and many still give back to these communities because of this love and a passion to help others.
A long way around this answer is my favorite episode is the first episode, but every episode is my favorite episode. The first episode is always there as the marker for where the podcast came from and where it has grown. The first episode is always a reminder of the passion I have for this podcast and what it took to make it happen. But equally, every episode is a very special thank you to my wife, Dion, and my family because without their support and encouragement this podcast would not have become what it is today. Every episode is a sincere thank you to each guest who gave their time and shared their story. And every episode is a thank you to those who listen and watch because it is for you that I strive to present these inspiring stories.
Did you have any prior experience in producing audio/video?
I had no experience producing or editing prior to starting the podcast. I became a student of podcasting. I read articles, watched YouTube videos, asked questions of anyone who was or had done a podcast. The most fortunate happenstance occurred when I asked, my now editor, Devin Michaels some questions about cameras and filming. When he asked what I was filming for and I told him a podcast, he immediately offered to help. I’m sure I could have purchased and learned the necessary software to edit the podcast, but the learning curve would have been time consuming and definitely set the release of the podcast back significantly. For myself, since I did not know the editing process, hiring an editor was the best option.
What equipment do you use?
I knew from the start I wanted to produce the best audio quality possible. I researched everything I could on podcasting and the Rodecaster Pro; I have yet to upgrade to the Rodecaster Pro II but if I was starting today I would go with the II. Because I knew early on that I would likely be going to my guests, I opted for Sennheiser headphones with a built-in microphone. In my opinion, I thought having a headphone mic would be easier on my guests than having to hold a microphone. Also, I would not have to worry about carrying mic stands.
I also wanted to include video from the beginning. Two years later, podcasts are still primarily consumed in audio format, but the video format continues increasing. I knew that I did not want to play catch up a couple years after starting the podcast. On the other hand, including video introduces several factors such as lighting needs, the content of the background and surroundings, and most important the file size of video files. With all this, I opted for a Cannon HG50 4k camcorder. I also opted for portable and small LED lights because of their portability and that they do not get hot. Recording hour-plus long episodes I needed lights that would not overheat and shut down.
The podcast has gained enough notoriety that more guests are willing to come to me. So, in June of this year, when my daughter went off to college, I commandeered a room in my house and created a dedicated studio. I added a second Cannon HG50 camcorder (new versions of this model is no longer and I believe has been replaced by the HG60). I also went with Shure SM7B mics (these are the same ones seen in the majority of the podcasts). I kept with the Sennheiser headphones; they’re very comfortable during long episodes. I still use the same LED lights, but my plan is to upgrade my lighting and today there are much better LED platforms than what I have.
In general, when it comes to equipment, think of what you would want to hear and see out of a podcast and spend as much as you can afford to create that product.
What advice do you have for other police officers looking to launch a podcast?
To not be cliché…just do it! With that, if you are still an active first responder or member of the military, be sure to get authorization from your command.
Your voice and the voice of your guests will impact listeners in a way that my podcast or another podcast will not. Each of us has different passions and different perspectives. If you are considering doing a podcast, run with that idea and see where it takes you. There will be someone who needs to hear what you have to present.
Build a website where people can contact you, recommend guests and find old episodes. Put out the best product you can and know that each of us is our own worst critic…no episode will be absolutely perfect. At the same time, every episode will be perfect for someone, simply because you created it and made it available to them.
If there is any way I can be of assistance, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Check out the Transition Drill's website here.