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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

Why We Should Hire Returning Veterans

Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan offer a skill set ideal for law enforcement.

June 05, 2013  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), stand in formation. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army/Flickr.
Soldiers of Company B, 1st Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne), stand in formation. Photo courtesy of U.S. Army/Flickr.
As the war in the "sandbox" winds down, our military veterans return home looking for new opportunities. Most will return to civilian life. Some of these veterans will become police officers.

We must remember that these young men and women have been changed in the crucible of war. For the great majority, military service has helped these kids grow up and taught them how to handle responsibility. They've toughened up, learned discipline, and got into good physical shape. They've had a few years to mature psychologically. They've gained technical knowledge and valuable skills and many have developed the ability to lead others.

But war is hell. It's ugly. Many of these young men and women have been exposed to horrific experiences. As the saying goes, "there are no unwounded soldiers." Abusing alcohol and drugs to self medicate against the physical and psychological results of the war are unfortunately too common. PTSD is a common side effect of these wartime experiences.

On the other hand, college students living at home with little life experience, no skill with arms, and no leadership ability don't make the perfect law enforcement candidates either. They don't seem to do any better passing alcohol and drug background checks. They seem to test better on computer skills but not as well on people skills or working with others as a team member. They haven't usually passed through a crucible of any kind.

Looking back into history, we know that some returning veterans from the Civil War suffered from morphine addiction (known as the "soldier's disease"). Some became gunslingers or outlaws and formed criminal gangs. The same thing happened when World War I veterans returned home. Many of the individuals who formed the infamous outlaw gangs of the Roaring '20s and Depression era were former military men.

The Hell's Angels outlaw motorcycle gang was formed by returning World War II veterans who liked riding Harley Davidson motorcycles. In the 1950s and '60s, returning GIs from Korea and Vietnam also formed and joined outlaw motorcycle and street gangs. The technical and tactical experiences of these returning veterans were perverted to serve the needs of the criminal gang.

From this war, we can expect some hardened veterans returning to civilian life to become outlaws and gangsters. Experienced in combat and skilled with deadly weapons, they will present a serious challenge to law enforcement officers wherever they settle. Veterans who abuse drugs and alcohol and those who suffer from PTSD present even more of a problem.

But not all of these returning vets will become criminals and gang members. The majority will re-enter society as productive citizens. A few will become lawmen.

This was also true among the veterans returning from service in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The same technical and tactical skills became valuable assets to the law enforcement community. They made good gang cops.

Of late, agencies have been reluctant to hire these returning combat veterans. The risk managers and department psychologists have blocked their hiring, apparently fearing they might be liabilities to the agency because of past war-time psychological issues. They worry about the veteran's use of violence. These same psychologists and risk managers would have blocked returning World War I, World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam vets if they had the power. Luckily they did not, or many of our most famous gang busters would never have carried a badge and gun.

Like war, police work can be an ugly job. Like military service, it can be dangerous physically and psychologically. But who's better prepared to endure that crucible than our returning combat veterans? To quote George Orwell, "People sleep peacefully in their beds at night only because rough men (and women) stand ready to do violence on their behalf." This idea describes military and police occupations.

Some of the best gang busters I have ever worked with were former military combat veterans, especially former U.S. Marines, Army Special Forces members, or military policemen. We should be giving our current returning veterans preference in hiring, rather than hindering them.


10 Actions for Responding to a Veteran in Crisis

Criminal Gangs in the Military

Comments (8)

Displaying 1 - 8 of 8

CombatMP @ 6/11/2013 3:51 PM

"Veterans who abuse drugs and alcohol and those who suffer from PTSD present even more of a problem." I'm sorry but I find this sentence troubling. Drug and alcohol abuse yes but lumping all with PTSD as presenting even more of a problem kind of contradicts the entire article doesn’t it? Also find me a seasoned officer who doesn’t show some signs of PTSD and I’ll eat my hat.

? @ 6/11/2013 5:46 PM

Everyone on earth has PTSD. Bad things happen and you adjust your life accordingly. The DSMIV-TR is a bloated document that is at allows for too much discretion in diagnostics. The horrors of war will prepare them for the carnage of a drunk driver on a sidewalk . I am more concerned that much today’s army was staffed with the dregs of family’s that could not make it in an unstructured environment or in their mom’s basement.

Walkintrails @ 6/12/2013 4:32 AM

I agree with this article. As LE ranks have become bloated with those who joined because of the paycheck over the calling, a little fresh blood into the ranks is a good thing. Most of the really good cops I've had the privilege of working with would have made good soldiers, if they weren't already. My dad's LE mentors were WWII and Korea vets. Some of mine were Viet Nam. While alcohol abuse was common then and now, the only LEOs I've worked with who went down drug's dark paths were not vets.

Marshal Fine @ 6/12/2013 6:29 AM

I was almost not going to post to this article, but the more I thought about it, I had to. I think we should to encourage all emergency services to take a good look at our soldiers returning. They have paid a price for us and we owe it to them to give them a chance. College students are not always the right people for first responders. Our brave men and women may be better suited for the challenges we face every day and they understand command and can make better decisions under "fire" . My statements are "in general" and there are exceptions to everything.... your mileage may vary... God Bless Us all.

Jack Betz @ 6/12/2013 3:06 PM

Day was, police tried to get vets to sign up for the very reasons listed. Why we stopped to get children who spent four years at frat parties and pep rallies and listinning to ivory tower eggheads to sign up is beyond my understanding.

Carla Burr @ 6/14/2013 8:00 AM

Our department, Amarillo PD, has given preference to veterans for at least 20 years, the entire time I've been employed here. We definitely recognize the benefits and have seen that proven over and over again.

Sharon Varriale @ 8/27/2013 12:28 PM

Perhaps Mr. Savelli should investigate Broward County and Hollywood, FL. Clearly there is an existing bias against the hiring of military veterans by the psychologists, the last step of the hiring process. These psychologists are putting combat veterans in a "high risk" category and basically halting them from any chance of being hired. Multiple agencies use the same psychologist and if a veteran is sent to this person more than once, that veteran will continue to be halted while less qualified applicants are pushed through and hired. It appears that there is no place in the police departments of Florida for a returning veteran.
Semper fi, Daughter of a Marine, Mother of 2 Marines and Aunt to 4 Marines.

DMorgan @ 12/18/2014 1:38 AM

Yes, PTSD presents problems in law enforcement. This article fails to mention the likelihood some returning US war vets are joining the Mexican gangs. If so, it will speed those gangs spread throughout the US.

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