As 2008 gives way to 2009, now is a good time to reflect upon this year and what we expect for next year. Atop the list is the wish for police, military and fire to have a safer year in 2009.
With every new year comes the inevitable resolutions, our "to do" list of promises and goals for the coming year. At year's end we may, or may not, have realized our goals. Which only strengthens our resolve to do better the following year.
As 2009 approaches, now is a good time to reflect upon the past year. Did we meet, exceed or fall short of our goals? Are we where we want to be? If not, how can we improve our chances of getting there?
If our goal is to get into SWAT, did we achieve it? If not, are we doing all we can to get into SWAT? Even if we're trying hard, we need to try that much harder to make 2009 "our year."
If we're already in SWAT, how did our team fare in 2008? Better or worse than 2007?
Everyone on the team needs to make it happen. Anything less than a full team effort will fall short of your team reaching full potential.
One of the most effective and simplest tools for SWAT teams to improve is creating enduring team traditions. All successful teams have strong traditions.
Every branch of the military has its own traditions, from the highest level to the lowest unit. Last year I was privileged to attend a holiday dinner ceremony hosted by an Army Reserve unit whose members had just returned from Iraq and Afghanistan. The experience was inspiring and humbling.
Many law enforcement and fire agencies hold award and memorial ceremonies to honor those who have gone above and beyond or who made the ultimate sacrifice. Many SWAT associations, such as NTOA, CATO, OTOA, TTPOA, hold awards ceremonies during their annual conferences. Unless you've been there, the awesome feeling of solidarity is difficult to describe.
The holidays are when many SWAT teams traditionally hold their annual dinners or parties. They are timeouts that give team members an opportunity to reflect, relax, renew, and resolve to better themselves and their team.
Accustomed to my SWAT team's annual Christmas party, one year I was privileged to be the only "outsider" at a newly formed neighboring team's Christmas banquet. The experience was humbling and inspiring. Their founding team commander has since succumbed to the Agent
Orange he contracted in Vietnam. However, I have no doubt his team continues to honor him every year during their annual banquet
Traditions in SWAT can range from the elaborate and formal to the simple and informal, from awards banquets to preserving and enshrining the locker of a fallen comrade. Traditions are the heart and soul of all SWAT teams. If you haven't already done so, now is the time to establish traditions for your own team.
My team, Cleveland, SWAT, adheres to its annual Christmas party tradition. Most years, the party follows another annual holiday tradition of visiting a local children’s hospital where "Santa and his helpers" pass out presents and good cheer to children unable to go home for the holidays.
The visit sets the tone for the SWAT Christmas party, where the featured highlight is a traditional toast invented by retired CPD SWAT Sergeant and my good friend Tom Horan. The toast goes something like this, and I offer it to all of those who protect and serve:
"Here's to God, whoever your God may be. Thank you for keeping us safe another year, and we ask you to keep our families and us safe during the coming year."
And that's my wish to all of you, and your families. Have yourselves the best year ever in 2009.