Why American Military Veterans Make Great Police Officers

Veterans of America's military tend to make excellent police officers—they have baked into their very being a commitment to service, an unusually high level of discipline, an understanding of chain-of-command, and other qualities that police officers also share.

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At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, the Allied Forces and the Central Powers agreed to a cessation of hostilities in what was then known as The Great War—only the most cynical thought at the time that there'd be a sequel just two decades later.

According to historical records, the armistice expired just a month later, and the final treaty to end the war was the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919.

However, the symbolism of "Armistice Day" persisted, and beginning 100 years ago, November 11 became a de-facto national holiday—Congress codified it as a Federal holiday in 1938, right before the abovementioned sequel broke out.

Across the country parades were held for those who had returned from battle—moments of silence were held for those who perished.

In 1954—in an effort to honor all who served in the armed forces, regardless of when or where they served—Congress passed a measure that changed the name of the holiday to Veterans Day.

Inexplicably, Congress passed a bill in 1968 moving Veterans Day to the fourth Monday of October—an error that President Gerald Ford corrected in 1975.

Why the brief history of the origin and evolution of Veterans Day?

Because in my opinion—and in the opinion of many of my friends in law enforcement—veterans of America's military tend to make excellent police officers. Individuals with military experience have baked into their very being a commitment to service, an unusually high level of discipline, an understanding of chain-of-command, and other qualities that police officers also share.

Let's examine this.

Preparation for Adaptation

John Bostain—who began his law enforcement career with the Hampton (VA) Police Department before joining the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, GA—now operates the law enforcement training company Command Presence, which trains law enforcement officers across the country.

Prior to all that, he served four years in the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Electronics Technician Petty Officer 3rd Class (AT3). He was assigned to Fighter Squadron 143 (VF-143) known as the "Pukin' Dogs" first on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower and then later on the U.S.S. George Washington. He served one tour in the Persian Gulf in support of Operation Desert Storm.

Bostain says that working on those flat-tops helped him prepare for his career in law enforcement.

"One of the most critical lessons I learned was to be adaptable in any situation," he said. "As an F-14 Avionics Technician working the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, things are always changing. We could be two minutes from launch and have a system failure that could cancel the flight. Our job was to immediately diagnose the problem, fix the problem, and get the jet in the air."

Bostain added, "In law enforcement, we have to constantly assess problems, fix problems, and then go back in service to handle the next call."

He said also that performing his duties in the controlled chaos of a floating airport on the high seas prepared him to be ever vigilant of his surroundings, saying that it gave new meaning to the term, "Keep your head on a swivel."

Joe Willis is a 20-year military veteran who served as a Military Police Officer for the United States Army until he retired as a First Sergeant in 2016.

Willis—a former instructor at West Point, and currently an instructor for Team One Network, which also trains thousands of law enforcement officers annually—agrees that prior military service can help prepare people for a law enforcement career.

Willis said, "I haven't served as a civilian police officer. However, several dozen of my soldiers went on to serve in law enforcement. Across all branches of service there is an emphasis on selfless service and putting the needs of others above your own. There's also an emphasis on a culture of trust and cohesion. Several programs emphasize creating ethical and inclusive climates."

He added, "Unlike those who go straight into a police department, military veterans have been transplanted from their home of record, relocated to points throughout the world with others from all over the country. Consequently, they've been exposed to worldviews they'd otherwise never have experienced."

There are myriad other traits that make military veterans excellent police officers.

Fish Where the Fish Are

So, how can law enforcement agencies across the country—many of which are woefully understaffed—tap into this excellent source of potential recruits?

The simple answer is to be proactive.

Bostain said, "Agencies can do a better job of recruiting officers from the military by being more intentional about it."

Willis suggested, "Go to veteran job fairs."

A quick search on the Internet revealed that just in my local area—within a 30-mile radius of San Francisco—there are a dozen veteran-specific job fairs taking place in the next 48 hours.

Willis also said that police agencies should engage active-duty service members via installation education centers.

"Bring in criminal justice programs from local schools with local officers as instructors," Willis said. "Get involved with local installation transition programs."

Bostain was critical of agencies that shy away from recruiting military veterans due to some existing misconceptions about military veterans in law enforcement.

"Some agencies have cooled to the idea of hiring Veterans, because of the false belief that they are too aggressive to be police officers," Bostain said. "To make things worse, some of the screening tools have actually disqualified capable veterans, because the psychological tests disqualify people who have "thought about harming others." If you're in an active war zone, it would be perfectly normal to think about harming the enemy if they are a threat. That shouldn't be a disqualifier."

Last Words (Thank You)

For some people who never served in the military—and who don't have much use for history or tradition—it's just another day off from work. The banks are closed, which in the age of ATM machines is all but irrelevant.

However, for those who served—and those who hold tremendous respect for that service—Veterans Day is kind of a big deal.

Nationwide, millions of people line the streets of their cities and towns and cheer during annual Veterans Day parades. Citizens who are particularly civic-minded show up at VA hospitals with care packages of treats, cards, books, and other gifts. Some even stay and volunteer for a few hours.

Further, with increased awareness of the sacrifices veterans made—and in many cases, continue to make—people open their checkbooks and donate to organizations that help those who've served.

Finally, many companies that already support active-duty and retired military personnel throughout the year take the opportunity on Veterans Day to redouble that support with free and/or discounted goods and services.

For example, on Veterans Day, your military credentials can get you a free cup of coffee at 7-Eleven, a free pizza from Little Caesars, a free donut and coffee combo at Krispy Kreme, a free lunch at TGI Friday's, a free breakfast at Bob Evans, a free burger at Red Robin, and a host of other offers.

It's their way of saying, "Thank you."

This column is my way of saying precisely the same thing.

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