Story Seven: Reflections on 25 Years in Law Enforcement

Story Seven: Reflections on 25 Years in Law Enforcement

A Story by Robert Ray

For each of the 25 days before I retired last year, I wrote story about one of my most memorable experiences. I published each story on Facebook. I'm posting a few here for my new writing friends.

Up until now, I have written about other cops, mostly tough men I have worked with the past 25 years. Today’s story is different.  Today I recognize and thank a woman who has probably saved more cop lives and rescued more cop families than any person I know.  Her name is Gail, and she’s not a cop.

Gail and met in January 2002, my first week as an instructor in the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center’s (FLETC) Behavioral Science Division.  Gail was a program specialist, and among her many responsibilities, she scheduled instructors to teach the division’s courses, mostly basic interviewing to new special agents and police officers.  Before arriving at the FLETC, Gail was a Victim Witness Program Manager for the U.S. Department of Justice, a position that aligned well with her master’s degree in clinical social work.

Shortly after I left the Behavioral Science Division, Gail became the Program Manager for the FLETC’s Critical Incident Stress Management Program, where she served until retiring in 2014.  It was the perfect position for Gail.  I believe she would also agree it was an exceptionally challenging job.  When you work on an academy campus with thousands of seasoned cops and new recruits, including many war veterans, you can expect to encounter a few troubled souls.  Still, Gail constantly demonstrated her mastery in crisis invention, mental health counseling, grief and loss counseling, and PTSD treatment.  During my tenure at the FLETC, Gail personally handled and led her staff in handling countless tragedies, including suicides, injuries and deaths of students, staff members, and their family members, and staff and students struggling with PTSD.  

I could end the story here, but it would be incomplete without sharing Gail’s impact on me.  I have never served in the military, and I was not a uniformed police officer.  So, I won’t equate my experiences to those who have experienced combat or lost brothers and sisters in a war zone. Still, like most in law enforcement, I have fought a few demons in the past 25 years.  For the first half of my career (probably longer, if you ask Danielle), I put the job ahead of my family.  I often worked 12 hours or more a day, left the house before Danielle, Emily, and Zachary woke up, and returned home after they had gone to bed.  I missed birthdays, anniversaries, school events, and ball games.  I occasionally drank too much and vacationed too little. And, years before I met Gail, or before would even consider talking to a counselor or therapist, I watched a young woman die after her boyfriend shot her in the face with a handgun.  There were other tragedies, too, but I won’t recount the details here.

Several years ago, I reached a breaking point.  I don’t know if it was a single event, or an accumulation of junk piled up in my head, but I knew I needed help.  I had fallen into a deep, black hole, and overpowering forces were sucking me deeper into the blackness, a place where light doesn’t exist.  Since I knew and trusted Gail, I called her.  It was a Saturday, and without a pause, she offered to meet me.  Gail and I talked for two hours that day, and I left her office with a sense of hope and optimism that I thought I had lost forever.  Gail and I met almost weekly for the next few months, and a few times thereafter.  I can say today, without exaggeration, that Gail saved my life.  She also saved my marriage, and helped me become a better husband and father.  Though I thanked her after each meeting, my thanks are not adequate compensation for what Gail gave me " a hope and optimism that has led to peace and happiness.

I share this story for two reasons.  First, I want to thank Gail for saving my life.  Second, I want to speak to those who need help but have been unable to admit it or unwilling to reach out.  Asking for help is not a weakness.  It takes guts, and more than a little humility, to make yourself vulnerable to an outsider.  Cops are problem solvers, but as our divorce and suicide rates indicate, we’re not the best at solving our own problems.  Sometimes we need someone to take our hand and lead us to a brighter place. So, if you’re hurting, if you can’t seem to find the light, please ask for help.

Here’s to you, Gail, for being a light in the darkness.  I will never forget you.

© 2017 Robert Ray

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Added on December 4, 2017
Last Updated on December 4, 2017


Robert Ray
Robert Ray

Madison, IN

"There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves." - Will Rogers more..