Rookie Mistakes and Close Calls

After reading over my most recent story about shotguns etc., I came to the conclusion that I may have been a little tough on the bosses and administration of the Manchester Police Department who were running the PD during my early days. It was not my intent to criticize anyone in particular, or to paint the agency in a bad light. When I arrived in Manchester I found it was largely a blue collar, rough and tumble type of town that was going through some changes, many of which were not for the better. I was a bit surprised and taken aback by some of the attitudes I found and experienced here. However, I stand by the things I said in that story and others I have written about the climate I found myself working in particularly during my first couple of years. 

All this being said, I was fortunate enough to work for some great supervisors in those days, and many of them encouraged me to work hard on the street as well as apply for as much in-service training whenever the opportunity presented itself. In my case, it would be almost seven years before I was allowed to attend an in-service training course which I had applied for. However, even that first in-service training class I had been approved for, I had been initially  denied entry into. When I re-applied for that training, I was told by a certain shift commander that if I wanted to attend this training, I would have to agree not to endorse or participate in certain union actions in the future. ‘Oh, I get it now’ I thought at the time. I grieved that condition to our union, and that condition was quickly dropped and I attended that training in the end. Needless to say my push back in this case did not ingratiate me with some of the bosses at MPD. One even went so far as to tell a third party that as long as he had any say on the matter, neither my brother or I would ever work in a division or specialty assignment (other than patrol). Thankfully, we both eventually went on to work in detectives in various capacities later and had good careers. 

I also came to feel that the reason I had been denied both training opportunities and certain assignments during those years was directly due to my union affiliation and strong support for my union brothers and sisters. But, all this is a story for another time. 

Some of the better supervisors I was fortunate to work for in those early years included guys and gals like Bobby M., Anita L. Tony F, Dick T, Joe D and the late Gary T and Tony L. I went on to work for many great supervisors later during my career, but I also worked for a few who didn’t give a damn about me, or the job I did. Some thought that a good cop was a cop that never “rocked the boat”. What can you do? That’s police work.   

Despite all those things, some of the best lessons and guidance I received in those early years came from watching and listening to other cops on the street. When I arrived at MPD I had the good fortune to work with some great street cops that were already on the job there. They included Kevin K.  Al M, Glen K, Walter F, John B, Biily C, Rob M, Rob “Duke” H, Kevin A, Brain L, Ken P, Tony S and Chris G, just to name a few. There were many others, but I especially learned a lot form these guys in particular. They worked hard, treated victims, street people and even the bad guys out there with both firmness and respect. As I said, I watched and learned. I picked and chose carefully which traits I took from all the cops I worked with, and used them along with my own personality, personal and work ethics to form the foundation of the cop I became as I grew into the job.  

Despite all this, I still made “rookie” mistakes, and fortunately, as far as I knew, no one ever got hurt when I did make a mistake. One of my earliest rookie mistakes occurred after I had finished my Field Training period and was working on my own pushing a one man “X” car, during the old 6PM-230 AM shift the summer of 1991. I was still a probationary patrol officer at the time. It was a busy night, like many nights on that shift, and I was sent to a call where I was told a citizen had seen a man pointing a gun at a woman and trying to drag her down the street at gunpoint. The location I was sent to was the corner of Norris and Somerville Streets. As it happened, I was just a block away and assigned to then 26X car, and I arrived just seconds after receiving the call. 

Norris and Somerville Streets were just at the periphery of what we called an inner city neighborhood. Although many three decker and four floor older tenements were in the area, they were mostly well kept up and it was a relatively quiet neighborhood, compared to what lay four or five blocks to the west. 

As I arrived, I noted one male subject only, and he was walking away from that intersection. I pulled over, picked up my mic and informed dispatch that I was off at the scene with one male subject walking westerly on Somerville St. I didn’t stay in the car long enough to insure that my transmission was heard by dispatch or the unit that was assigned to back me up on the call. It was a busy night, and I learned a short time later that no one ever heard me call off with the fact I was with a suspect. There were too many units trying to call and communicate with dispatch and other cruisers at the same time. An all too common occurrence. My transmission, had been drowned out by cruisers with stronger radios, and as a result, no one else knew I had arrived at the scene 

In any case, assuming that everyone else who was listening knew I had made contact with a possibly armed suspect, I jumped out of the cruiser and decided to stop and question this person to see if he had seen or heard anything. I walked towards him so that he was facing me, I ordered him to stop. He complied, I questioned him for a moment or two, then decided to check him for warrants and possibly complete a field card on him. I dutifully took out paper and pen and started to take notes for my “Box Score” to be tallied on my “Daily” at the end of the night. I had no idea just how much danger I was in at that very moment. I was treating this individual as though he was harmless, and I quickly came to the decision that this was not the guy I was looking for! 

Suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, a cruiser, my back up, pulled up behind the suspect I was questioning. It came rolling to a stop in this otherwise quiet, dark neighborhood. My back up jumped out of his cruiser, walked up behind my suspect and broke the quiet by yelling “GUN, PARTNER!” (just like we were trained to yell in the police academy). Then, to my amazement, he removed a fully loaded large caliber semi-automatic pistol from the belt in the small of my suspect’s back. The cop held it up in the air for me to see, and ordered me to handcuff the subject while he drew down on and and covered my guy at gunpoint. I sheepishly put my paper and pen away and did as directed. I then understood that I was with the armed suspect that we got the call original call on. At the time, I was more embarrassed than fearful. I was never able to locate either the witness, who was an anonymous caller, or the reported female victim. To make things worse, my backup told me he never heard me call off at the scene and didn’t know until he arrived that I actually had someone stopped.  

That cop, who I truly believe saved my life that night was John Breckinridge. I believe that if I tried to take that guy into custody before John arrived, he may very well have shot or killed me. He certainly had the ability to do just that, as I had my sidearm securely locked into my holster, little use to me at the time.

Ironically, 15 years later in 2006, John’s bicycle patrol partner was shot killed early one morning in a dark back alley as they attempted to stop and question two subjects in relation to a shots fired / domestic violence call. John and Mike tried to stop two suspects for questioning. When they ordered the two to stop, one did, and John grabbed on to him, the other ignored their orders and continued on. While John dealt with one of the suspects, his partner, Mike Briggs tried to grab the other guy who suddenly turned and fatally shot Mike in the head. We just never know, no matter how routine things get, and how often we do the same things over and over again without incident during our careers, when responding to a call can take a quick and deadly turn. 

What I learned that night on Somerville St. was that considering the information I was given, and my immediate proximity to the call, I should have stopped this suspect at gun point, held him there until back up arrived and then searched him. It was a mistake I had vowed never to make again. As it turned out that night, my prisoner, who had no permit to carry that pistol also had a criminal record. 

Later in his career, John was nearly dragged to his death trying to apprehend a wanted subject while off duty. That incident set off a police vehicle pursuit which started in Manchester when John tried to make that arrest, and ended in Lawrence Massachusetts when that suspect rammed both Massachusetts State Police and Lawrence Ma. police cruisers. Another simple situation which immediately turned deadly.

Although John was always coy and dismissive about the incident with me any time I brought it up in the years to follow, I truly believe that John may very well have saved my life that night, which was only a week or two after I had completed my Field Training period. Once again, Thank you John for having my back that night. I’ll always owe you for that. 

On another night right around that time, I stopped a guy around Spruce and Union who was driving a beat up old station wagon. The reason I stopped him was that he was driving around the area aimlessly, and I came to believe he was looking to either pick up a prostitute or score some drugs. In any case, I believed I had “articulable suspicion” the legal standard needed for a brief stop and investigation as to whether this subject was committing or about to commit a crime. 

I hit the blues and pulled him over. I questioned him accordingly, checked his license and registration and him for warrants, but all was in order. I questioned him a bit, but under the law I felt I couldn’t detain him much longer unless I developed a further reason to do so. I did note a pile of something in the back of the wagon, but whatever it was, it was covered with a tarp. I thought it may have been construction material or perhaps tools, but I never asked. My instincts told me something was amiss, however, being so new on the job, I hadn’t learned trust my street instincts yet, and I eventually cut him loose since I didn’t feel as though I had enough information to search him or the car, or even detain him any further. 

A very short time later, a drive by shooting came over the air. The shooting was nearby, and a description of the shooter’s car was given by witnesses. No one was hit, but several bullets struck a nearby tenement, and by some stroke of luck no one was hurt. 

About five minutes later Walter, (Another Quincy / Milton, Massachusetts  Kid) radioed in that he stopped a car matching the description from the shooting. I immediately went to his location and backed him up. Much to my surprise, he had the same station wagon and driver stopped that I had stopped a short time earlier. As I recall, Walter (one of the best street cops I had ever worked with) had the driver out of the car was holding him at gunpoint. Walter certainly didn’t make the same mistake I made back on Sommerville Street.

During a search of the station wagon, under the tarp, the same tarp I had previously observed, we found several firearms. We, or I should say Walter, found a firearm that we believed the driver used during the drive by shooting. This was another wake up call for me. When I had stopped him, he seemed harmless enough, at worst some dubba trying to pick up a prostitute but who knew? Would he have shot me if I had him exit the car in order to prevent me from finding all the weapons he had in possession? As I reflect on it now, so many years later, I think it is a valid question. Even more disturbing to me was what if when I cut him loose he actually killed someone during that drive by, after I had him stopped and released him.

All indications were that he tried to do just that. What if he had shot Walter? After my stopping him and cutting him loose still in possession of all those weapons…another hard lesson I am still embarrassed about, but I think it illustrates the kind of split second decisions which cops have to make on a daily basis when they work the streets. Instinct itself, although very useful, doesn’t substitute for the probable cause needed to stop and detain someone on the street. But an experienced cop could always listen to his or her instinct, and then find lawful ways to further question or search someone they felt was up to no good. I hadn’t developed that ability yet. This suspect and his weapons were taken into custody, but we never learned why this guy shot up that house. Another of an endless stream of quality arrests that Walter made on a regular basis.

One day shift while working early in my career I was sent to back up another officer on a domestic dispute. The Officer I was sent to back up was then and still is respectfully known as the Duke. Duke was another hard working cop. He was a motor cycle cop when they let him ride and later spent many years in our Traffic Division working Traffic Enforcement. He was regularly honored at the NH Police Academy, often receiving the annual “Looking Beyond the Traffic Stop” award for his regular numerous high quality arrests he made while enforcing traffic laws. He was always among the first to back us up, and even though he didn’t have to, he went to many, many patrol calls while working traffic. He was a hard working street cop, and someone who you wanted with you when the shit hit the fan. 

This day, Duke had the route car adjacent to me, and he arrived quickly at the domestic, which was on the first floor of a three decker.  I always said nothing ever happens on the first floor, stealing the line from a book about by a former Boston Police Officer called “A Cop’s Cop” and I found it to be true. You could always count on your call to be located on the top floor of whatever two or three family dwelling you were sent to. Except for this day.

I arrived shortly after the Duke did because I wasn’t that close, but I was the closest free unit. When I did arrive, I noted Duke’s cruiser was already there, and apparently he was inside. I got out of my car, and I was immediately approached by that rare and wonderful phenomena, a living, talking, cooperative witness! 

He told me he lived upstairs, and that he called the police. He said the couple on the first floor were arguing all night, he hadn’t been able to sleep, but now he heard banging and screaming and he was fearful for the safety of the woman who lived there. I made a note of his name and date of birth, in case I needed it, along with a mental note of what he told me. I then found the door to the apartment closed but unlocked. Since I knew Duke was already inside, I just walked in.

Imagine how I felt when I saw Duke rolling around the ground grappling with the guy who lived there, each trying to exchange blows with each other. I jumped right into the fray, and after a short scrum, we had the guy handcuffed. Duke brushed himself off, looked at me with a curious expression on his face, then asked me “What Kept Ya”? Needless to say I was embarrassed that I stayed outside for several minutes and let this guy chat me up while my partner, at least for this call, was inside fighting with someone he was trying to arrest. Another mistake I never repeated. But at the time, the chance to actually get a statement from a cooperative witness was just too much for me to ignore. I came to understand that I had those priorities mixed up that afternoon. My first concern should have been my partners safety. 

I’ll close with one more bit of foolishness on my part. One afternoon I was sent to a shoplifting call at the Rite Aid, I think it was, which used to be in the old shopping plaza at Lake and Elm. When I arrived, the manager was detaining a rather down on his luck looking gent who had allegedly stolen a bottle of Vicks Cough Syrup. Cost $5.00. The guy had no money to pay for it, and I asked the manager if he wanted to press charges. He said he did because his store was getting hit hard by shoplifters and as a result the company wished to press charges for any theft, regardless of value. 

Having worked in the retail business for so long, I got it and once I found the suspect possessed no form of ID, that allowed me to arrest without a warrant even though it was a misdemeanor not committed in my presence. I searched him and called for the wagon. The wagon had a few pick ups to make before it got to me, so I was told it would be along shortly. MPD Standard Operating Procedures normally forbid us to transport arrests in cruisers, and that was fine by me. 

Normally, unlike we see on TV often, I always placed handcuffs on a suspect that I was going to arrest before I searched him or her. None of this “put your hands on your head” holding their hands with one hand and searching with the other. Handcuffs go on first. But on this day, I deviated from the normal procedure I was trained to perform and normally followed. 

The guy seemed harmless enough and cooperative, certainly no desperado (or was he?)so walked him out of the store to wait for the wagon. I didn’t feel threatened and didn’t want to make a big deal in the store over a $5 pinch. 

The suspect was polite and asked me if he could smoke a cigarette, and knowing it would be a while before he got to smoke once the wagon arrived, I felt bad and agreed. I told him that once the wagon arrived he’d have to put out the cigarette and I’d have to handcuff him. He seemed agreeable enough. He had his smoke, the wagon arrived so I cuffed him, he was placed inside and off he went to MPD. I followed them there, and when it was his turn, I took him up to the booking officer and booked him in. Violation of RSA 6-whatever, the defendant did, with purpose to deprive…etc…shoplifting-To Wit: a bottle of cough syrup retail value $5, is how the complaint read.  

After I booked him and placed him into a cell, I began what I hoped would be a brief affidavit and report. Meanwhile, the booking officer performed a record check on my shoplifter. Turns out he was wanted in some other part of the country for escaping from custody, and attempted murder. He’d been on the run for a while, and apparently had been on the run for a few years. He was a violent fugitive.

Meanwhile I’m just chatting with this guy while waiting for the wagon while he smoked his cigarette. Why he didn’t attack me and try to kill me to flee, I’ll never know. Maybe he was tired of being a fugitive, and fortunately for me, he went quietly. Maybe it just wasn’t my day to die. Despite it all, bottle of cough syrup aside, it turned out to be a good solid arrest. Yet here was another hard lesson learned. As my career went on, some people I dealt with that I had arrested may have thought I was a hard ass, handcuffing them and taking certain safety precautions for a minor offense and being inflexible about it. Please believe me when I behaved like that I had my reasons.  

I made some other mistakes over time, but I like to think I’ve learned from each one. Maybe I’ll write about those as well. I will say that working the street, you can’t alienate and treat every person you stop or have contact with as though they are about to assault or kill you. Not everyone out there is John Dillinger. You have to find some middle ground when you deal with the public, remaining approachable and courteous, while at the same time taking enough precautions so that you don’t become a victim yourself. 

Suffice it to say that these types of decisions that are faced by cops on the street daily will always be critiqued and criticized ad nauseam by the bosses, other cops and often by judges and attorneys after months and sometimes years of deliberation and second guessing. One lesson I took from my early mistakes was to never underestimate the criminal I have contact I have with on the street because it may well result in my own death, or the death of another cop or innocent civilian. After all, the guy I had stopped at Norris and Somerville, may well have panicked and spun around and shot John Breckinridge as John walked up behind him. If that had happened, whose fault would that have been? The answer is obvious. 

The Shotgun, the Rookie, and the Seasoned Old Timer

The Shotgun, the Rookie, and the Seasoned Old Timer. 

There was a time when most Manchester PD marked cruisers were equipped with shotguns. The shotguns themselves were Remington 870s, and the officers, at one time, had the choice of using buckshot, or my own preference, which was to load it with slugs. The problem with buckshot, for me, was that the further from the target you were, the wider the spread or “choke” of the pellets was. My worry was always that one or more of the pellets could miss the target and injure an innocent bystander. Also, working in inner city neighborhoods with densely populated areas and multi-unit tenements made using firearms even more dangerous to bystanders and the public. I also worried that both slugs or buckshot could easily penetrate the walls between apartments. So, when it came time to deal with deadly force situations, cops had to be cognizant and very careful about which firearm they used and how to deploy it. Normally, when it came time to shoot, you really didn’t have a whole lot time to ponder all these things. If someone indicated they are about to use deadly force, you have to react, and react quickly. As they always said in the Army, you fight the way you are trained, and that certainly applied to police work in general, and specifically reacting to and using any force on the job.  

Of course, during my time at MPD, very little in the way of policy or standard operating procedures came easy. The shotgun was a good example of this. In the early part of my career, every cop was trained and qualified to use the shotgun, if that officer choose to employ it. I hate to use the often used expression, but the shotgun was another tool in our tool box available to us if, in our prudent judgement, it was necessary and appropriate. Like much of police work on the street, that decision often had to be made with very little opportunity to decide the pros and cons of employing a weapon in general, especially in a deadly force situation. 

As I recall, the big debate at the time wasn’t really within the department but with those who ran the city. The police department wanted to place the shot gun in the front of each cruiser, where it would be locked into a rack, in an upright position. It was to be placed on or near the hump on the floor that usually exists between the driver and passenger seat. It could be unlocked by either the press of a button in an emergency, or, if that failed it had a hand operated lock which could be unlocked with a hand cuff key. The set up was simple, and, the weapon itself readily available for the cop when he / she arrived at the scene of whatever was unfolding. It was also highly visible in that location. 

The problem? The city fathers didn’t care for the appearance. Many in city government decried this seemingly logical plan because they feared it would give out of town businessmen and tourists a bad image of Manchester, although I don’t know how much tourism there was in Manchester NH back then. People were concerned that the appearance of these shotguns looked menacing and would send the wrong message to the public. Of course, I though that was the exact message we wanted to send to the public, especially to the criminal element in the city. But, some of the Alderman and others prominent citizens advocated for the shotgun to be locked inside of a case, and then locked inside of a special rack, which was then locked inside of the trunk. This configuration, in my opinion, made the shotgun useless in an emergency. Eventually, the PD and common sense won out, and we went out on patrol with a shotgun visible, easily accessible and ready for deployment when needed. 

In the early 1990s, the five biggest banks in NH went bankrupt and folded. In Manchester, we had many, many decrepit tenement buildings that had already been repossessed by those banks, and when the banks went belly up, we had all these buildings that no one owned and no one cared for. They soon became filled with squatters, to include prostitutes who were turning tricks in these filthy buildings, and they also became shooting galleries for drug addicts.

The plumbing was soon stripped from these buildings, including any type of usable fixtures such as toilets, sinks, stoves, you name it, it was ripped out and removed. On top of all of this, people were unlawfully living in these buildings. They used candles for light, and just discarded their garbage where they slept and ate and defecated.  

If I went into one of the buildings, there was no electricity, no heat, filth and the stink from piles and piles of excrement in the various rooms was overpowering. If someone wanted to make a felony drug arrest that badly enough, all one had to do was dare to enter one of these buildings, at their own risk, and locate whoever happened to be squirreled away inside and shooting up. At night, the squatters would sit inside, light campfires and /or candles for heat and light, smoke crack and drink Mad Dog 20 / 20. 

Of course, these buildings were firetraps and endangered the neighborhoods they were located within. All of these six or eight apartment tenements were wood framed, and when they lit, they burned quickly. And, we had many, many of those buildings burn to the ground in the 90s’ How we didn’t lose city blocks at a time during these fiery conflagrations is still a mystery to me. I came to believe that the Manchester Fire Department became experts at fighting these fires while protecting the building on either side that were often so close that the edge of the roof of one building sometimes overlapped the edge of the buildings beside it.

When I first started walking beats in these neighborhoods, they reminded of some of the neighborhoods I lived in down in the Dorchester section of Boston, except they were a lot dirtier. Drugs became rampant in the inner city neighborhoods of Manchester in the 90s. After sun down, several streets were filled with drug addicted prostitutes and active drug houses, sometimes several on each block. This problem became worse when “crack” hit the streets. I remember being told by a member of our Narcotics Unit that one of our walking patrol routes, designated then as Route 78, had sixty known, active drug houses within its boundaries. The center of that post was the intersection of Lake Ave and Union Street. It was, for a very long time the highest crime location within the State of New Hampshire, and possibly anywhere North of Boston. 

I never actually counted them, but there were plenty of active drug houses when I started walking that route on the midnight shift, something I actually volunteered for. It was a two officer assignment, and we rarely walked it alone after dark. Driving into the station for dayshift at 630 or so in the morning meant being propositioned by prostitutes at the red lights near the station, as well as drug boys leaning against street lights on Pine street, nodding their head at me to let me know if I wanted to buy something, their store was open. Yes, it really was that bad. 

Something else that both the city fathers and members of the senior command staff of the police department could not come to grips with was the sudden and noticeable deterioration of this city. During my first year of probation, we were always told that we should refrain making off duty arrests unless it was absolute avoidable, so I reluctantly ignored this each morning on my way in to work.  

Another observation I made in my early days of walking assignments, was that largely due open air drug markets with cars lined up to buy drugs at Spruce and Union Streets, bullet holes in the exterior walls of the surrounding tenements from nightly drive by shootings were plentiful. Yet despite this, many of our bosses were telling us not to make drug arrests, that was the job of the Drug Unit. Our job was to shake and find open doors and business burglaries.      

A cop, especially a junior officer, could literally get a bad time for making a drug arrest, but find an unlocked door, you got a commendation noted on your monthly evaluation. Being an out of towner, the high crime rate and deterioration of the City of Manchester didn’t particularly bother me (although my family and I now lived in Manchester), but the change and high crime really affected those who grew up here and some just weren’t willing recognize and deal with these new problems. 

What seemed to matter most at the time was the perception of those who live or visited the city, rather than dealing with the reality of what the City of Manchester was becoming. We were losing inner city neighborhoods, one after another to drugs and the inevitable crime and urban blight that inevitably came with that. 

Despite the discouragement we often received for making drug arrests, most of us who walked Route 78 regularly, and for that matter those who worked route cars in that area, started making drug arrests, regularly, sometimes multiple drug arrests every night. There was just too much going on out in the open to ignore it. On top of that, after it got light out, and the criminal element started to recede and go wherever they went after the sun came up, as I walked the alleys and neighborhood streets, people started leaving their houses for work. Kids were walking or being walked to school. Many left their homes and walked along in the back alleys among the detritus and remains of drug use, fights and illicit sexual activity left over from continuous criminal activity which occurred night after night. I had the opportunity to talk with these hard pressed folks who either grew up in this neighborhood or were not, for any of a number of reasons, able to move away from it. I remember being lectured by one of my training officers, Billy C, to always remember that most of the residents in these poor neighborhoods were good people, and needed both service from us and our protection so that they can live in these areas with some level of safety for them and their families. 

Their stories of what they saw every night, what their kids were exposed to on a daily basis, and the various ways they’d been victimized by the scourge of drugs that took hold of their community, made me become very sympathetic towards most of those who lived there. These people not only provided solid intelligence which I often acted on and always passed up, but they motivated me, and most of the others I worked with to go out to work every night and fight to regain control of those streets. For myself, and the partners I worked with at the time, whether walking or riding a route car, we started making drug arrests and other arrests for breaches of the peace, regardless of how some bosses within the department viewed these arrests. 

I think most of us felt like “what the hell are we doing here if not to go after the criminal element?”  So each shift, most of us went out to fight the war to control the streets. As time passed, certain bosses left, and certain officers were promoted, and thankfully the culture of the department started to change. The rank and file street cops were encouraged and sometimes rewarded for going out and making arrests, drug related or otherwise. I was fortunate to have had some great street supervisors at the time, as well as a few shift commanders who thought “outside” the proverbial box. This helped the situation, and morale, immensely. 

I guess the point of these musings about the crime rate and conditions in some of these neighborhoods is to explain the atmosphere that existed as we worked the streets during that time period. Violent confrontations with criminals occurred often, we fought regularly and it wasn’t unusual to have to unholster your weapon during the course of our duties. All of which brings me back to that tool in the toolbox, the shotgun. Most of the cops I worked with often referred to the shotgun itself as the “tube” and the two terms were used synonymously. Calling the shot gun the “tube” was for sure, a term of endearment for that menacing weapon.  

All that being said, the shotgun became my weapon of choice when responding to certain calls. I always said that if I was lucky enough to be told I was going to a gun call of some kind, or a robbery or holdup alarm, I wanted the tube. I always looked at my sidearm as my weapon of last resort, but I was bringing the tube to any potential gunfight. I wanted the most firepower at my disposal, not the least. Furthermore, when you arrive at a heated situation that has the potential to turn deadly, racking a slug into the chamber of a shotgun is a loud and unmistakable noise, and it almost always caught everyone’s attention and gave them pause to rethink their behavior. I say almost always. 

One midnight shift, a Richdale’s convenience store was robbed nearby my route. A description of the suspect was put out by the responding officer and included was the fact that the robber pointed a gun at the terrified clerk. I headed over to that area, and around the corner, walking through the Pearl St. Parking Lot, low and behold, I came upon a subject on foot who matched the description of the robber we were looking for. 

I pulled up, informed communications I was off with a suspect, and because I was searching for an armed felon, I pulled out the shotgun. I got out of my car, pointed my shotgun at the subject and ordered him to stop. His answer: “fuck you!” as he continued to walk towards me without missing a step. At that point I racked a round into the chamber to show this guy I meant business. Again I ordered him to freeze and show me his hands. He swore at me even more, and kept walking towards me. At one point he actually challenged, or dared me to shoot him.

“Shoot me” he demanded several times as he continued to advance towards me. I think he was bold enough to know that I was not going to shoot an unarmed subject, and although I believed he may have had a gun. In fact, if this really was the guy who just did the robbery, it was probable he had a gun. However he was not brandishing a weapon of any kind as he approached me.

How silly did I feel as I dug in my heels and pointed the tube at him? Pretty silly, actually, yet somewhat fearful for my own safety. Although this guy may have just robbed the nearby store, I didn’t see any weapon and did not know for sure that he was armed. However, he still headed straight at me. At this point I didn’t feel I could shoot him, but I was concerned that he was about to attack me. So here I was, with a loaded shotgun in my hand, and unless I shot him or butt stroked him in the head or stomach with the tube, I had no way to defend myself. I couldn’t just put the loaded tube on the ground and then start to grapple with him. This guy was acting irrational, and I instinctively felt he was going to attack me. He even told me he was going to kick my ass, and stick my shotgun up there as well. I also recognized that this may have been a “suicide by cop” ploy by this guy as well. I never saw this guy before, and I had no way to read his mind. Regardless, although somewhat fearful, I still felt I was not justified in shooting this bellicose individual. 

At that very moment, a second cruiser, having heard my transmission, screamed up behind me. It was a canine unit! The officer backing me up sized up the situation almost immediately upon arrival, pulled his dog out and gave the guy one warning. “get on your face or I’m going to send the dog! Do it now!” All the time the dog is growling and just trying to get free and begging his handler to let him go and chew this guy up. I could almost hear the dog’s thought process. Please partner please! Let me go. I’ll chase this guy down and just chew on his leg or whatever part I happen to grab at a little bit! Please? 

The guy wasn’t one bit afraid of me and my tube, but the dog sure got his attention. He immediately dropped to the ground and became compliant. My back up and his timely arrival with his four legged partner certainly prevented a disaster, which was rapidly turning into a no win situation for me. My hands were actually shaking as I un-chambered my slug and locked the shotgun back into it’s rack.  No, he wasn’t the guy who robbed the store. He was just another malcontent creature of the night, who apparently hated the world and especially cops. I arrested him and charged him with resisting detention and criminal threatening, for threatening to kick my ass. Both charges were misdemeanors, but screw him, I thought. I wasn’t cutting him any breaks. I may have even charged him with disorderly conduct!

I got no pat on the back for stopping that guy, or for not shooting him., and by that time I certainly wasn’t expecting one. The lesson I got at the time, was one that I had already learned. If I wanted to get a pat on the back, go look for unlocked doors and don’t cause any unnecessary problems or create nuisance for the bosses. Like I said earlier, as time went on, the culture of the department did change as the command staff turned over. It didn’t hurt when residents of the city, especially voters, demanded we be more proactive dealing with those who were preying on the weakest and poorest of us. 

As time went on, a lot of the guys I worked with used to bust my chops over bringing out the tube so often, but I just blew them off for the reasons i listed earlier. If I was going to confront an armed suspect, I was going to do it with a shotgun. It was that simple to me. I’m going home the same condition I went to work in, if I have any say or control in the matter. All too often cops never get the chance to defend themselves, especially if they hesitate to use deadly force as I did that night. I stand by my decision not to shoot that night, I know it was the right one, but I also know that situation could have turned out a lot differently because I chose not to shoot.  

The years went on, and eventually I moved on from Patrol to Detectives, and I spent almost half my career as a detective. During that time I specialized in certain crimes (investigating, not committing) at different points in my career. Towards the end, I was fortunate to have been partnered up with a fantastic guy for five years. As I became more a grizzled cop, I inevitably  became a bit more cynical. 

One day, near the end of my career, someone in the squad developed information that a guy was staying at a local hotel who had been committing bank robberies and was planning another. Believe it or not, we had several bank robberies each year in Manchester. Why people still rob banks in this day and age is one of the greatest mysteries which still confounds me.  The boss in the squad got us all together, and he came up with a plan to place the hotel under surveillance hoping to take this guy as he came or left the hotel, outside, fearing for the safety of employees, guests and other civilians. 

My partner and I got our assignment, and on the way to our unmarked vehicle, I grabbed a shotgun out of a parked cruiser, which had not been signed out. We headed down to Brown Ave, where we parked and watched. We knew who we were looking for, he was reported as armed and dangerous and I believe he had a significant record. During that time, my partner and I usually carried a case load of a hundred cases assigned to the two of us at anyone time, so after a few hours I started to bitch to my partner about what a waste of time this was and we should be doing our assigned case work instead of sitting here for who knows how long for someone that is probably not going to show, or is long gone.  

My much younger partner, looks over at me and he says something to the effect of “Are you shittin’ me? We’re getting paid to sit here, you’ve got a loaded shotgun on your lap, we are waiting to confront and apprehend an armed felon. You’re telling me you’d rather be back at the station doing paperwork?”

I knew he was right, and I was immediately a bit embarrassed that I made that statement or even felt that way. I couldn’t argue with him. I thought back to all the years before I got on the job, yearning for the day when I could protect the public by confronting and arresting an armed and dangerous individual. And here I was complaining about this stakeout when I could be doing paperwork instead! I was getting “long in the tooth” and cynical indeed. 

The stakeout continued, and I thought “Hell yeah.There are worse ways to make a living”. But after all the temporary assignments to Burglary and Robbery details over the years, the many stakeouts, the arrests, coupled with my experience on homicides had made that day seem like no big deal, just another day at work. But, thanks to my partner who gave me a reality check, I realized this really was a big deal! 

A short time later, the guy we were looking for showed up outside the hotel. The information was good, and the plan worked. We moved in on him outside in the parking lot, and I was the only one with the tube out. I racked a slug into it and held him facedown on the ground as other detectives cuffed and searched him. I simply told the suspect in no uncertain terms that if he moved I would kill him. Apparently he believed me. As he was loaded him into the wagon, I thought that we may have prevented more hold ups by grabbing him there and then. I felt good about that. Something that doesn’t happen often enough in police work. The case on him was assigned to other detectives, so my partner and I headed back to the station to continue our own case work. In my case, in compliance with MPD SOP, I had to note somewhere in the mountain paperwork which this arrest entailed that I brandished a shotgun and held on the suspect as he lay face down on the pavement. 

On the way back to our car, my partner and gave each other high fives. All the years I had on the job, all I’d seen and done, I had to admit, It still felt good! I knew my partner was right earlier when I was grousing. For that moment, despite all the BS and hardship that came with the job, it still felt like I had best job in the world! Not bad for an old timer.

Not the Usual Unattended Death

By Detective (Retired) Marty Swirko, Manchester NH Police Dept.

We have two cats. My wife wants another one, but I am reluctant to add a third. It’s not that I don’t like cats. My wife was a cat lover from the time I met her, so that means I became a cat lover. Of sorts. Despite this, I just can’t persuade myself to go along with the idea of inviting a third cat into the house. I have this fear, and I agree it may be unreasonable, that after I’m gone, my wife will turn into one of those cat ladies with 10 or more cats running around and pooping all over the house. Also, just to show you how perverse my mind has become after all these years of police work, I’m afraid when my wife passes away (long after I’m gone, hopefully) the surviving cats will start to eat her after a day or so. And, yes, I have seen that happen. Both cats and dogs, but please understand that it’s not entirely my fault that those images are embossed in the back of my mind. 

One cat, the youngest, is a huge pain in the ass. He has convinced me to never again allow a male cat into or near my home. He spends his time roaming the house, trying to climb anything and everything and then knocking down and breaking whatever he can reach, whenever he can. He enjoys tormenting our other cat, and still hasn’t got the message that the other, older lady cat doesn’t dig it when he makes a running tackle then starts to chew on her neck. I keep threatening to take him on a one way ride to the Blue Hills, which does not amuse my wife, but it is still a secret fantasy of mine. Sometimes, late at night when I’m sitting in my recliner and reading, he likes to climb up onto my chest and plop his oversized head onto my shoulder and stay there. All he accomplishes by doing this is preventing me from turning or swiping to the next page (depending on whether I am reading my Kindle or an actual book) and continue reading. 

Our other cat, is about 14 years old. She is a little thing, very dainty, all black and soft and furry. She has these big brown, round eyes, and because she looked a bit spooky and mysterious to me when she stared at me, I named her Morticia, you know, after Morticia Addams. This cat is very attached to me. Which of course means I have become very attached to her. Mary acquired her just after I got home from Iraq. Over the next couple of years as I tried to adjust to life without someone trying to kill me on a daily basis or being among so much death and destruction in Iraq, she would follow me around, room to room. If I laid down for a nap after work, she’d climb up onto the bed or couch, lick the back of my hand a few times and then lay down, back up against me and purr and just hang out. She still does this. 

In recent times, my wife has expressed a bit of frustration to me regarding how I tend to dote on and at times fawn over Morticia, but I really don’t believe she’s actually jealous. Imagine being jealous of a cat! Actually, I think she’s happy when I leave the room, and Morticia prances along behind me up the stairs because when I return from my nap I usually find her watching Grey’s Anatomy reruns or some Cary Grant movie. Mary that is. Not Morticia. I think it’s all just an act to get me to leave her a lone for a bit so she can get some “by herself time.” 

Several years ago, when my PTSD was taking a toll on me and my family, I came to jokingly refer to Morticia as my service or comfort cat. I never actually tried to take her with me on an airline flight, but she actually did help me relax when I found myself in those sad places that can be so frequent with combat veterans, not to mention 28 years of police work. Earlier today, while I was looking at her, in a weird sort of way, I became inspired for the theme for this story. So, please put up with my musings for a few minutes while I guide you through the arduous and twisted roadmap which is my mind that took me from my kitty to the following story.

It started while I was looking at Morticia, the thought occurred to me that I probably should have just named her Patricia instead of trying to be a wise guy. Patricia always struck me as a  name that is a  gracious and somewhat classy name. Not that I’ve known very many Patricias during my life time. Maybe the reason why I think the name Patricia is so stylish and high class is precisely why I feel that way about the name. With very few exceptions, I haven’t met any Patricias who have caused me to feel otherwise. 

The first Patricia I came to know was in my Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd grade classes. Patricia always smiled at me, and she invited me to her birthday party in the big house where she lived on the corner of Adams Street and Pierce Avenue in Dorchester. Problem was, there was a girl named Kathleen who was friends with Patricia and sat behind her in school. Any time Kathleen looked at me, she made a nasty face and stuck her tongue out at me. I was a bit confused. After all, I never did anything to her. She even behaved like this at Patricia’s birthday party.

One day, I told my father about Kathleen. My dad, in what was probably his first lecture to his first born son regarding the idiosyncrasies of the sexes (it was simpler back then because there were only two of them) patiently explained to me that the fact that Kathleen acted like this, meant, without a doubt she liked me. I was a bit dumbfounded by this explanation, but, if my dad said so, I believed him. So, I tried to be a bit more friendly towards Kathleen at school, but her behavior towards me got worse. She would still stick her tongue out at me, but then she developed a most annoying habit by placing the most distasteful expression on her face, then raising her chin high into the air and making a show of rotating her face away from me and letting me and others around me know how much distain she had for me. If my dad was right about her really liking me, which I came to doubt, Kathleen put an awful lot of effort and theatrics into demonstrating otherwise.  

Eventually, I got the message she worked so hard to convey to me during those couple of years I went to school with her. Eventually, unlike the many stalkers I’d arrested during my police career, I avoided even looking in her direction. Each time she did this, she knocked me one rung lower on the proverbial ladder of self worth that some of us carry on our backs with whatever other baggage lashed onto it. Not surprisingly, this was not the last time I was publicly snubbed by girls I liked as I grew older. As for my father’s explanation about her really liking me, well, unlike isosceles triangles and the like, I just never did get to proof out or disprove his theorem. 

Which brings me back to the name Patricia. I never knew another girl that went by the name of Patricia. I did know a few Pattys. One I went to high school with and I speak to on Facebook from time to time. Another Patty runs the VFW I belong to. The only other Patty I knew was a neighbor of mine when I was in grade school in Quincy, who as it turns out has become one of the real life characters in the following story.  

Sometime, in the middle of 2nd grade, my parents uprooted us, pulled me away from what was at the time an idyllic childhood (Kathleen was just a bump in the road since I didn’t like girls all that much back then) and we moved across the Neponset River to Quincy, Massachusetts, and like the Jeffersons of TV land, we were “moving on up”. Three houses away from us, was a family, and the oldest child’s name was Patty. And thinking about all this (Is there any wonder why I suffer from insomnia?) while Morticia was curled up next to me earlier is really the thing that stimulated me to write about today’s anecdote. 

Patty had two younger brothers. Out of respect to the family, I won’t used their real names. Pat (Patrick) was my age, and Billy was a year younger. I don’t remember their father’s name, but their mother’s name was Anna, and since she came from Central America, she spoke with a Spanish accent.  

The boys and I became friends, and we often hung out and played together. Anna and my Mom became friendly and they sometimes visited each other for coffee and to chat and gossip during the day. Occasionally I was invited to join their family for lunch or dinner. 

A couple of years after moving into the house in Quincy, Patty, Pat, Billy, and the rest of the Lagrange family moved away. I never knew where they went or what happened to my friends, they just moved away. 

In the winter of 2004 or possibly early 2005, I was working day shift patrol. We were in the middle of an incredibly cold spell, not all that unusual around here, and that week the temperatures at night plunged below zero, and during the day if they got up into the teens that was high. I was sent to an unattended death late that morning. Unattended deaths were common calls, especially for those who work dayshift patrol, so I rogered the call, wrote down the time, address and headed over. It was a code two call, meaning urgent but no blue lights or siren. After all, there wasn’t much any of us could to for the unfortunate victim. 

The location I was sent to was in a back alley that ran parallel to downtown. There was an Arthur Murray Dance studio there, and an auto parts store next to it. Since this was late Saturday morning, the dance studio was closed and the auto store had just opened. Also, backed up against the alley, across from the studio and auto store were several large tenement type, four story apartment buildings.

What happened was that a father and his young son went to the parts store. The son waited outside and while he was outside he spotted a car parked in front of the dance studio. Inside the car was an elderly lady who appeared to be asleep. When dad came out, his son took him to the car and found that the woman was probably deceased and called 911. She was deceased and I got to the scene just as the fire department was ready to leave. They briefed me, then took off. The poor woman was still in the driver’s seat and the paramedics hadn’t disturbed her, other than to confirm she was deceased. So now she was my responsibility and I went to work. 

I looked over the scene to include the car, parking spaces nearby and finally the victim. I satisfied myself that nothing suspicious stood out before I touched or disturbed anything. The victim’s pocketbook was on the seat next to her undisturbed, so that help rule out any kind of a robbery attempt or foul play. Also, as I examined the victim closely, I did not note any type of visible injuries or bruises. The doors were unlocked, so I slid into the passenger seat next to the decedent. 

Nothing unusual caught my attention, aside of the fact that I was sitting next to and scrutinizing the appearance of this poor woman. She looked peaceful enough. Her face did not express any surprise or pain that sometimes accompanies death. I noted she had her car keys in her hand, but the car wasn’t running. It appeared that she was about to start her car when she suffered a medical event that caused her demise. I came to the opinion that death occurred quickly, and from the expression on her face rather painlessly. She apparently entered the car, closed the door behind her, had her keys in her hand and that was it. 

I had MPD contact the Medical Examiner’s Office, and was informed the assistant medical examiner on call was en-route to my location. I figured I’d get a head start on the death investigation and work on learning the identity of who this unfortunate victim was. If she had family, I would also have to co-ordinate an in person notification.  

I started to rummage around the interior of the car and found the registration. I saw that the car was registered to an Anna Lagrange. Naturally, that rang a bell in my head. Granted, it had been more than 40 years since I’d seen or heard anything of the Lagranges, but I studied the face of Anna carefully for a few minutes. Not feeling any shimmer or ray of recognition jump out at me, I decided that it was unlikely that the Anna here, assuming this was the owner of the car,   could actually be the Anna I knew back around 1964 or so. That was along time ago, in another state, in another time and life. The car was registered to a nearby suburb outside of Manchester so I put that idea aside and continued my grim, but unfortunately recurring task of death investigation. 

At about that time, the owner of the dance studio walked by to open the studio. I caught her attention and explained my reason for my presence and asked her if she knew anything about the deceased women parked in the studio spot. The owner became very upset because she immediately recognized Anna as one of her pupils and became immediately distraught. I gave her some time to regain her composure, and when she was ready, she gave me the following information: 

Her dance studio held socials and dances on Friday evenings. The dances were for students and friends who wanted to dance and practice what they had learned in a social environment. Anna was a student for some time and loved to dance. She often came to the Friday night socials. 

The owner went on to explain that Anna was at the studio the night before and when the dance ended at 10 PM, Anna left. That was the last time she saw or talked to Anna. This definitive time line she gave me was a huge help, because it would help establish her time of death, as well as what and where she was in the hours leading up to her passing. The owner stayed behind for about a half an hour or so, then locked up, went to her car and went home. 

One of the things that upset the owner was that she felt because she didn’t notice Anna or the car when she left, she was afraid she had left Anna behind to freeze to death and felt somewhat responsible for Anna’s passing. I talked to her for a while and explained it was likely Ann’s death was sudden and painless and occurred before the owner left the studio, therefore even if she had noticed Anna, she wouldn’t have been able to help her. 

Then the owner said something that really caught my attention. She told me that Anna loved to dance and she was from a certain country in Central America. I was floored. How many people had I met during my lifetime that had come from that country? Very few that I can recall. Now, I was back to believing that the deceased lady I had in the car might actually be the Anna Lagrange I had known in my childhood!  

I slid back into the front seat next to Anna again and went though her pocketbook. Inside I found a small address book. This was a great break because now I had a way to learn who her family, friends and maybe even her doctor was. 

As I perused the address book, I saw the names, addresses and phone numbers of Pat, Billy and Patty Lagrange. That cinched it for me. As hard as it was for me to believe, this had to be the Anna I knew when I was eight years old. The names in the book had to be the kids I once played with, so very long ago. And now, I found myself sitting in Mom’s car, with Mom! I saw that one of the kids were living in Southern New Hampshire while the other two still lived in Massachusetts. 

At one point, the Medical Examiner arrived, and I went over everything I had learned. He decided that the death was of natural causes, and he took his photos and possession of Anna’s belongings. I called for a local funeral home to come and remove Anna, as well as a tow truck to take possession of and impound her car.

I mentioned how cold it was, and Anna had been in this cold for at least 13 hours, so we had a problem removing Anna from the car and laying her on a stretcher. Added to that, there was now a crowd of local kids around watching this macabre scene play out. Finally, Anna was taken to a nearby funeral home, and the M.E. graciously agreed to take care of the death notifications and try to locate Anna’s physician and contact her or him. Often, unless there is an autopsy, assistant medical examiners prefer not to sign off on death certificates, and if the victim’s doctor can be found, the doctor is usually willing to take care of that task if he or she was treating the victim for issues that may have led to the death. 

Meanwhile, the driver of the tow truck asked me for the keys to Anna’s car keys, telling me he couldn’t tow her car while the transmission was in park. Suddenly I realized Anna still had the keys in her hand. How could I have been so foolish? As a result, I had another cop come to sit with the car while I drove to the funeral home where Anna had been taken. 

I found Anna, and sure enough, she had her keys in her hand. Fortunately for me, the M.E. went to the funeral home before I got there and he offered to get the keys for me. After he removed them, I took them back to the tow truck driver. 

As the afternoon went on, I decided it was time to go into the station and start typing my reports. I stopped at the funeral home on the way, and the M.E. was working in the Funeral Director’s office. He explained that he had local police make notifications to the family. I told him my story about having known Anna and the Lagrange family in another lifetime in Quincy Mass. He was duly impressed. I asked him what he thought about me calling one of the family and expressing my condolences. He told me he thought it would be a classy thing to do. So, I sat down, got Anna’s address / phone book out and started to dial. 

As it worked out I was able to contact Billy, the younger son. I introduced myself and told him that I used to play with him and his brother when we all lived on Main St. in Quincy. I explained that his Mom and my Mom both knew each other. He told me that he didn’t remember me. That was too bad I thought to myself. So, I told him I was the officer who responded to and found his mother deceased. I gave him a general, not overly detailed description of what had happened and I finished by telling Billy that I took very good care of his mother while I was dealing with her, and tried to assure him that his mother probably died suddenly without suffering. I went on to say that his Mom had an enjoyable evening doing something she loved. I assured him that she was removed and handled with dignity and respect, especially since I once knew her. Billy was thankful. I asked him to say hello for me to the rest of his family and send along my condolences. 

I don’t know what I expected from the phone call, but after I hung up I felt a bit disappointed that Billy didn’t remember me. In any case, I hoped that reaching out to him may have helped him a bit. However, I never did hear from him or of any of the Lagrange family after that day. But, you can bet I thought about this encounter long and hard. 

What were the odds I asked myself…40 plus years later, in another state, that Anna dies on my beat, my sector, and out of a department of about 240 cops back then, that I was the cop sent to investigate her death. Furthermore, was there some mysterious force which I could not understand at work? 

Was there some greater purpose that my “catching” this particular unattended death served? I thought long and hard about that call that day. Eventually, I decided the answers to both questions were 1) My involvement was as random and likely as my hitting the Megabucks number, and, 2) No. There was no deeper meaning in my ending up with this call. At least I don’t think so.  

Nothing ever came out of my reaching out to and reintroducing myself to Billy that day. I had given him my personal and police information and told him if I could ever do anything for him or his family, please reach out to me. There were never any phone calls or reunions or talk about the good old days when we were young. I wished there had been. I came to believe that this was just one of those incredible experiences in life that a person sometimes experiences. Nothing to read between the lines here, I came to believe. 

Still though, as I reminisce and write about it, I can’t help wondering what an incredible coincidence this was. Was there some spiritual karma at work that brought Anna and I together? Probably not I think, yet still…

And now you have the behind the scenes information about how taking a nap with a Kitty named Morticia led me to dwell on this uncanny but factual memory. Somewhere in the digital archives of MPD is the report I wrote that day. But damn, life can be so arbitrary, mystifying and puzzling at times. 

Stalking Stalkers

Stalking Stalkers

During one point in my career my then partner and I investigated many stalking cases. For a period of time, I believe that my partner and I made more stalking arrests thnt anyone in NH. I don’t have the numbers to back that claim up, but we made many, many stalking arrests. I think it was possible that we made more stalking arrests then anyone in any police department north of Boston. 

There was a stalking law in the New Hampshire criminal code when I first came on the job. However, It was kind of archaic, and compiling all the necessary elements to actually arrest and charge someone for stalking was almost impossible. Added to that was the fact was that the crime of Stalking in NH was a misdemeanor, and under the laws of arrest, a police officer could not make an arrest without a warrant for a misdemeanor not committed in the officers presence. There were a couple of exceptions to that, but early on Stalking was not one of them.

As a patrol officer, I dutifully took my stalking reports from victims as I was sent to them, but for all practical purposes that’s where most stalking complaints ended, with a report on file. 

Sometime close to the mid 90s the Stalking Laws were revised in NH (NH RSA 633:3).  Simply put, the updated law redefined Stalking as a series of events or behavior (meaning two or more) that targeted an individual which would make a reasonable person fearful for their own safety or the safety of their family members. Stalking was further defined as violating a Bail Order or court order, such as a Domestic Violence Protective Order (DVP) by, among other things, appearing ONCE in proximity to a person in a location prohibited in that order. Further more, because Stalking was included in the state definition of domestic violence, an arrest could be made, without a warrant when probable cause existed. To top it off, Stalking would now become a felony if the defendant had a previous Stalking conviction on his or her record within 7 years. 

Obviously, these updates changed the landscape regarding law enforcement response to Stalking incidents. It gave us practical tools to vigorously enforce the stalking laws and allowed us to arrest on the spot. It also laid out simple, easy to understand elements that defined the crime of stalking. 

At one point, I was asked to take part on a committee that created a state-wide protocol for police agencies responding to and investigating stalking complaints.

During the summer of 1997 I was reassigned to the MPD Domestic Violence Unit. It was easy enough. There were two openings, and only three cops applied for them. At the time, most cops got very frustrated working DV cases because of the common behavior of the victims. I won’t go into the dynamics here, but suffice it to say that the behavior of DV victims created problems for us when we tried to hold a batterer responsible for his reprehensible behavior. I had always had a problem with people beating up and taking advantage of other people who were weaker then them, and Domestic Violence Batterers certainly fell into that category. 

When I was very young I was playing with my younger sister Jean. She was probably less than three years old, and she grabbed something out of my hand and whacked me. I became angry and I pushed her backwards. I didn’t hurt her at all. But, I did this and my dad saw it! He was very angry. After yelling at me, he took me aside and told me that a real man never, ever put his hands on a girl or a woman. He warned me against ever putting a hand on my sister and told me that if I wanted to grow up and be a real man, I would never, ever put my hands on or hit a woman. That lecture always stuck with me. 

Added to that, I looked at the chance to work full time on DV cases as a good thing. After all, I would be working exclusively on violent crimes and as a result I would leave behind the world of parking violations, no injury auto accidents and litigating endless neighborhood disputes. I found out after my assignment that the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted DV cases, along with the local Women’s Crisis Service Agency recommended that the PD select me for this assignment because of the thorough job they thought I did in DV cases and my reputation among DV victims who sought services. So, In August of 1997 I went into that unit and I worked there until May 2003. 

I was still treating Stalking cases as kind of a nuisance, and preferred to spend my time working other “violent” cases. One week, I was sent to L.A. for a conference and training for stalking cases. It was there that my eyes were opened about the heinous nature of stalking. We were presented numerous case studies from LAPD and other agencies. I also learned that something like 90+% of all homicides were preceded by some type of stalking behavior. This made sense when I thought about it, but it also opened my eyes and I looked at the issue of Stalking in a whole different context. 

3 years go by, my first partner in the DV Unit, Danny (may he rest in peace) was reassigned back to patrol and I got my second partner. Steve was a really smart guy, a hard working street cop and like Danny, he was also senior to me and a solid union guy. All these things were important to me, so I had already respected him before I got to work with him. 

We normally worked 6 PM-230 AM. We were given a ton of latitude by MPD. For example, we could decide to stay and work overtime any shift on any case when we felt it was warranted. Some of the bosses at MPD resented that, and it came back to bite me in someways later in my career, but that’s the nature of this job. Bosses sometimes have long memories, and payback was always a hazard in this profession. Another benefit was that we were allowed to switch our work schedule as needed to work various cases and so forth. Additioanlly, we were pretty much given free reign for personal time off, something we never enjoyed working in Patrol. All this freedom was great, and as long as we didn’t forget our primary shift was 6-230 AM and we didn’t abuse this responsibility, the bosses in our direct chain of command backed us up. They actually trusted our judgement. 

One of the best cases I consider I ever worked was a stalking case. Its too involved and complicated to talk about here, but I will say, this is one case where I believe to this day we saved the victim’s life. On this job you make so many arrests, and if you make an unremarkable but solid DWI arrest, for example, you always like to feel you may have saved some innocent person from being killed by that drunk driver, but who ever knows. In the case I mention here, there was no doubt, and I actually received phone calls from that victim thanking me for no less than saving her life. The suspect’s behavior caused the victim to go into hiding and before we were done, she sent me a letter thanking me and emphasizing that we saved her life. And, to this day, I truly believe Steve and I did just that! 

But here is a different stalking case we worked that was interesting and kind of unique, so I’ll take a few minutes and share it here. 

One day a patrol officer took a stalking complaint from the victim in this case. The case was assigned to me, so Steve and I went to work on it. We met with the victim and I conducted a more in depth and complete interview, which was the norm for us. 

The victim was a woman from the Boston area. She had been in a long term romantic relationship with a guy. In fact the two lived together for several years. Problem was the relationship was abusive, and the suspect assaulted and threatened the victim many times over the course of their relationship. For many reasons, including her fear of her boyfriend, the victim never reported any of this behavior to the police. Because of this, naturally, there were no records anywhere of this abuse. 

I asked the victim to describe to me the most serious or worst assault she suffered from the suspect. She told us that during one argument, several years ago, the suspect threw her down a flight of stairs. As a result of this incident she had suffered broken bones and head injuries. These injuries were serious enough for her to be hospitalized, and as a result she spent several days being treated and recovering at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston.

She went on to tell me that during this time, from the time she was taken to the hospital until she was released her boyfriend, the suspect, who she believed was stalking her in this case, had stayed with her 24 / 7 in her hospital room. The hospital allowed him to sleep on the floor and by doing so, he insured that she was never able to disclose that assault to anyone at the hospital. She told them she had accidentally tripped and fell down a flight of stairs, and since her injuries were consistent with such a fall, no one there asked any further questions.

While evaluating this case, the credibility of the victim, and trying to determine the potential lethality regarding this relationship, I obtained her medical records from MGH. Everything she told us was true. Of course, there was no mention of an assault, but after spending time with her, her word was good enough for me. 

So, as time went on the victim fled Massachusetts to get away from the suspect, and she didn’t think he knew where she lived. However she started to receive many terrifying messages on her computer from someone by way of Instant Messaging which was pretty popular at the time. The messages indicated that whoever was sending them was watching her. That person knew about where the victim was going, who she was seeing and she was pretty terrified. We didn’t blame her, the suspect knew way too much about her and it was apparent he had been shadowing her. She believed her ex-boyfriend had somehow found her, and he was the person sending the messages. Of course he never identified himself. But clearly, he was out there and watching her here in Manchester.

We came up with a plan. When we had an hour here or a half hour there, we placed her apartment under surveillance. This was hit or miss, and it never worked out. We didn’t tell her when we were around, but we told her we would be, and we were true to our word. But, due to the volume of casework and so forth, we could not devote large blocks of time to anything less than a homicide. 

So, the next step was to obtain the subscriber information of the person sending the messages. In this case, he was using an AOL account. AOL, at the time was located in Louden Virginia. I went on to learn that the Loudon County Sheriff’s Department had three full time Detectives assigned to AOL, which AOL paid for. I contacted one of them. He told me that to get the subscriber information I would have to obtain a subpoena, obtained in Manchester then send it to him. If I wanted access to content and activity of that person’s account, I would have to obtain a search warrant from a judge in Manchester, send it to him. He would then apply for a subpoena or search warrant in Louden County, serve it on AOL and eventually send me the information. That’s all that these three detectives did. It was their full time assignment. They fielded subpoenas and search warrants for AOL from law enforcement agencies from all over the country and throughout the world as well. 

I went to work. I obtained and sent the necessary documents and to this detective. The process was equally long and arduous on his end. Meantime, the victim was till getting threatening messages from our boy via IM. The messages weren’t overt threats, but he kept telling her he was watching her, knew what she was doing and so forth. We became very worried about her safety. 

Now from the beginning, she believed her ex boyfriend was the perpetrator. I had no reason to believe otherwise. I had obtained his criminal record and he was a bad boy for sure. I found out where he was living, in Everett Massachusetts. This complicated matters for us even more. We had no Jurisdiction in Everett, and even if we made a case against him, the most we could charge him with was a misdemeanor, therefore we would not be able to forcibly extradite him across state lines for anything less than a felony. But, the jurisdiction issues did not prevent us from working the case. 

The messages were being received by the victim in Manchester, and we could prove it, so that gave us jurisdiction over the crime itself. However gathering further evidence was problematic. Steve and I decided to pursue an arrest warrant anyway, and lord forbid, if he ever decided to come to Manchester, if he ever entered New Hampshire and had contact with police they would find the warrant, arrest him and he would be held here in Manchester on the warrant. Thats the best we could hope for, but to even accomplish that, there was a lot more arduous work to be done. 

Operating on the reasonable assumption that her ex was our suspect, I contacted the Everett Massachusetts Police Department and spoke at length to a detective there. We came up with  a plan of action. Once I received the information which identified the victim’s ex-boyfriend as the subscriber sending the messages from AOL, I would then obtain a search warrant to seize his computer at his home in Everett, from Manchester District Court. We would then obtain another search warrant to search the computer itself for evidence we believed it contained. I would obtain these warrants in Manchester once I got the information from the Louden County Virginia Detective. 

I would then take the search warrants to Everett, meet with the detective, and he would re-write applications for the same search warrants and obtain them form his district court. He and I would then go to  Malden Mass. District Court and obtain a search warrant there. Once we had those warrants in hand, we would go together to the suspects house, serve the warrants and seize the computer. We weren’t sure how we were going to process the computer for evidence once we got it, again the jurisdiction issue was a problem. But, we’d have to figure that out once we got the computer. 

So, we had a good plan, I thought, and I waited to hear from Louden County. During this time, I kept in touch with the victim, we stopped by whenever we were in her neighborhood and tried to assure her we were on top of the case. Well, at least as much a possible. Unfortunately, these steps took time. Unless we could catch him on the scene, we had no choice other than to follow this formidable paperwork chain. We could only hope the victim didn’t end up seriously hurt or worse in the meantime. 

One day I arrived at work and the requested information from AOL and Louden County had finally arrived. I eagerly opened the envelope and much to my surprise, the subscriber was not our suspect at all! 

We got the name an address of our new suspect all right, but now we had a whole new investigation on our hands. Well, not exactly, but this information certainly threw both Steve and I along with the victim the proverbial curve ball. 

Continuing the investigation, we learned that our new suspect lived in Concord NH. He, at some point, drove a taxi for a living in Nashua NH. We were shocked. So were the Everett Detectives we had been working with. I pulled a criminal history on this guy, but I was unable to locate anything significant. I’m sure if he had a criminal record he wouldn’t have been able to work as a taxi driver in Nashua or anywhere else, so his record was a dead end for us.

Steve and I headed up to Concord to try to locate, identify and interview this subject. We stopped at Concord PD to let them know why we were in their city and where we were going. They graciously offered to send someone with us, but because we didn’t anticipate arresting this guy at this time, we declined their kind offer. Since the new suspect did not have a previous stalking arrest, making this a felony, no matter what we discovered we would be unable to arrest him on the spot for a misdemeanor stalking case.

We found his house. It was a nice looking split level in a quiet and well kept neighborhood in Concord. It was located in a cul-de-sac. We knocked on the door. A middle aged guy answered wearing a t-shirt and boxer shorts. We identified ourselves, showed him our credentials and asked to talk to him He agreed and showed us inside. So far, so good, I thought. 

Once we got inside, we saw, to our dismay that the living room and kitchen were cluttered and literally knee deep in trash. Also, there were three young children living there. During our visit there, in addition to our stalking investigation, we now had a child neglect case on our hands even though we were technically out of our jurisdiction. Even so, we were considered mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect under New Hampshire Law. Not that we had a problem with that. The kids shouldn’t have been living in those conditions. 

The guy was cooperative. He allowed us to go though the house and inspect his refrigerator. As bad as the house was, the refrigerator appeared well stocked and reasonably clean, and that was important. The children’s rooms were unkept, but certainly not unsanitary. The kids were reasonably clean, apparently going to school everyday and appeared happy. We questioned them about what they had eaten for meals during that day, and their answers and appearance satisfied us that the kids were reasonably fed and appeared healthy. They were sadly, somewhat wary of our presence, and I think the fact that they and their father were black made them even more suspicious of us than they otherwise might have been. Unfortunately, this wasn’t uncommon for police work.   

So we interviewed our new suspect in his kitchen. He admitted meeting the victim who had ridden in his cab sometime ago. He said he didn’t mean any harm, that he really liked the victim and was contacting her only because he hoping for a date. Steve and I knew from reading the messages that this was BS and he was clearing minimizing his behavior, but we also knew that a judge or jury could possibly give him the benefit of the doubt or even believe him. 

We looked for a computer, but we found none. He told us when he gets on line, he uses a computer at his local library. No real, practical chance to get any solid forensic evidence. We also learned that AOL only saved content for 30 days, something we learned too late. After that, content no longer existed. This investigation took a hell of a lot longer than 30 days. We had invested a ton of man-hours to it, but slowly we were starting to realize our case was suddenly evaporating.  

Steve and I left the encounter shaking our heads. We ordered him to cease and desist any contact with the victim immediately. We explained in detail that the stalking law stated specifically the once being advised and warned that his behavior constituted stalking, we could then charge him with any single attempt to contact the victim in any way. We may not have been able to make a good case against his past behavior, but any contact from that point on would make him immediately subject to arrest and probably conviction. It also allowed the victim to obtain a Stalking Restraining Order in Concord, if she chose to do so. 

Steve and I filled in the Concord PD about both the stalking behavior and the child neglect issue that we believed existed in the house. We also wrote up and filed a neglect report with the state agency that investigates these issue. I have no idea what, if any follow up was done in the case. DCYF rarely got back to us on cases we sent to them. 

As for the original stalking case, we met with the victim. We filled her in on everything, as well as our thoughts about a successful prosecution. She seemed fine with it. Although shocked that this person was stalking her (she did visit friends in Nashua and had taken a taxi there a few times) she was mostly relieved that we were able to prove that her ex-boyfriend was not the one stalking her. We certainly left the door open for her to contact us if she had any further problems with this guy, her ex, or anyone else. 

We never heard from her again, so I am of the hopeful opinion that neither guy ever bothered her again. My take away from this case was two fold. One, always keep an open mind during criminal investigations, even if you believe you have identified the perpetrator. And two, I had entered and learned a lot in the world of forensic investigation involving computers and related electronic devices. The world was changing and as a cop, I had to keep up with it. It was the 21st century, and I was being dragged, willingly or not, into an entirely new world of technology and forensic investigative methods. The stalking cases continued to come in, and we worked them and made arrests whenever as possible. On the wall above my desk, I placed a sign I had printed out. It said:

MPD Domestic Violence Unit. We stalk stalkers.

My supervisor ordered me to take it down, telling me it was inappropriate and unprofessional. I never understood why, but I took it down as ordered. However, that’s what Steve and I did. We stalked stalkers and we came to excel at it.

The Theory Of Natural Selection And How It applies To Police Work, or, The Thinning OF The Herd

After I got some time and experience under my belt in the world of law enforcement, I came to the conclusion that we were fortunate indeed that most criminals were not rocket scientists. Of course, we dealt with some clever offenders, but we didn’t deal with too many arch villains, and that was a good thing. 

My agency, and I think this was true for most municipal police departments, often solved far more murders than not, and the more serious the crime, the better record we had for clearances, arrests and convictions. This is important, because in most cases, identification and apprehension of the perpetrators of these crimes (most all crimes) is an important part or step in the healing process of the victims and those that were close to the victims. 

It may be that with serious violent crimes, more resources are assigned to investigate those crimes, as opposed to the “run of the mill” misdemeanor or property crimes. Please understand that when I say “run of the mill” I’m not minimizing the effect that even those crimes such as simple assaults, thefts, burglaries have on the victims, and they can very have serious effects on the victim in many ways, including physical, psychological and financial. 

However, beyond certain Federal law enforcement agencies, resources for local police departments are always limited, and in any case are not infinite. As a result, the detective supervisor as well as the detective managing his or her assigned case load must effectively organize his or her time along with whatever tools and skills they do possess. To do so, they must prioritize the cases assigned to them and make maximum use of whatever assets that may exists.  

In the years that my partner and I investigated financial crimes, we normally carried an assigned, combined caseload that was usually about 100 cases. Each case a crime, albeit some more serious than others. This type of caseload guaranteed that many cases assigned to us did not get the attention they should have, and some got no attention at all. Furthermore, I doubt that there were many local police departments within the state of New Hampshire that had two detectives assigned full time to investigate fraud cases. 

In a perfect world, every criminal act would be fully investigated and each perpetrator, no matter how minor, would be identified and held accountable for their act. As we all know, we don’t live in that utopian reality. Add to that, that there are just a certain percentage of crimes where there is no evidence ever discovered that would lead to identification and arrest of the offender. Those crimes exist, despite modern techniques such as recovering DNA, digital photography, just to mention a couple. Unfortunately, I’ve worked on some of those cases, and despite the fact that my agency and the taxpayers invested a lot of time and money into my training, that’s just the way it is sometimes. 

The book club I belonged to recently had our monthly meeting (VIA Zoom) and it was suggested I compile a list of the ten most stupid criminals I’ve encountered. I decided not to do exactly that, but, based on that suggestion, I did decided to compile some examples of foolish  criminals and how they led me and other crack investigators I worked with to unravel and connect together the pieces of the puzzle left for us by the perpetrators.  

The first one that comes to mind today is a bank robbery where the robber entered the bank, passed a note to the teller demanding money and that he had a gun. The teller complied, the suspect fled the bank, leaving his note behind which was taken into evidence. As it happened, the note was written on the back of a personalized deposit slip, torn out of a checkbook, which identified the account holder. Almost too good to be true, so the investigators thought when they discovered it, the person who’s account the depot slip used to write the note on, turned out to be the robber. I don’t believe any further comment is necessary. 

In another bank robbery, (I believe this one was in Haverhill, Ma) the teller gave the suspect a packet of what we called “funny money”. This was a packet of money to be mixed in with money given to bank robbers, and in this case it exploded (problem number one) a short time after it was activated. The robber fled the bank with his money, using a bicycle (problem number two) to effect his getaway. I’m guessing his license was under suspension for drunk driving and he didn’t want to get into trouble for that, therefore the bicycle. In this case, three things happened as the robber bicycled his way through traffic downtown-He was splattered with red dye (problem number three) the funny money contained tear gas which came pouring out of the bag as he peddled for all he was worth (problem number four) and, a patrol officer sitting on the side of the road (problem number five) thought the sight of this guy was suspicious and stopped him to investigate. It may have been that the cop heard the robbery call over the radio, but either way, the case was solved, mostly due to the behavior of the imbecile who decided robbing a bank was a good idea. Which, after thinking about it, was really problem number one. 

And, while on the subject of bank robberies, I worked one where the suspect tried to disguise himself as a tree, before going into a local bank and robbing it. I never really understood why the guy thought dressing up as a tree was a good idea for this endeavor, but he did. He then fled, to his apartment as it turned out, still disguised as a tree. Problem was, while we were canvasing the neighborhood, some of his neighbors saw him run into his house, yup, dressed up as a tree, and from there the case went down. Turned out, this robbery, and the bank video of the walking tree holding up the bank made national news. I have to admit, it’s not every day that a walking tree robs a bank. 

Then there were always the hit and run collisions where one party flees the scene after the collision, without identifying him or herself as required by law, and is thoughtful enough to leave one of their bumpers with their license plate attached to it at the scene. Finding such a bumper in this fashion was something commonly referred to as a “clue”. I was always grateful for that type of cooperation by the offender. Each one was another mystery solved by the crack investigators at the Manchester Police Department. (sarcasm intended). 

On a more serious note, there was the day I was directing traffic when two blocks away from me, at about noon time, a drunk driver flew through a red light at high speed and T-Boned a car  containing two middle aged ladies who had gone out together for lunch. I ran to the scene. The drunk fled the scene, leaving a considerable amount of debris behind, and one women dead and the passenger seriously injured. I remember a bystander standing next to the victim’s drivers door, holding up her head, in his hands, obviously in shock. 

I took one look at the drivers face, and knew immediately she was deceased. I’d seen enough dead people by that time during my police career. I didn’t have to search for a pulse to know she was gone. Not very scientific, but no less accurate. I tried to calm this person. He mumbled, in incomplete sentences, trying to explain to me that he couldn’t just let her head hang out the window like it was. I gently took the victim’s head into my own hands, telling the bystander that it was OK, she was gone, and I’d take care of her. I suggested he go back to the curb and take a seat. I gently laid the victim’s head onto the drivers door. 

For days, maybe weeks, I woke up while I slept, sweating, seeing the face of the poor deceased woman staring up at me, or in some cases down at me as I lay. The fact that I played a role, albeit minor, in the apprehension of this murderer helped somewhat, but did nothing to end my nightmares, dreams and nocturnal visits from and of her for a long time. 

Just in case the seriousness of this incident made you forget the theme of this essay, I’ll remind you by telling you that the killer drunk also left his bumper, with his license plate behind at the scene. He also left several witnesses that were able to give a physical description of both the accident and car. My brother, also on duty near by, ran to the scene. One of us, I don’t remember who, possible both of us at separate times called in the plate and the BOLO (Be On The Lookout). As horrible as this scene was, it was somewhat comforting to have my brother there. He had also been directing traffic a block away from me. 

By the time the suspect got to his home, several Manchester cops were waiting for him. He was arrested and taken to a hospital where his blood was drawn. And, yes, he was eventually convicted on negligent homicide, arising from the fact that he was highly intoxicated, at noon time, no less. I believe the traffic reconstruction team determined that he flew though a busy inner city traffic light, without touching his brakes at over 60 miles an hour. Witnesses described the suspect, after coming to a stop, sitting for a minute, apparently trying to decide what his next course of action would be, and after viewing the carnage he caused, then decided to flee, apparently shrugging his shoulders and leaving both of his victims for dead. The arresting officers described the driver as highly intoxicated when they made contact with him, a short time after the collision. 

Continuing on a somewhat serious note, I am reminded of a night some time ago when I was working in the Domestic Violence Unit. My partner was off that night, so I was flying solo. I was in the station, and I was following, on the radio, a call where patrolmen were sent to a domestic assault. I was trying to decide if my presence was needed at the scene, but the cops made an arrest and transported the suspect to MPD for booking before I headed over. 

I went down, spoke with the arresting officer. I learned it wasn’t a serious assault, in terms of bodily injury, making it a simple assault, domestic. Since I wasn’t doing anything important, I thought I’d assist in the case by conducting a post arrest interview of the suspect. After he was booked, I asked the suspect if he wanted to tell me his side of the story. He was more than agreeable to do that. So, I brought him up to the detective division, and went over his Miranda Rights, which he promptly said he understood and eagerly waived and signed off on them. 

After chatting him up a bit, I asked him what happened. I always remembered his answer. He matter of factly told me he just gave his girlfriend a “Bitch Slap”. He said it was no big deal in any case. I asked him what  a Bitch Slap was. He answered by saying “You Know, a Bitch Slap. You’re a cop”. I’m guessing he thought cops bitch slapped their girlfriends and wives all the time. I assured him that I did NOT know what a bitch slap was, and asked him to explain further.  

Apparently eager to get into my good graces and win me over, he then explained by saying, “you know man. It’s when your old lady gets out of line and is acting like a (expletive deleted, and he didn’t use the word bitch) and you have to whack her a few times to straighten her out”. 

I know many batterers feel that way, but I thought it was remarkable that in this situation he would actually explain his thought process to me. Guess he figured being a guy I was a kindred spirit. Or maybe my attempt to establish a rapport with this guy worked too well. Anyway, I stopped him asked him to repeat what he said, and I got it all down on paper word for word. He obliged. I guess he really believed he didn’t do anything wrong. Either way, I figured him for part of the herd that was thinning. The thinning part.  

I had hoped that there would be a trial and I would get to testify to what he said to me, word for word in open court, but he got a lawyer, and no competent lawyer would let his client go to trail after making such a statement. So, he eventually pled out, and this saved the victim from having to testify against him. I was certainly successful in locking him into an incriminating statement (a confession). The case was no longer a “he said, she said” type of incident without witnesses. However, I really can’t pat myself on my back too hard. It was the suspect who helped me make the Patrol arrest stick.

Then there was the case of a serial rapist who insisted to me that because his girlfriend agreed to have sex with him in his apartment, it can’t be considered rape if he forced her to have sex with him anywhere else. And he did admit to forcing her to have sex with him multiple times after that. He just thought once a women consented to have sex with him, that consent is forever cannot be withdrawn. I wished him good luck with that defense. 

On a lighter note, I remember a time when myself, my partner and a Secret Service agent were working on a pretty large, multiple state, payroll check counterfeiting ring. The ring was initially working out of Manchester, which is how I got the case, and eventually, after they thought we were getting hot, they fled to Providence where they set up and continued without skipping a beat. This was big case, if there is such a thing as a big financial case, in that it cost various banks and business around the country over six figures in losses. The core group involved in this criminal ring were from Liberia.

We identified a woman, from Liberia, who we felt was complicit and had valuable information on the case. We paid her a visit, and convinced her to come in for an interview. She kept her word, and showed up at the station as agreed.

We go down to the lobby, and she was with a male subject. He was also from Liberia. We told him he could not be present during the interview. Both subjects spoke decent English, with an accent, however the woman told me because she was from Liberia, she needed to bring her friend to translate. I figured she was going to pull the common ‘no speak a da English’ routine so I shrugged my shoulders figuring I had nothing to lose and agreed. What did I know about Liberia? We didn’t have anyone nearby who spoke Liberian in any case. As it turned out, I didn’t know very much about Liberia.

The four of us got to an interview room, we turn on the recorder and we started asking the “translator” our questions for him to then ask our suspect in Liberian. Try to imagine what we thought when the translator turned to our suspect, and repeated everything we said in ENGLISH! The suspect then answered the translator in English, who then turned to us and repeated what she said in English. 

My initial reaction was just to let my jaw drop while this comedy played out. My partner was no less speechless. We looked at each other in amazement, and after we regained our composure we threw our “translator” out and told him to get lost. Who knew they spoke English in Liberia? Certainly not my partner or I. Guess we assumed they spoke some exotic African tongue. Not so, we learned. We finished the interview just fine without the assistance of a Liberian translator. 

Of course there was the time I stopped a guy for blowing a stop sign. Inner city neighborhood, he didn’t roll through it, he blew through it without touching his brakes. It was so blatant and so unsafe (he could have killed someone if he hit a pedestrian or another car) so I had decided before I stopped him that I would most likely write him a summons for blowing the stop sign.  

So this guy tells me he didn’t have his license with him. And so the interrogation as to his real identity began. He gave me a name and a date of birth, and when I ran it, it didn’t come back to anyone. No License, no driving history, no warrants and no MPD contacts. I’d been around enough to know he was lying about his identity. Failing to identify yourself to police when driving a motor vehicle is an arrestable offense. Pretty sure the driver knew that which only served to make him determined to stick with that story. 

I went back and spoke with him for a while, but he insisted that was his name, date of birth and he had a license and had no explanation as to why I couldn’t find any info on him. But, he persisted. Now normally, I would give the guy a summons for the M/V violation and cut him loose, but there was no point in doing that because the summons would be meaningless without his real name and information. I knew he was lying, and I knew there was a reason he was lying. 

So, finally, out of desperation, I asked him to tell me what his astrological sign was. This was something my brother had told me in the past that had worked for him. Most people know their own astrological sign, but don’t know the signs for months other then their own. This question immediately stumped him. I worked on him for a few more minutes and he finally admitted (because he didn’t know what astrological sign he was) he had been lying to me. So, I placed him under arrest, and naturally, once he told me his real name, I found his license was under suspension and I charged him with several misdemeanors. 

When I wrote my probable cause affidavit, I listed the fact that he did not know his astrological sign when asked as I questioned him about his true identity, among other things, in order to justify my continued detention and questioning of him. Both judges, at arraignment and at trial apparently bought into it and ruled my stop and extended detention was both legal and justified. 

Of course, there have been many people I stopped who identified themselves as other friends and relatives to avoid tickets or arrest, and some of those unfortunates gave names and dates of birth that belonged to people whose license were under suspension themselves. 

One interesting case I worked when I was investigating Financial Crimes was the case of an elderly gentleman who passed away in his apartment. His niece had gone to the apartment to organize and clean it out a few times, and when she did she noted certain things disappearing from the old gent’s resident between her visits. She also found checks that had been missing from the guy’s checkbook, and apparently he always kept accurate and precise records when it came to his bills and bank accounts. 

Well, I got the case, and eventually found that a third had been writing out the stolen checks to himself, using his real name, forging the dead gentleman’s signature then cashing them. When I subpoenaed the victim’s bank records, I learned the missing checks had all been dated prior to the victims death, but cashed or uttered after the day the victim died. All were indicators pointing to a suspect. 

Well, without going into a long story about the investigation itself, (which I got a lot of satisfaction from) I found the person to whom these stolen checks were made payable to and cashed by was the victim’s next door neighbor. He was thoughtful enough to use his real name, his real identification and pose for the digital high tech cameras at the bank each time he cashed one of the stolen and forged instruments. He used different bank branches which he thought would be less suspicious. It wasn’t. Each forged check he cashed counted as a felony. 

The suspect agreed to come in for an interview. As he told me, he was sorry for his neighbors death and he certainly had nothing to hide. Prior to the interview, the niece had made up list of things, with good descriptions, that suspiciously disappeared from the apartment. She told me that on her first visit, she took clothing and laid it out on the bed trying to select what her uncle would be dressed in when he was buried. Each time she went back into the apartment, more and more of those items were disappearing. 

So, this character, a rare bird indeed, came into MPD where my partner and I interviewed him. He strongly denied stealing and forging any of the checks. His alibi was that he had loaned money to the victim while the victim was still alive and the checks in question had been written out to him by the victim before the victim died. He stood by that story and we couldn’t shake him off it. With the exception of homicides, its rare to get a criminal case where the victim is not alive. Unlike most forgery cases, our victim was dead, so we didn’t have him to dispute the story and testify that he did not write these checks. 

However, I noticed what I knew would be the hole in whatever fable the suspect tried to weave for us immediately when he arrived at MPD. I knew I had him the moment I first laid eyes on him. The suspect was wearing one of the victim’s winter coats that the niece pulled out of the closet and left on the bad the first time she visited the apartment. The next time she went to the apartment, she noticed it was gone and had listed it to me as stolen with great good description. I said nothing about the coat until we were nearing the end of the interview which, until that point, hadn’t been very successful. 

Finally, after deciding I was not going to listen to anymore falsehoods, I just ordered the suspect to remove his coat. I then told him he could leave, minus the jacket. The suspect was stunned. It was cold and snowy out (It was a cold winter day) and he arrogantly demanded the coat back. I just told him the coat was stolen from his neighbor and was evidence of the crime of burglary and I was seizing it as evidence. You could see the blood (and his confidence) drain from his face. Obviously, I was just toying with him at that point and tried to act indifferent about it. He sat back down and with a little more prompting, gave us a full confession, all of which, the entire interview, had been recorded with his permission. 

He had entered the apartment several times after the victim’s death using a key that the victim left under his welcome mat. While still alive, the victim had told his neighbor about it so the neighbor could get into the apartment if ever the victim was in distress. For each time he admitted to entering the apartment, using the key, I charged him with a burglary of an occupied dwelling, a Class A Felony here. Each check he stole, forged and presented to be cashed was a felony level forgery. I smiled later as I wrote my affidavit for his arrest warrant with a significant list of charges. He was not getting any breaks from me. 

The case made the newspaper up here, but he never did get any jail time, despite the heinous circumstances (I think he did a few days in the local jail until he made bail). The excuse used by the prosecutor was that the crimes were not violent. I would argue that the theft from a deceased person was a special case, and should be treated that way. Alas, such is the nature of the system, the “anything but go to trial syndrome” that often exists in many prosecutors offices figured in the final disposition here. 

Even though I had a full, legally obtained confession with details on video for each crime he was charged with, the case was pled out, without my knowledge or input. Anyway, I was always thankful to the suspect in that case for posing for those cameras, using his real identity while he committed those crimes and being foolish enough to wear one of the items he stole to the interview with me.  Maybe he was just pompous. Perhaps he was even a bit of a sociopath. Believe it or not, he was still very disturbed and  impertinent over the fact I seized the jacket he was wearing. He demanded a ride home. In many cases, I would have obliged. But as far as I was concerned, he could go screw himself. I wanted to put the cuffs on him myself once I got the arrest warrant, but a hard working patrol officer went looking for him as soon as the warrant was placed in the system. He got to him first and locked him up. In the end, this suspect wasn’t quite so high and mighty when he stood in front of the very lenient judge, sometime down the road. 

I think the last tale for todays dissertation might be my all time favorite. Near the end of my career, I had obtained an arrest warrant for a guy who was involved in the check forgery ring that I mentioned earlier. I went to Providence one day looking to round up the suspects in that case along with the Secret Service, R.I. State Police and the Providence Police. We located and locked up several of them, but this particular suspect fled before we found him. 

The suspect we didn’t locate had warrants in NH from me, as well as warrants for him in Rhode Island for a similar list of crimes, He knew he was wanted in both states, so he laid low to avoid capture. Not low enough as it turned out. The week before I retired, I got a call from the Federal Prosecutor in Rhode Island. He told me the following story:

This guy, who was the last person in the scheme to avoid arrest (In Manchester I arrested 25 people and three others who were prosecuted Federally) was driving down I-95 in Massachusetts late one night. As it happens, the guy got stopped by a State Trooper for a motor vehicle violation. When the trooper spoke to wanted subject, the suspect stated he left his wallet at home and didn’t have his license with him. Instead of giving the trooper his real name and date of birth in order to avoid being arrested on those warrants, he gave the trooper a real name and date of birth of someone he knew that had a valid license.  

The trooper went back to his cruiser and ran the information. After about ten minutes, several police cruisers, both troopers and local cops converged on the scene, weapons drawn. The suspect was ordered out of the car, then pulled to the ground and was handcuffed while the barrel a shotgun was pressed up against the back of his head. Needless to say, this guy was both shocked  and perplexed about the treatment he received and the seriousness with which the cops treated him, considering he was only wanted for some fraud type crimes.  

It seems that unbeknownst to him, person whose the name and date of birth he used to avoid getting locked up on the warrants, actually had a warrant out for him, and the warrant was for murder. I think it was issued out of Virginia. He also matched the general description of his friend, which is one reason he used that identity. So, the suspect spent the next few hours trying to convince the Massachusetts State Police he really wasn’t the guy wanted for murder, but he was really wanted out of NH and RI for various other offenses, and he had given them a false name. I laughed my ass of when I heard this and I thought, hey, this isn’t a bad note to end my career on. However, before I was done, I was involved in a few more memorable  arrests. 

Looking back, I was always thankful that most of the criminals we dealt with, especially those who committed heinous crimes were not criminals like the Joker or the Penguin, and in the end, most would go on to become the part of the “herd” that was being thinned. 

Jean Marie

Thats me on the left, my sister Cindy in the center and Jean Marie on the right during happier times, not long before Jean was killed.

My sister, Jean Marie Swirko, was born on December 26, 1961. In as much as she was born the day after Christmas, and on her birthday in 1964 my Dad suddenly died (again the day after Christmas) when I was nine years old, the Christmas Season always brings back memories of that time, and I find myself thinking a lot about Jean as Christmas approaches. 

Needless to say, I remember a lot about the day Jean was born in 1961. Christmas Day that year, was one of the earliest Christmas’ I can remember. I have fond memories of that day as well as much of my time living in Dorchester. We lived at 95 Pierce Av, off of Adams St. which was in the Neponset section of Boston. We lived on the 2nd floor of a typical Boston style three decker, for which Boston and many of it’s neighborhoods are somewhat famous for. My Mom and Dad owned it, and they took good care of it. It was a fantastic neighborhood to spend your childhood in, or, at least in my case, part of my childhood. During that time, I went to the Kenny School on Oakton Ave, and I also have good memories of going to school there. 

I attended Religious Instruction classes at St, Ann’s School, once a week after my regular public school classes. The last class before Christmas that year, we were all given a gift from the nuns, which was a plastic little baby Jesus which was laying in a plastic cradle of straw. I remember leaving the class, and I was really on the proverbial cloud 9, because Christmas Vacation from school had finally arrived and begun with the dismissal of this class. As I walked home with my friends it was just staring to get dark, the colorful Christmas candles were turned on in most windows we passed. Sometimes, we could even look into the windows we passed by and see Christmas trees that were lit up. It was Christmas Time in the city, a beautiful thing to enjoy. All was right in my world. 

I came home and gave the little Baby Jesus to my mother, and for several years she hung it on our Christmas tree. I don’t know whatever happened to it. I suppose it just disappeared among the lost remnants of my childhood, as had so many other things I had once possessed from that time period of my life.

That Christmas season, my Dad brought home a couple of 33 RPM / LP records. One contained several Polish Christmas Carols. Being a kid, I never cared for them. Over the next few years, when he would play that record, I would always complain and whine to him. I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to hear “Here Comes Santa Clause” and Jingle Bells” I think it always bothered my Dad that I wouldn’t sit and listen to those Polish Carols with him. That is one of those things that I have regretted many years after he was gone. But I think I was a normal young kid and not understanding the words plus the unfamiliar tunes, well, I just couldn’t get into them. 

Christmas Day was wonderful, as it always was while my Dad was alive. I was an only child at the time. However, my parents did let me know that they were expecting another baby soon, although they didn’t make as big a deal out of it as they did the previous time my Mother was pregnant. She lost that child, so I assume they didn’t want to talk too much or raise my hopes (or theirs, for that matter) that I would soon have a little brother or sister.

As usual, I can recall a lot of great presents from Santa, and a few that I remember included a Tonka Car Carrier truck, a Structo Garbage Truck, a set of Block City building blocks and a Kenner Girder and Panel Turnpike highway and bridge set. Oh yeah, I cant forget the Erector Set and the toy detective cap pistol with a shoulder holster. It was a great Christmas at my house. 

The next day came. I remember it was snowing something fierce. One of my parents suddenly announced “The baby is coming!” A phone call to the doctor, a bit of rushing around, and finally my Mom, Dad and I hastily climbed into a taxi and headed to St. Margaret’s Hospital. I was born at St. Margaret’s and in 1978 they would save my oldest son’s life after he was born with some serious problems. But this day, it was my first sister that would be born there. 

We didn’t have a car back then. Hardly anyone in my neighborhood did. There was a ramp that led to and from the main entrance to the hospital, and I remember the taxi slipping and sliding, and no matter how hard he tried, the driver couldn’t get up that little steep ramp. So, we got out and walked up to the entrance. I don’t remember a whole lot about that day, but I do remember my Dad telling me sometime later that I now had a little sister. Nevertheless, despite the seemingly happy circumstances there was something else troubling him. 

I didn’t realize how serious it was at the time, but I was able to piece things together between the conversations he had with his mother and sister, and what my Mom had told me years later. Apparently, the doctor told him there were serious complications with the birth. Apparently they thought they could save the life of my mother, or save the life of my sister, but not both. And, in as much as this was 1961, and this was a Catholic hospital, my Dad was told by the doctor that Catholic ideology was that when making this type of a  choice, the old must always make way for the new. My Dad was told that they would save my sister, my mother would most likely die. 

This didn’t sit well with my Dad. He had a long discussion with the authorities at the hospital, some by phone, some in person, but in the end he insisted that they save his wife. I remember him asking, more like demanding an answer to his question which was, what good will it be for his daughter to grow up without a mother? No, he insisted. Save both. And if they could not do that, save his wife and my mother. In the end, both lived and in a few days my new little sister came home. I was very, very excited! As I sit here writing, I wonder what Jean would have though about that if she had known.

Naming their kids apparently was an on-going debate between my parents. My Mom wanted to name me after my Dad, but my he was dead set against it. In the end, he prevailed, and they named me Martin, after his father who came here from Poland and his first name was Marcin. Regarding my new sister, my mom wanted to name her Cindy. My Mom loved that name. She also loved the song “Cindy, oh Cindy” which was done by the folk group the Highwaymen back around 1960. This group should not be confused with the later group called the Highwaymen which consisted of, if I remember correctly, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Wille Nelson and some others. 

My Mom lost that debate, and my new sister was named Jean. Dad made a concession of sorts to my Mom, and Mom gave her the middle name of Marie, so her full name was JEAN MARIE SWIRKO. We all loved Jean. Some people called her Jeannie, but my mom hated that, always corrected them telling those that did that Jean’s name was Jean Marie, not Jeannie! 

A couple of years later, my brother was born, and Dad and Mom named him Frank, after my Dad, and later, when my youngest sister was born, my Mom got her wish and named her Cindy.

My Dad always doted on me, and I’m sure I caused him a fair share of heartache at times, especially later in school when my grades weren’t as good as he thought they should have been. Report card day at my house was often a tumultuous time when my Dad was alive, and I never looked forward to bringing my mediocre report card home. It didn’t help that my 3rd grade teacher at the Pollard School in Quincy later told him that I didn’t put enough effort into my work at school. 

But Jean, that was different. I fondly remember the days following Jean’s birth. Dad and I were still alone at the house. In the evening we would walk across Galavan Boulevard and visit with my Grandmother, Uncle Paul, Aunt Annie, and my cousin Barbara. That was always a lot of fun for me. I remember My Grandmother Swirko would only let me drink ginger ale if it was half ginger ale and half water! Too much sugar she thought, I guess. But I didn’t care.

Another great memory I have of that week was sledding down the hill on Pierce Ave. with all the other neighborhood kids. No one had a car on the street that I remember, so there were no cars parked along the sides of the street, and very little traffic. My Dad walked me to the top of the hill dragging my new sled, another Christmas gift. I was afraid to go down the first time, but I finally did, After that first ride down, I never wanted to stop. I sledded that day with everyone else until well after dark. My Dad had to walk up to the top of the hill to get me when it was past time to go home and eat dinner.

Some months later, my Dad bought a car at Dickson Buick, and after the first one didn’t work out too well, he ended up with a 61 Ford Falcon. Having a car was, up until that point, a previously unknown luxury for us. It certainly made the world a lot smaller for us. The car also permitted my Dad to sell the house on Pierce Avenue and buy a single family house in Quincy Point. Previous to owning the house on Pierce Av, he owned another three decker on Maryland St in Savin Hill (once affectionately known to those who came from there as Stab and Kill). I guess my Dad just had it with being a landlord and problem tenants. Boston had also enacted a new tax on property owners, so for him it was the last straw, and as a result we ended up in Quincy. 

I hated leaving my school in Dorchester, my friends, everything that I had come to know and love during my young life. I was so upset on our first Halloween living in Quincy, that my Dad took me back to the old neighborhood (dressed up as Casper the Ghost), where I tricked or treated amongst my friends. Little did I know, that night would be the last time I would ever see my friends Paul, Ricky, Joey and Gerry from that hood. To this day, I have no idea whatever came of them.

Nonetheless, getting back to the week Jean was born I settled in with my new baby sister. I loved Jean, but my Dad, well he adored her. He couldn’t spend enough time with her. When the three of us would take a ride together she would sit in the middle, in the front seat, in her car seat, in the Falcon. My Dad would sing “My Darlin Clementine” to her. He liked the Beatles, even though he found them weird in appearance. He would sing ‘I want to hold your hand’ and “she Loves me Yeah, Yeah Yeah”to Jean while he drove. It got to the point that Jean would sit in the kitchen window which overlooked our driveway and wait for her daddy to come home from work or wherever. When he pulled into the driveway, she would always get so excited and announce his arrival to anyone nearby. 

I was once fighting over some toy with Jean, and I grabbed it away from her and pushed her away from me. My father saw my behavior and was not happy with me. But, instead of yelling  and giving me “the strap” he took me aside and gave me a stern talking to. “A real man” he told me. “would never put his hands on a woman” He went on to tell me that any man who would hurt a girl or a woman was a coward and would never fight another man. He made some serious threats to harm or punish me if I ever hit or pushed my little sister again. 

That conversation resonated with me for years to come. I always remembered it. It formed one of my core beliefs in life. Much later in life, when I became a cop, I always worked a little harder when I responded to domestic assault calls, and the 6 years I spent working in the MPD Domestic Violence Unit was absolutely a direct result of that talking to my father gave me so long ago. I never saw him strike or hurt my mother. I always worked hard to hold batterers accountable for their behavior and even force them into a situation where perhaps they would straighten out their act, so to speak. I’m proud to think that in some ways, I am my father’s son, at least in that regard. 

As you might know, especially if you read part one of this series, Jean was three years old to the day when my Dad died. The day my Dad died, our childhood also died. I had nine good years up until that point. As far as Jean, and baby brother Frank went, neither remember their father, and their childhood was robbed from them before it began. Even Cindy, (yes, my mom finally had a daughter she could name Cindy) my younger sister who came a couple of years later, well, the die had already cast for her as well. 

I remember that Jean’s favorite TV show was the Partridge Family and she had several of their records. I always teased her about the show, threatening to change the station, but we always let her watch it when it came on TV. A close second for Jean was the Brady Bunch. 

Unfortunately, most of her childhood was very tumultuous, starting after the death of Dad. During her teenage years she dropped out of school and became a chronic runaway. By that point, I had left the house and struck out on my own. Once I did that, Jean became the target and in may ways the victim of my Mom’s problems. My Mom lost the house in Quincy, and after being homeless for a while, she and the kids eventually landed an apartment on Boston St. in Dorchester. Frank and Jean endured forced busing in 1974, and as bad a time as the black kids had who were bussed to South Boston and Hyde Park, Jean and Frank had a horrendous time being the only white kids bussed to Roxbury. (There were only three kids on the school bus, no other mother would send their kids to Roxbury.) In the end, they both quit school. In Jean’s case, her dropping out of school set an even less than successful course for the remainder of her short life.

Jean would run away, and I would often track her to the housing projects in South Boston. I was driving a taxi there at the time, and I got to know my way around  (I was pretty familiar with Southie to begin with because I spent a lot of time running around there with cousins and friends when I was a kid) and I got to know many people there, both honest and hard working and shady. I never had trouble finding Jean when she ran away. Jean was about 13 or 14 at that time, much too young to hanging with older guys, druggies and the assortment of people I often found her with in the Old Colony Housing Projects around East 8th and East 9th Street, and places like Pilsudski Way and Carmody Court. 

Often, after finding her, and not being allowed entrance to the apartment she was hiding in, I would go to the old District 6 Police Station on D st. The cops were sympathetic and always came with me and were very aggressive trying to find her and sending her home. I spent several evenings chasing Jean across the roof tops and through the tunnels of the projects along with the cops as Jean ran trying to evade us. Sometimes the cops forced their way into the apartment we found her in and threatened the occupants with arrest. 

We caught her several times, and I often  took her to the old Howard Johnston’s off the expressway on Boston St, for a late night meal, give her a good talking to and took her home to my Mom. The Boston cops that helped me those days were great. They couldn’t do enough to help me get Jean home to my mother, and again, they became role models for me later in life, and like them, I became very aggressive looking for teenage runaways during my later police career.

Looking back, I’m not sure I did Jean any favors returning her home to my Mom, but what else was I going to do? Couldn’t let her run around with the thugs and deviates she was hanging with. I insisted she go to school. I took her in to live with me and my wife a few times, but it didn’t work out. She just stopped going to school. One day, she joined the carnival. That’s right, the carnival!

I don’t know everywhere she went, but I do know she ended up in Florida. My brother fled home when he was 17 and joined the Army in 1980. He ended up in Germany, where he would regularly get letters from Jean. Frank, who was 1 1/2 years younger than Jean, was very close to her. Eventually, she worked her way back to Boston. I was driving a taxi for Red and White Cab in Boston, and I got her a job as a telephone operator at the cab company. She would answer the phone and take calls and pass the calls to the dispatcher. She didn’t hang around, and before long she took off and headed back to Florida. I loved her very much, she was my kid sister, but, she had problems and they got in the way of us having a good relationship by that time. I slowly and regretfully came to the conclusion that I could do nothing for her. In 1981, after I joined the Army and was away at Ft. Benning, my wife tried one last time to help Jean, but in the end, Jean bit the hand that tried to feed her and she went back to Florida. 

In May of 1982, she was living in Florida, and she babysat her 10 year old neighbor from time to time. I knew she was in Florida, and she was working at a carnival on and off, but I didn’t know too much about where she was living or working. My mother was really suffering from mental illness related problems at the time, and when Jean was home, on and off she and my mother fought all the time. It was both crazy and sad. 

On the afternoon of May 29th, 1982, Jean was riding a bicycle on the way to the store. Riding with her on the bicycle was her ten year old neighbor. She was in Ocala, Florida, and a drunk driver struck her and killed both Jean and the ten year old boy. The autopsy said she died of massive head trauma, and as a result of the speed with which the driver was driving when he hit Jean, she was thrown almost 300 feet. I recall the Florida Highway Patrolman who arrested the driver and investigated the crash telling me there were no brake marks visible. He swerved and hit her while doing what was believed to be somewhere between 60 and 70 MPH. 

The driver himself was well known to police. He was a burglar, and had previous arrests for DWI. I remember the cop telling me that the highways in Florida have become a slaughter house for drunk driving deaths, and something had to be done. He charged the driver with some type of manslaughter, based on his causing the two deaths, but due to some unique circumstances that existed at the time of the collision, and Florida Law, he did not expect a conviction and advised me not to get my hopes up. 

Meanwhile, Jean was laying in a morgue somewhere in Florida. My brother was in Germany, and it was left to me to tell my mother, and my other sister, Cindy, that Jean was dead. Needless to say, it did not go well. None of us had any money. I was home from active duty and in the Army Reserve. I was running a failing business, on the cusp of losing my house. My mother had nothing, and there certainly was no life insurance to bury Jean with. I called the Red Cross to notify my brother and get him home. Being in the Army Reserve at the time, I knew how this drill went. 

That evening, in Germany, Frank was called into his Commanders Office. When he arrived, he found a young Lieutenant that he did not know. He started by telling Frank that he had bad news. Later, Frank would tell me that he automatically thought something bad had happened to one of my kids. The Lieutenant then told Frank that his sister, Janice had been killed in an accident. Frank wiped his forehead, and said “Whew!. L-T, I don’t have a sister named Janice. You scared the shit out of me!” 

The lieutenant looked puzzled, then looked through his papers and looked back at Frank and told him he made a mistake. He then asked Frank if Jean Marie Swirko was his sister. Frank replied in the affirmative. The lieutenant then told Frank he was sorry, his sister Jean Marie was killed in an accident. Needless to say, the unprofessional way this officer handled this notification made the news even more painful for Frank to receive than it had to be. Frank would tell me that after notification, he never saw the Army work so fast. Within no time, he had money in his pocket and he was on a flight headed for the States. 

I made my notifications, and my Mom did not take it well. This would have been tough for any normal person. But my mother’s various psychological problems made this a particularly cruel and almost impossible situation for us. 

The next day I got a call from Frank. He had landed in Newark. “Thank God’ I told him. Frank and I talked for a bit, mostly about the circumstances surrounding Jean’s death. Finally, Frank got on a plane and eventually arrived in Boston. 

The next week was a nightmare. Frank and I went around and tried to figure a way to get Jean home. We begged and borrowed.We found that before Jean could be sent home, there were preparations to her body that had to be made by a local funeral home in the Ocala area. No credit available there. Money up front. Same with the funeral home in Boston. I scraped some money together, Frank got some help and a loan from an Army Relief agency, and my father’s sister, Annie, chipped in and gave us some money.

I cried just once that I can remember. It was a day or two after I learned of Jean’s death. I went to my bedroom and broke down. No one saw me. When I did, I cried and cried. I couldn’t stop. I was sobbing and wailing, seemingly for ever. Eventually, I regained control, straightened up, and went on with our grim business. It was the last time I have wept for Jean. I love her still, and I miss her, but I haven’t cried since. 

My mother insisted on an open casket wake. It’s a catholic / Irish thing. The Funeral Director, Joe Casper, from Casper’s Funeral Home in South Boston, a good guy, tried to talk us out of that idea. In the end, we had two wakes, open casket, and after a funeral mass at St. Ann’s in Dorchester, she was buried at Cedar Grove Cemetery, where she remained for many years.

My brother and I both wore our dress greens. We were only Privates at the time, but we shined our collar brass until they radiated a blinding shine when light reflected off of it. The funeral director did a great job, and he was really excited and proud. I thought she looked like an old lady who had been through an ordeal. Jean was 21 when she was killed. Unlike me, she never had much of a life. 

The trial came for her killer, The Florida Highway Patrolman stayed in touch with me, and kept me informed. As time went on, more and more states started to take drunk driving offenses seriously. MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers) eventually came into existence. The highways everywhere were becoming a slaughter house. The event that changed things in Massachusetts was an accident where a drunk driver wiped out a family in the Hyde Park Section of Boston on Christmas Day, killing a family on their way to have Christmas Dinner at Grandma’s house. They never made it. 

But this was still 1982. Getting pinched for drunk driving in most places was no more serious than getting a traffic ticket. Sure, he took two young lives. But, he didn’t mean to do it. Today in NH, he’d probably do 20 years hard time. But, in Florida back then, this man was ACQUITTED of killing Jean. Sure he did it, but he was found not guilty. The defense attorney argued they shouldn’t have been on the bike on the side of the road. The lack of tire marks showed the driver didn’t see my sister. If he had, surely he would have hit his brakes. There were some other technical issues I won’t cloud this story with. In the end, he was found guilty of speeding, not guilty of drunk driving or manslaughter. Go figure. The fact that this man was never held accountable for  my little sister’s death has always, and still does bother me. 

Some years later, my brother Frank had the occasion to go to Florida. He had just gotten on the job, and he went to the Ocala police to see if he could get a look at the accident investigative file. The cops couldn’t have been nicer. They talked about what they knew about the man that killed Jean. They also dug out, the by then old, investigative file. They removed the photos. Frank asked about them, and the cop told him candidly that Frank, cop or not, did not want to see those photos. Frank relented. I’m sure whatever was there, he would never have wanted his last memories of his big sister to have been those photos. The reports themselves were graphic enough. 

The years passed. My mother never really got over the death of her daughter, even when her mental health improved later in life. Her one wish was to be buried with my sister when the time came. Well, her time came in January of 2001. The big decision that Frank, Cindy and I had to make was whether to bury my mother here in Manchester, or in either South Boston or Dorchester where she grew up. Burying her with Jean was out of the question. We bought a single grave at the time we buried Jean. In the end, we figured that since what was left of our family had pretty much migrated to Manchester, we would bury my Mom here. It wasn’t an easy decision for us to make. We placed obituaries in both the Boston Herald and the Manchester Union Leader. It was the right decision. The Manchester Police Department members pretty much closed ranks around us, and were with us and were a large presence right up though her burial where a lone MPD piper played the sad bagpipes by her grave. Something that the Catholic Priest who presided at the burial site refused to allow while he was there. We will always be thankful to MPD Police Officer Rich Ell for playing the pipes at my Mom’s grave site. Being Irish, she would have loved it. At the end, Tommy, a close family friend who was a singer also honored her with a song after the priest left and the piper followed. 

In 2014, I retired as a full time cop. I stayed on and worked part time in various capacities, but once I retired, and took care of some financial issues, I decided it was time to bring Jean and my mother together. It wasn’t easy, but with the help of Joe Casper and Casper’s Funeral Home, 32 years later I had Jean brought up to Manchester and buried her with my mother. The deed to my mothers grave belonged to my brother, and when he bought the plot for my mother back in 2001, that plot was for two persons. We had the hope back then maybe someday we’d get to grant my mother one of her longest and last wishes. 

Today, Jean rests with my mother at a local cemetery here in town. I visit it often. Usually late in the afternoon when I can sit in the shade. I leave things so that others who pass by can tell there are still some people around that care about Jean and my Mom. I visit them often. I bring a chair, cup of coffee, something to read and enjoy the peace, quiet and the birds. When my time comes, my hope is to be buried nearby. 

Like my mother, Jean had a tough life. Sometimes, I tell my own kids about their Aunt Jean. And now, I tell my granddaughters. Neither Jean or my Mom ever got a break in life as far as I can tell. Hopefully they’ve found some peace now. Jean certainly found little enough of it when she was alive. She’s been gone for a long time. Longer than she was alive. But, I still miss her. 

Spending The Night With Eve

I don’t remember exactly when Eve came on the job, but after she completed the two required Police Academies and other training I met her. Eve was a veteran of the Marine Corps, so, she’d been around and certainly wasn’t a shrinking violet. I immediately liked her. Being one of only a few female cops at MPD she worked hard to fit in and be accepted as one of the guys, in what was then, with few exceptions, a predominately male police department. It didn’t take long for her to achieve that acceptance.

Although she was a rookie, it was impossible not to be drawn to her friendly, sometimes mischievous smile or smirk that she often displayed. She was outgoing and gregarious, and when she was pissed about something, she didn’t hold back and could cuss with the best of them. The other cops, when she was around, never had to worry about their language or the topic being discussed. If anything bothered her about some of these things, she never showed it and often joined in the raunchiest of discussions. She proved early on she could hold her own on the street and handle herself as well, and was never shy about jumping into a fracas and she could be depended upon to cover your back out on the block. 

Eve went on to become one of my better friends on the job. She’d been to my house, met my family and everyone liked her. At one point, during my second stint back in Patrol, she and I worked together off and on. 

One night, I ran into her at the station house after I booked a prisoner I had arrested. She asked me what I had. I told her, in a solemn tone that I had arrested a guy for forcibly raping his wife. I expected some half hearted off the cuff compliment about my felony pinch, but instead, Eve looked at me and said in a most sarcastic and dismissive manner:  

“You locked him up for raping his wife? Oh, puleeeze. She should have just sent him to my house” and then she walked away. Not the most enlightened comment, but that was Eve. Of course, I knew she was joking. Typical station house banter between a couple of street cops. 

One midnight, we were both partnered up in an unmarked car, and we were sent to the Northwest corner of the city, which bordered on the town of Hooksett. There were numerous large apartment complexes up there around Hackett Hill, and many of them were very nice buildings with a clubhouse, in-ground swimming pool and a large gym. The problem was, on midnights we, and the residents of these apartments were getting murdered with car break-ins, and multiple residents would awaken to find their car windows broken out, the interiors ransacked and often extensive damage to the interior of their cars. 

It got to the point where the dayshift guys who worked in that sector were getting pissed at the midnight shift because many days they’d get out of roll call, and before they even got a chance to pick up the morning cup of coffee, they were sent up to take multiple theft and vandalism reports within those complexes. One day, I actually found a car up on milk crates, the tires removed by thieves presumably to steal the expensive rims that previously adorned the car. 

So this night, Eve and I headed up to Hackett Hill and some of the other nearby apartments. We set up surveillances at hot spots throughout the night, moved around and tried to be unpredictable. Needless to say, nothing notable happened that night, but I was thankful I was wasn’t by myself and had someone personable to talk to that night. 

One of the stories that she told me that night was that a few days before, she went to the cleaners to pick up some cleaned and pressed uniforms. She brought them to the station that night, and when she tried to get into the pants, she found she couldn’t fit into them. Turns out, the uniforms she was given belong to another cop, who was a rather thin guy. Now Eve wasn’t overweight, but I’d describe her as rather full figured, and there was no way she was getting into that pair of pants. We had a good laugh about that, and that’s how the night went. 

About 4 or 4:30 AM, nothing was happening. We were bored and getting a little sleepy, so we pulled over to take a short nap. Yeah that happened sometimes on Midnights. No matter how much or how little sleep you got, sometimes those slow midnights were hard to stay awake for. We didn’t miss or dodge any calls, we just needed to close our eyes for 20 minutes or so. The rest of the shift was rather uneventful, and finally, the sun came up and thankfully, it was time to head in. 

One day, about a week or so after that, I got off duty and headed to District Court. The prosecutors provided a room for us cops so we could sit around and wait for our cases to be called. It was a place where we could wait and not have to rub elbows within the lobby filled with defendants and felons waiting for their turn as the wheels of justice slowly rotated. 

Despite having to go to court following a midnight tour, and even worse on a scheduled day off, hanging out with a bunch other cops who were also waiting for their cases to be called or resolved was sometimes even enjoyable. I guess there is some truth to the old saying that misery loves company. We usually talked cop stuff, union stuff, joked around and so forth. It was one time that you knew you belonged to a special fraternity and outsiders (except for prosecutors who sometimes hung out there) weren’t allowed this glimpse into the private world of police officers.  

Although Manchester District Court covered only the City Manchester, unlike most other municipal courts, from time to time an out of town cop would have to appear in court, and they were always directed to the waiting room with all the Manchester cops. They always got an earful while we all carried on, telling stories, joking with our somewhat twisted sense of humor,  and especially shitting on each other. Other times NH State Troopers would be there, but we worked with and knew most of the Troopers from nearby Troop B, so they usually (but not always) fit in well. 

However, if a Supervisor was present, whether from MPD or the State Police, we usually toned it down a bit around them. Also, I learned that when I was at a gathering such as the district court waiting room, it was wise for one not to talk about another cop or a boss and say anything bad unless it was something that I would be willing say to that person’s face. Sadly, there were always those cops who would run back with our gossip, primarily to ingratiate themselves with whatever boss they thought they needed in order to get along easier or pave their way to coveted assignments. We had a term for those types of cops, and we called them “Ball Sucks”. Not nice, but an accurate descriptions of certain cops. The “Brotherhood” existed, but sadly, it wasn’t as tight or as strong as most civilians believed. 

At times these daily get togethers got so boisterous that it caused court officers to come is and sheepishly ask us to try to quiet down a bit. They were sheepish about it because they often depended on the off duty cops who were present to assist them in quelling disturbances and deal with violent defendants and sometimes family members. Looking back on it, those mornings in court could be enjoyable. You could always count on plenty of gossip, a few laughs, and seeing cops that you wouldn’t otherwise cross paths with. 

On this one particular morning, Eve was in court and she was going on and on about something keeping everyone entertained. She saw me arrive, as well as the cop whose pants she accidentally picked up at the cleaners. I’ll call him Ben, not his real name. Eve starts talking about her week. She then announces to everyone in the room that none of then have anything to bitch about because she got into Ben’s pants and later that week she slept with Swirko. That caught everyone’s attention. 

She had that impish twinkle in her eye as she made those statements, and cops, being prone to gossip and spreading rumors, listened up intently. After she got the reaction she had hoped for, she then explained the joke. Everyone thought it was funny. She then went on to regale the crowd of cops with more “working with Marty Swirko” stories.

Up to that morning, I had kind of a weird run where I ended up fighting with quite a few females. One older women I was trying to take into custody kicked me in the groin. I had to fight with a couple of juvenile females who were either runaways or just acting up at home. And there were a couple of drunk women that decided they would rather take me on than follow advice from me to leave the bar they were in and go home. A few of the women I arrested continued to fight and act up, even after they were brought to the station and booked. One woman, who had earlier cut her wrists, attacked me in booking, and after being placed in a cell, stripped all her clothes off and defecated, smearing her feces all over the inside of the cell. My fault, of course.

This run of bad luck hadn’t gone unnoticed by the cops I worked with, and I ended up enduring many insults from my brother and sister officers both during Roll Call and in Booking. The big joke was telling me that I really knew how to treat a lady and asking if I was getting tired of getting beat up by young girls. Cops could be gracious and compassionate on the street, but with other cops they were merciless. 

So, after getting everyone’s attention about getting into Ben’s pants and sleeping with me, she goes on to talk about my “Woman’ Problems”. She goes on and on about how she’s heard about me be being beat up regularly by women, then she went on to tell a story about a night we were working together. 

She goes on to say that she was working with me and we went to a bar fight. Eve continued with her story while I sat there.

“So, when things quiet down, Marty and I see this woman who was shitfaced. She was really bad. She was kind of behaving herself up to that point, and Marty went up to her and started to talk to her and was really polite and everything an all of a sudden, before he could finish his sentence, WHACK. For no reason this broad punched Marty in the face. You should have seen the look on his face! (much laughter) 

“So guys, I’ve seen it first hand. Women hate Marty and I know it’s not his fault because I’ve seen women attack him for no reason!” She went on for months telling that story and the fact that I have to be careful because women love to beat me up on the street. 

My mother died in early 2001, and the night after she passed away, who shows up at my house, with Irish whisky and about 15 other cops. It was Eve, first one through the door. We drank all night. Sometime later, I walked in to the station and overheard a bunch of cops talking about me. I was foolishly hoping they were talking about how great a cop I was or telling a Swirko story. They were telling a Swirko story alright. This one cop, who was at the house the night after my Mom died was telling the other guys that he had never seen anyone drink as much as I did that night and at the end, I was still standing upright. I still don’t know if he was paying me a compliment or not. Regardless, the Swirko reputation, such as it was, was added to. 

Eve went on to become a department armorer and eventually was transferred to work on the range. 

In 2005, as many of you know, my brother and I (he was also a Manchester Cop) went to Iraq. Eve decided to take it upon herself to do these drives throughout the PD in order to collect food and other comfort items and put together these large care packages for my brother and I in Iraq. About six months before we got to Iraq, another Manchester cop went to Iraq. He was a great guy, and a Command Sergeant Major in the NH National Guard. He was in another part of Iraq, but our time in Iraq overlapped and we stayed in communication with each other during the time the three of us were there. Eve also sent care packages to him.

One day Frank and I picked up our care packages at a base in Iraq. The box was great, but curiously, each one contained a giant box of Cheerios cereal. I never saw such big boxes, and neither of us had ever stated a desire of need for cereal, never mind Cheerios. Frank and I both exchanged glances and wondered out loud why the hell she would be sending us Cheerios. We put the boxes aside and didn’t think much more about them. 

Eve had emailed us later and asked how we enjoyed our Cheerios. She then told us to make sure we ate our Cheerios, (wink-wink, which you really couldn’t do by email). So, we opened the cereal box and found several assorted nips of various liquors inside the box mixed in with the Cheerios!

Now, General Order Number one in our Theater of Operations was that possessing and drinking alcohol was forbidden. This was probably a good thing for me, and other troops, because if I were able to drink, I’m sure I would have got loaded each time I survived a mission. 

Frank and I never disciplined a soldier for possession of alcohol in Iraq, and there were times when I looked the other way. Therefore, none of us we felt like hypocrites when we eventually consumed and shared our good fortune with other team members. Yup, Eve was a good buddy and tried to take care of us even when we were so far away. 

Shortly after we returned from Iraq, I found my self working with the Sergeant Major. We talked about Eve, and the packages she sent us. He told me it was weird, but Eve had sent his a giant box of Cheerios. He told me he didn’t like cheerios, so he gave to box away to another soldier without opening it. When I told him what was in the box he gave away, he realized what a blunder he had made. We both laughed. 

Eventually, Eve left the department. She married another Manchester Cop and when he retired they moved to FLA. After a few years, her husband returned to Manchester to stay, but Eve wasn’t with him. I never heard from her or of her again. But I really enjoyed working with and knowing her.  

Car 12

Earlier during my career at MPD, we had a pretty simple system for call signs for various units on the radio. I personally thought the system was a bit too simple. However, it was certainly simple for a new cop to learn, especially an out of towner like me.

The walking route call signs were numbered one through nine, with the designator “ROUTE”. Each walking route, like patrol car routes had geographic boundaries within the city. So, if someone got stuck walking Route 4, west side of downtown on the midnight shift, their call sign would be “Route 4”.

As far as the patrol cars went, their call sign consisted of the designator “Car” followed by the number of the route that car was assigned to. So, if you found yourself pushing a patrol car that consisted mostly of Downtown Manchester, your call sign back then would simply be “Car 13’. For paperwork purposes, the Suffix A, B or C would be added to differentiate which shift Car 13 was actually working. So, Car 13A would be midnights, Car 13 B dayshift and so on. 

There was one overlapping patrol shift that ran from 6PM ending (usually) at 230 AM. This was, at the time, the busiest 8 hours in terms of calls for service, so it made sense to increase patrol strength for those hours. These cars had smaller routes they were responsible for. These “X”  routes overlapped the regular route cars. The designator (in this case a suffix) for these cars was X (as in X-ray) preceded by the number of their assigned, designated route, starting with 20X going up as high, as I can remember, 28X. 

Sergeants (regardless of their assignments whether they worked in patrol, or detectives were Zebra units, Lieutenants were Lincoln, Captain Charlie and so on. The call signs for other divisions were simply by name-for example Delta 17 (once my call sign) was a detective. JD 10 was a Juvenile Detective. Traffic 7 was a Traffic Unit. Finally, the wagon was referred to on the air simply as Wagon. 

This system became problematic for us at certain times. There were times when some pretty sophisticated criminal or criminals would use scanners while committing crimes, and even though they may have come from out of town, they only had to listen carefully for a short time to the scanner to determine the function for various units, where they were in the city at any given time, and what they were doing. 

An example would be the wagon. The wagon was a free roving patrol unit whose first responsibility was to transport prisoners after they were arrested. We’ve had several groups of criminals operate here over the years, and I recall one crew burglarizing pharmacies that were not open 24 hours throughout the city, and another crew that was robbing the jewelry departments of Service Merchandise Stores throughout New England. They hit both Service Merchandise stores in Manchester, and each haul was high dollar. Not like sticking up a Cumberland Farms Store. 

So, once the crew knew for example, that the wagon was tied up with a prisoner at one of the hospitals or had several pick ups to make, they could assume that it wouldn’t be rolling up on a silent alarm because they were in the area and decided to back up the assigned units. 

One often used tactic was selecting a target on a busy night, calling in a “shots fired call” on the telephone on the opposite side of the city, knowing that several patrol units would respond to that call. Keeping in mind that Manchester, geographically speaking, was a relatively small city (approximately 35 square miles or so) it was easy for route cars to head to the “hot call’ in a nearby part of the city, especially if the route cars in that section were tied up with calls and arrests. 

When this would happen, the criminals would strike and they felt that had a larger window to work within and didn’t have to fear a nearby vigilant patrol officer coming across them while committing their burglaries or robberies. Also, one member of the stick up team would listen to the scanner while the crime was actually being committed, and it was possible they could overhear some patrol unit being in the area.

As time went on, around the late 90’s, maybe 2000, the department decided to embrace the Community Oriented Policing Model, which I believed was developed during the Clinton administration. This required MPD to partially change it’s patrolling techniques. This included going to a “Sector” patrolling system, with each sector supervised by a single sergeant, and each car being free to roam anywhere within that sector to address problem spots. This then required MPD to change many of their call signs, which in turn made it a bit tougher for criminals to figure this stuff out as they listened. The sector system also gave individual patrol units the ability to study the problems within that geographic sector, and address these problems as a team being able to leave their route to team up with other patrol units and their sergeants within their sector to address problems. 

Problems that could be addressed ranged from noise complaints in areas after nightclubs let out, traffic problems including speeders, armed robberies and burglaries, right up through prostitution and drug problems in residential neighborhoods. 

Eventually, rather recently, MPD went to a system where no outsiders could listen in. This angered many civilians and local politicians, those arguing that open police radio frequencies led to transparency, However after learning from various gang members during debriefings that they regularly listened in and followed and tracked the police around as they did their job in this city while the gangs themselves operated around town, the Chief went out, purchased and implemented a radio system where all transmissions were coded, and civilians could not listen in even if they had the frequencies. 

All of this leads in a very round about manner to the topic of today’s story which happened to me in the early days one night when I was assigned Car 12.

The old car 12 covered the area of the city that most residents referred to as the North End. A large swath of the North End consists of pretty wealthy residential neighborhoods. Beautiful homes, manicured lawns, inground swimming pools, wonderful tree lined streets. We didn’t get many calls from those neighborhoods. People there generally worked during the day, slept at night and paid their taxes. The biggest crime problem they had there were residential burglaries, and in as much as those neighborhoods were not too far from some of the problem areas of the city, burglaries were a real problem there. There were several years when the per capita residential burglary rate in Manchester was higher than that of the City of Boston, even though we were about 1/5 of its size in terms of population. Manchester was no sleepy bedroom community by any stretch. However, most of those burglaries occurred during day shift, when the occupants were away at work or wherever, and the homes unoccupied. We didn’t have very many home invasions or other types of violent crimes up there on Car 12’s route. Made most midnights rather uneventful. 

Now all that being said, there were a few trouble spots on that route. And when I say trouble, I’m really referring to some locations that were a real pain in the ass for working cops who wanted to spend their time chasing bad guys. 

One was a group home for teenage girls. During 4-12 shifts in particular, the calls from this facility which housed troubled young ladies seemingly never stopped. The calls were for runaways, fights, girls cutting their wrists or locking themselves into a bathroom or somewhere else and refusing to come out. Upon arrival after being sent to one of these crisis I would always be greeted by out of breath and upset staff members and young  ladies screaming, running around refusing to go to their rooms because they were so upset and triggered by the behavior of the one subject that was causing whatever the problem was. 

The beleaguered and underpaid staff members would careen around the facility trying to round up groups of girls and getting them into their rooms where they would be confined until the underlying crisis had been resolved. I would stand by, try to insure none of the staff members, or residents would be harmed, and only then, could we then try to solve whatever the underlying calamity might be. Arrest was sometimes required, but in as much as most of the girls were so seriously emotionally disturbed, arrest was only a last option and then only to insure the safety of the staff and other residents. 

I never got much professional satisfaction out of responding to these situations. I never felt good kicking in the bathroom door where a 14 year old girl had barricaded herself . Nor having to manhandle a teenager who had just sliced her wrists and was waving a razor and threatening staff members. Or just forcibly handcuffing a combatant 16 year old because of her assaultive behavior. And you can take my word on one thing. An emotional out of control 15 year old can do some harm, and they often tried as I attempted to quell whatever the disturbance was. These calls never stopped coming, and they all required a ton of paperwork. 

Making regular assignment to Car 12 even less appealing, was that the State of New Hampshire had its main juvenile confinement facility located within the boundary of Car 12. That place contained, among many troubled juveniles from all over New England, murderers, rapists, robbers drug dealers and violent gang members. Not everyone confined there was a hard core criminal, but they were all under 18. 

One hot summer evening while assigned to Car 12, I was sent to the facility for a suicide. I arrived just in time as the staff cut down a 15 old girl who had hung herself. She was DOA, and all I could do was stand by, take notes and secure the scene for a death investigation that was to follow while paramedics and firefighters worked in vain to revive this poor kid. 

As I looked at her face, I tried to imagine how much mental anguish this 15 year old had suffered to cause herself to actually take a belt and hang herself. I thought of my own daughter who was almost the same age. I thought about her family, who within a very short period of time would be receiving the devastating and life changing news about their daughter’s sudden and unnatural death. I had gone to enough suicide calls and know how loved ones would always blame themselves in the end, and carry that burden with them for the remainder of their lives. I was never able to console the loved one of a person who killed themselves. Responding to those calls required the officer to be sympathetic with the relatives, while at the same time conducting a serious “No Shit” death investigation. It was a tightrope that was very difficult to negotiate, unless you became completely numb and indifferent to this kind of human suffering. But, we are not unemotional robots. 

It was about 90 degrees outside that day. Her “room” was sparsely furnished and contained a bed and small desk. She and the others confined to this building were locked into their bedrooms sometime in the evening and were not allowed out until morning. If they had to go to the bathroom during the night, they had to get the attention of a staff member who would then let them out of their room for that brief period of time. When they were done, they were again locked within this tiny space. 

I remember how hot it was inside this small cell (that’s really what it was) and it was probably 10 degrees or more higher inside. I don’t know what this young lady did which caused a judge to confine her to this facility, but I couldn’t imagine being locked in that small room all night in the summer heat. I had to do my job, but I couldn’t wait to get out of there and back into the summer heat to cool off and catch my breath. 

For the cop assigned to Car 12, it was an endless set of calls for ‘walk aways’, yes most escapees from that facility escaped by literally walking away. I would be sent, I’d have to do a missing juvenile report as well as an escape from custody. Inevitably, I would have to assist and support the staff in their dragnet of the surrounding residential areas looking for these kids, usually in vain. To be blunt, just about every one of those escapee calls was a major pain in the ass. 

Finally, the VA Hospital was located on Car 12’s route. This resulted in an ongoing stream of calls backing up the VA police trying to quell violent veterans and patients. Psych patients, drug seekers, drunks and some veterans just tired of getting the classic VA run around. One evening I got a pretty good beating from a veteran while he was sitting in a wheel chair!

So, finally one day in late April, I received mixed news. The good news was that I was getting  regular or steady car for four months. A steady car, to me, was one of the best assignments that could be had in patrol. The bad news, yeah, you guessed it, the steady car was Car 12 on the 3:30-midnight shift. When I was done, with that 4 months, I had hoped I would never be assigned to that car again. And it wasn’t because I was lazy. It was because of all what I thought was labor intensive BS. Mountains of arduous paperwork day in and day out which seemed to me did nothing that really contributed to the quality of life in the city for which I worked. It also, unfortunately wasn’t the last time I pushed that car. 

One midnight shift in particular, I reported to roll call, and as usual I was hopeful I would be assigned to a busy car. I especially liked busy cars on midnights because being occupied made those early morning hours go by much faster than quiet midnights shifts which sometimes seemed to never end. And on midnights, although often not as busy as 4-12, the crimes and incidents that occurred overnight were often pretty serious in nature. 

My hopes for the night were dashed as the sergeant read the assignments. His voice droned on, sounding as though he had no energy and no desire to be anywhere near the station house. As he went down the list, I barely heard him say “Swirko, Car 12” I didn’t pay any further attention. I remember thinking to myself ‘well, this is going to be a long, sucky night’. I grabbed the daily bulletin listing notable crimes by route for the last 24 hrs. and a final copy of the roster so I could see who was working the cars near by. I trudged down to the ramp, only looking forward to a hot cup of Joe to start what I was sure would be a long uneventful shift. It was now midnight, and I knew it would be dark at least until 7AM. 

I remember it was rather cold this particular night, and after checking and signing out my cruiser I headed to the North End of Manchester. I Stopped on the way and grabbed my coffee, and after drinking most of it, then started the seemingly never ending drive in circles and squares, up and down, over and across, doubling back around closed businesses hoping to catch someone up to some chicanery in the shadows. Never happen. Certainly not that night.

The night dragged on. 1AM slowly dragged into 2AM. No one was on the street. Too cold, I disgustedly thought to myself. The silence of my radio was broken slowly but steadily with calls in other parts of the city. I listened to all of them, waiting to see how they played out, but none of them were anywhere near the boundaries of my route. I wasn’t even close enough to go to a neighboring route to back up another unit on a call or even traffic stop. I just continued to drive and burn gasoline. No one was out, and almost every home was in darkness. 

I silently rolled through the quiet residential neighborhoods on my route. Mostly, almost exclusively  well maintained single family dwellings. Nearly all the homes were in darkness. Some may have had a hall light or nightlight on, and once in a while I’d see the soft flicker of grayish light from a television which was turned on.

I was more than a bit jealous. As I slowly cruised through these peaceful enclaves, it was cold as hell outside and I wished I was like those people, at home, curled up, warm and safe inside while the wind blew on this cold winter overnight. 

There is a winter parking ban on the streets in Manchester between November and April. During those months, you can only park on one side of the street or the other, on alternate nights. Now back then the City relied on the revenue it received from these overnight parking tickets that the cops would write on the midnight shift. Cops, generally speaking, absolutely hate to write parking tickets. Don’t get me wrong, if I had to write a ticket for a blatant parking violation, no problem. Same when a parking complaint by a citizen was made. But generally, most of the cops I worked with did not like writing these “overnight parkers” which is what tickets for parking in violation of the winter ban were known as. 

The way most of us looked at it was this as just another way to screw the working / tax paying public. Most of us wouldn’t write overnight parkers until 2 AM but before 4 AM, the thought being, it would give people a chance to get their cars parked legally, and we wouldn’t be bothering people who had their cars out front because they were going to work early. The last thing anyone wanted to find on their car at 5 or 6 in the morning as they drag themselves outside to face another day at work was a $25 parking ticket on their car. 

City Hall kept on the Chief, and the Chief kept on the Captains who kept on the Sergeants who made the patrol cops miserable each night to write overnight parkers. The issue at times got so contentious that even the patrolman’s union got involved. The way I dealt with this steady pressure from above was that each night I selected a single street within my route, I’d go to it when the calls slowed down and I’d write which ever cars were parked illegally. That might have meant between 3 and 10 tickets a night. Assuming I wasn’t tied up all night on calls or arrests. After tagging cars on that street, I tried not to go back to the same street more than once to write tickets during the winter, unless I had a complaint. Then everyone parked illegally on the street would get tagged. Can’t just tag one car. Had to tag them all. This approach would usually keep my supervisors happy, which was one of  my main goals. Happy Sergeant, Happy Work.

Just to demonstrate how anal this overnight parking issue could become, one midnight shift I was assigned a car on the west side. The sergeant told me that under no circumstances would I be sent to a call, nor would I back up any cops on their calls. (yeah, that might happen I thought to myself. I’ll take the suspension first!) My only purpose was to write parking tickets. Communications was ordered not to call me. I could have been murdered an hour into my shift and no one would know it unless they decided to look for the car I was driving! 

It got so bad, the sergeant was out looking for tickets, and instead of writing them when he found one, he’d call me on the air and make me come over and write the ticket under his watchful eye. At one point I reminded the sergeant that although he was my boss that night, he was still a cop and suggested he write a few of these tickets himself. That certainly didn’t endear me to him, and I paid for it the rest of the shift. 

On this particular night on Car 12, I was bored out of my mind. At about 230AM, after all the bars around town were empty and closed, and only the night crawlers and unfortunates who worked this shift were even awake, I decided it was time to write some overnight parkers and make my sergeant happy. I found myself on some randomly selected residential street, and I noted that there was a few cars parked on the right side of the street, which was the wrong side that night.

So, I glided to a stop next to a car parked illegally on my right. I then placed my cruiser in reverse and backed up enough so that I could clearly read the rear plate of the car. I ran the plate to make sure it wasn’t stolen (this often drove the dispatchers crazy, but I always did that when I wrote a parking ticket because nothing was more embarrassing then recovering a stolen car that had a weeks worth of parking tickets on the windshield, especially if any of those tickets were written by me). I stretched, scratched, burped and slowly wrote out my first ticket of the night. 

I completed the ticket, tore it out of my ticket book, paused a moment, stretched again, yawned then reluctantly climbed out of my car into the cold biting wind. I slowly ambled to the front of the car, placed the ticket under a windshield wiper to insure it didn’t blow away and that the owner would see it. After doing my duty and affixing the ticket to the windshield, I stretched again, this time reaching my arms up to the sky as far as I could and yawned again. I turned and headed back to the warmth and safety of my cruiser. 

Imagine my surprise when I turned and found my cruiser was gone! I’m not a skilled enough writer to be able to describe the combination of shock, alarm and panic that overtook me when I turned. What I saw next was even worse. Apparently after I stopped the car I kept my foot on the brake, but never put the car into park! I’ve come to believe that, as foolish as that mistake was, nothing was impossible when you live the nocturnal existence that was working midnights. 

The cruiser was slowly rolling down the street backwards. The driver’s door was open, (I had left its open when I exited the car) and it was slowly listing to its left, heading steadily towards the curb and beyond. The possibilities were endless. Even if it rolled between two of the many telephone poles on the tree lined street, it would surly knock down one of the fences and roll onto someones nicely manicured front lawn, and maybe even beyond. My heart was in my throat!

I decided to give chase. I caught up with, and then found myself jogging along side my cruiser, next to and behind the open door. I had to think quick. It would only be a matter of seconds before the car would go crashing through someones fence and possibly into or against a house, or who knows, it could have ended up in someones unground pool!. I sped up enough so that I ran around the open door and found myself running immediately next to the drivers seat. The open door was now behind me, and if I slowed down, I’m sure the car would have continued on and I would have been knocked on my face by the door as it passed over me. 

The car continued backwards, and was closing in on the sidewalk rapidly. (I learned later from a mechanic that the reason the car kept rolling without anyone stepping on the gas was due to the fact that the cruiser had a fuel injection system). 

As the car drifted towards the curb and trees I decided to act, mostly out of desperation. I dove head first into the rolling vehicle, which appeared to me was actually picking up speed. I had to move quick, otherwise I would have been clobbered by the open door which was keeping up behind me and only an inch or two away. 

I came to rest on the front seat. I had no time to sit up or reposition myself. Nearly in hysteria, I took my left (thinking back on it, it had to be my left foot) and started to slam my foot down trying to hit the brake pedal. I flailed at it with my foot while laying half on my face, half on my side across the length of the seat. I have no recollection how many times I stomped at that pedal with my foot. Thankfully, I didn’t inadvertently hit the gas! All I know for sure was that I was able to step on the brake hard enough to stop the car! I couldn’t believe it. I was shaking, and the sweat was rolling down my forehead and face. What a sight it must have been for anyone who would have seen it.

I was able to keep the car stopped while I struggle to sit up and place the car in park. The rear of the car just missed a tree and was probably a foot away from crashing through a wooden rail fence. I slowly got out of the car and assessed the situation. “Thank you Lord” was all that could say. I looked around as I tried to compose myself. I was immediately thankful that I was in such a quiet neighborhood. No lights on. Street was deserted. I could only imagine what the sight of me chasing down my cruiser and diving into it must have looked like. I would never have lived it down. 

I sat down for a minute and tried to regain my composure. I decided to act as though nothing had happened just incase someone peeped out of a window or walk from around the corner. My hands still shook, and I knew I was one lucky SOB. Had the car hit anything or caused any damage, there was no way I could write a report about what happened and not come out looking like an incompetent, careless birdbrain, in any order, choose one. I know it wouldn’t have done my young career much good. I would have been walking an overnight beat out in East Manchester around East Industrial Park Drive for the rest of the winter (the usual threat for cops who ran afoul of their shift commander) and after my penance had been served, I would have been stuck on the front counter forever. 

After a short time, I stopped shaking, took a good look around to see if anyone had seen this ridiculous episode play out. Seeing no one, I took a deep breath and then tried to act like nothing had happened, doing my best Leslie Neilson / Lieutenant Drebben / Police Squad imitation. ’Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.’ 

I left the neighborhood, went to the nearest open Dunkin Donuts. I got a coffee, then drove to some quiet spot where I was able to back into but still be visible enough to the public (and bosses) so it didn’t appear I was hiding out or napping. There would no napping for me that night. I felt as though I was a halfwit. Only a lamebrain would allow such a thing to happen. But I also felt very lucky. I wasn’t the only one lucky that night. As it turned out, that ticket I wrote was the only ticket I wrote during that shift. Everyone else on that street that was parked illegally lucked out as well. I sat back behind the steering wheel, locked my doors, but before I cracked the lid on the coffee cup to take my first sip, I made damned sure I placed the car into PARK. 

At the end of my shift, I found my day shift relief waiting for me on the ramp. As I vacated the cruiser, taking my briefcase, jacket and other belongings out, the day guy started throwing his stuff in, he asked me how my night was. I told him- “You know. Same old shit. Nothing worth talking about”. I was trying to act like a salty old cop. I only lied a little bit.  

Iraq-The Year Grinds On 2

When I first arrived at Rustamiyah, I was assigned to the 3rd BN Team, but the Team Leader, at the time, a major, made it clear to me upon arrival and during our first several missions that because I was a reservist (Guardsman) he really didn’t have any faith in me. He constantly criticized me, and he did so in front of the other troops on our team, many of whom were junior in rank to me. I think this set a very bad tone for me when later, I became the NCOIC of this team. Additionally, I really was made to feel like an outsider, and if that major had any regard for me what so ever, he certainly didn’t show it. I understood this was my first combat assignment but…That major retired before we lost LTC James, MSG Tuliau and SFC Howe. When he went left, I never heard from him again. 

The Executive Officer (XO) on that team was an infantry captain named Osvaldo Baez. I believe he was a reservist that had been called to active duty sometime before this unit deployed to Iraq. Turns out the XO had been living in Derry NH at the time he was called up. We talked a bit as we got to know each other. He said he couldn’t wait for the time when he could go to the Back Room, a great restaurant in Manchester that we both frequented, and enjoy one of their Mudslides. This was a place that we both knew back home and had in common. We agreed to meet there sometime after we returned home, and fortunately, we both survived and kept that commitment.  

After the major from the 3rd battalion team left, Major Benjamin Cureton became the new team chief. I would develop the utmost respect for both Major Cureton and Captain Baez, as soldiers, officers and men as the year went on. First and foremost, they both led by example, never asking us to do anything that they didn’t do each and every day. Captain Baez, in particular turned out to be one tough son of a gun. 

After we got hit and I was assigned as NCOIC for Major Cureton’s team, dealing with Major Cureton on a day by day basis was a pretty good experience. The combat or operational tempo continued at a high level. Each mission would begin with a meeting between myself, the XO and Major Cureton. The major would pass on to us the new warning order for the next mission. During those meetings we would review the order, and I paid especially close attention to the maneuver and support paragraphs. I would share my thoughts with the TL and XO and I gave Major Cureton my opinions and advice. By this time I had been with the team for a couple of months, so I had compiled some significant combat experience as we all learned many hard lessons. It would not be overly dramatic to say here that many of those lessons were learned through the loss of blood and lives.

To the credit of Major Cureton, he always listened to and considered any concerns or advice I always offered. Sometimes he followed my recommendations, sometimes he didn’t. When he did not agree, he usually explained his reasoning to me. Other times the final operations order didn’t allow us to deviate from the initial warning order. One thing the major often said was that the enemy may get us in the end, but in order to do that he will have to guess correctly about our scheme of maneuver (our route and other precautions) in order to get us. We tried to mix it up and be as unpredictable as possible, ultimately making it tough for the enemy to set up a deadly ambush for us.     

As XO and NCOIC, Baez and I shared similar lanes and responsibilities. Often during the planning process (Known as the Troop Leading Procedures which the leaders put in place once a unit receives a Warning order for a specific mission) our lanes and responsibilities often crossed. Eventually, most logistical and personnel issues which included the who, if anyone, was left behind on a given mission and the manning of our three gun trucks, fell to me. 

The XO and I often disagreed about personnel decisions I made (I always felt I had sensible reasons for those decisions) but there were just certain things that the XO and I didn’t agree on philosophically. I felt that the Army was paying me to make those decisions so that the Major could do his job. 

The differences never came between the XO and I, but there were times when the XO and I just couldn’t agree, so those differences would be brought to Major Cureton for a final decision. It was rare that we brought these problems to the TL. One reason for that was that I always believed that problems and disagreements should be solved at the lowest command level possible. After bringing one of these matters to the TL, he would think about it, and I found that at times the major deferred to me, much to the dismay, I imagine, of the XO. Usually I found that the TL would back me up if the area of disagreement fell within the well defined areas of my responsibilities. Major Cureton did not micromanage. I do not believe the XO ever held those things against me. After receiving final guidance from the TL, we both just continued to march like the good soldiers that we were to plan and execute the mission. 

As time went on and the area we operated within became more deadly, and US and Iraqi losses climbed. One of my biggest daily decisions was regarding who went out on each mission and who stayed back. This was a responsibility that weighed heavily with me. On my team we had a rotation whereby we often left one man back on the FOB to take care of whatever paperwork or logistical concerns there were. In reality, that day would be mostly a day off and it would be one day where that person probably wouldn’t get killed. 

During the first weeks and months of the teams deployment, we did not have an assigned medic. Eventually, Doc Gordy was sent and assigned to us. When he rotated home, Doc Spradley replaced him and stayed with us for the rest of the way. I wanted to give my medic a regular day off within the established rotation. I received a lot of pushback on that from both the XO and several members of the team. They felt we should have our medic with us at all times when we left the wire. What good is having a medic if on any day we take casualties and he’s back on the FOB?

They were not wrong, of course. And certainly, when we went out of raids and other offensive operations when we were looking to make contact with the enemy, those missions would be all hands on deck operations. Nobody stayed back. However, there were several practical ( I think) reasons why I disagreed. The biggest one was I did not want our medic to get burned out day after day while other members of the team occasionally got to stay back on the FOB. Secondly, as I patiently tried to explain one day to our medic, I felt I owed it to his family to get him a day off once in a while, a day where his chance of getting killed was lessened. 

Nevertheless,  the people I got the most push back from on this issue were the two medics themselves. I dug in my heels on the issue, but each of them, when it came time to take a day off refused to do so if the team was going out. When I ordered  Gordy or Spradley to stay back (they were both E-4s at the time) they angrily told me that they were responsible for my team’s wellbeing, and “their people” were not going outside the wire without them. 

So, there were days when, much to the chagrin of some of the team members, I ordered the medic to stay back. An argument bordering on insubordination with the affected medic always followed. Some days I didn’t feel like having the same argument and I gave in. Other days, I made them stay back. But in any case, I admired Doc Gordy and Doc Spradley for their commitment. Both functioned as riflemen during each mission. This wasn’t false bravado. It took courage for everyone to go outside the wire day in and day out, literally not knowing if that day was going to be your last. So, I tried to look out for them, even when they didn’t want me to. I felt it was wrong to penalize them because they were the team’s medic. 

Throughout the year, I would try to convince Major Cureton to take a day and stay back on the FOB, but he would have none of it. Another one. I figured I owed it to him, and his family, for that matter that he get an occasional day to stand down. I always told him that the XO and I could handle any mission we got, but the major just flat out refused to take a day off. If his team was going out, he was going with it. That was it. He never did take a day off that I can recall during the time he led our team. 

My other problem with the XO early on was that he had a kind of “hands on” type of leadership style which I though led to some micromanagement on his part. Early on, I don’t think he trusted me, and often checked up on me to make sure I had completed my assigned tasks. I tried to explain to the XO that I was taking care of business and he should not worry about me and turn his attention to assisting the team leader (TL) in the day to day operation of the team. 

Please don’t misunderstand me, the XO and I got along well enough, but it took a while before he got comfortable enough with me to just let me take care of business. We both knew what needed to get done each and every day. After a time, the XO and I learned to work closely together, trusted each other and started to talk and confide personal concerns and information between us. It didn’t take long, and despite the fact that he was a captain and I was a Master Sergeant, he began to treat me as an equal. I don’t think I am overstating by saying that we developed a great command relationship based entirely on respect and trust for each other.

As time went on, and more American troops were getting killed and maimed by IEDs and EFPs, I drove my vehicle more and more often, eventually almost exclusively because I didn’t trust anyone else to drive. I know this type of attitude contradicts common philosophy regarding military leadership, but that’s the way I felt. I also thought that the soldiers that rode with me were safer when I drove. Maybe I was wrong about that, but that’s how I felt. 

The XO, he became the gunner on my truck by choice. He got to choose. However, the truck was mine, I was the TC (Truck Commander) but every so often the XO would tell people he was the TC. I never corrected him, but the reality was, even though he out ranked me, it was my truck and I was the TC. I was also responsible for the other two trucks that belonged to my team. 

Normally, the TC sits in the front passenger seat, operates the comms etc. But there was very little that was normal or conventional about the mission we were on. Baez sat up high in that turret often needlessly, I believed, exposing himself to enemy fire. I often tried to coax him to lower himself down into the turret, especially in area where there were snipers, but as time went on, I discovered that this was the way Captain Baez led and fought. Up front and center. I went on to believe that this was not only characteristic of Baez’ idea of leadership, but it was also a way to cope with the fears we all had day to day, sometimes minute to minute. I think it was a way for Baez to overcompensate and to make sure he was able to appear fearless at all times. 

There were times when I offered to man the gun and let the XO drive, but he always declined by telling me that he thought as driver, I had the most dangerous position because during ambushes the enemy always tried to kill the driver in order to disable the vehicle. There was a bit of truth to that, however, the XO took up the most dangerous and exposed position during most combat patrols. I think he just said that to make me feel good. 

In the end, after we got home, the XO and I did meet for a Mudslide at the Backroom in Manchester, and I invited my two sons along. Captain Baez told my sons, in my presence, that their father was a courageous and outstanding soldier. I was a bit embarrassed, and he certainly overstated my performance and courage for sure, but at the same time I was as proud as could be when the captain sang my praises to both of my sons, who are pretty courageous guys themselves. My son, a parole officer has been stabbed on the job and battles along with  the local police to retain control of the streets in this community and maintain control over convicted violent felons. My other son, a firefighter, has earned the Medal of Valor from the State of NH. This is the states highest award for bravery. Not to mention my daughter, who was an international Roller Derby star for many years. No shrinking violets among my kids! It was really nice of the XO to say those nice things about me. Honestly, I thought he was talking about someone else. Deep down inside, I know I had many flaws as a leader, and my team deserved someone better than me. But, due to a series of unfortunate incidents, they ended up with me as their NCOIC.  

Some time after we got home, my brother and I made a trip to Ft. Bragg, where we were able to locate Major Cureton. The major was then a Lieutenant Colonel and the XO of a Cavalry Regiment in the 82nd Airborne. He was getting ready to go back to Iraq. The Major told me that he appreciated all I had done for him, and that I did my job in a way that allowed him to do his job as Team Leader. He told me I was dependable and he was lucky to have me as team NCOIC. I considered that high praise indeed. I feel good about that to this day. It helps assuage my anxieties when I think back, which I do all too often, and come to the conclusion I was a very flawed leader. 

When I first arrived at Rustamiyah, one of the first missions I was assigned was to locate three Landing Zones within our Brigade’s combat space. We scouted out the area and did as ordered. The purpose for this exercise was that in the case that we suffered casualties, Medivac helicopters could use these LZs to land and evacuate casualties to the closest appropriate life saving facility. We went out, selected what we thought were good defendable LZs where we could land either Blackhawks or Chinooks. I recorded the eight digit grid coordinates, marked them on our maps and forwarded the information to the appropriate commands. 

Despite that preparation, there was never a combat mission that we undertook in which we received helicopter medical support. The Major would read the final operations order to the entire team immediately before setting out on a mission. The standard operations order contained a paragraph addressing support for that particular operation. Every OPORDER always said we were not to be supported by air medical resources. Any casualties we suffered were to be evacuated by ground to the closest aid station. 

When we lost LTC James, and Sergeants Tuliau and Howe, there was no Air Evacuation available for them. When a unit from the 3/7 Cavalry arrived at the scene, LTC James, after being treated by our medic at the scene, was loaded into the back of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and brought to our Battalion Aid Station, which did not have either an MD or a surgeon. 

The Colonel was given some basic life saving type treatment there, and then eventually a Medivac arrived at Rustamiyah. Colonel James was then flown to the nearest Combat Army Surgical Hospital. We all know that the Colonel made it to the States but died of his wounds shortly after arrival. I was later told that the Colonel had gone into some type of distress during the flight itself. 

He was still alive when he arrived at the CASH. However, I cannot discount the possibility that had he been picked up by a Medivac helicopter with flight medics and flown directly to the CASH from the site of the ambush, he may have stood a better chance of survival. I know this is a serious claim for me to make, but I cannot discount that possibility. Certainly the medic who treated him at the scene saved his life and bought him a chance to survive. That medic Doc  Martinez, would be awarded a Bronze Star for Valor for his actions that day. But the delay with the ground evac and stop at the Battalion Aid Station may have sealed Colonel James fate. Sadly, LTC James died shortly after arriving at Walter Reed in Washington DC. 

Back to the days, weeks and months following the loss of James, Tuliau and Howe. The combat missions continued daily, some as short as four hours some as long as five days. We were TACON or OPCON (Under tactical or operational control) to 3rd of the 7th Cavalry (Garry Owen!) 3rd Infantry Division during that time. They were able to task us with combat missions daily, but refused to support us either logistically, medically or personnel wise. They said because we were TACON or OPCON they were not required to support us. I had taught at various Army leadership schools, but that concept was one that I had never heard of before arriving in Iraq.

Later in the tour, when the 4th (IVY, their official nick name, a play on words since the number four in Roman Numerals was IV) Infantry Division arrived in Iraq replacing the 3rd ID, they were tasked to give us air support. I always thought that was kind of strange because at that time we were TACON to the 506 RCT of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division. 

However, once again, the 4th ID refused to medically support us with Medivacs. This was contrary to everything I had been told and learned during my army career. We were always told that if wounded, Medivac helicopters and their courageous crews would brave any fire or hostility to pick up and save even the lowest ranking soldier. Certainly the Medivac crews in the US Army were brave enough to do so. But, at least for us, it wasn’t to be.  

Sometime after returning home, the Master Sergeant who replaced me in Iraq sent me a memo and information he found regarding Medivacs. His team was hit shortly after they replaced us, and once again, no air medical evacuation was available for his casualties. 

The information he sent me was regarding an order that came down from the Division HQ of the 4th Infantry Division. The order simply stated that no air medical rescue helicopter would land anywhere other than a fully secure base. The order stated that the Army will not risk losing a Blackhawk and its crew in order to rescue wounded and dead personnel in a hostile location. This was certainly an eye opener for me and had contradicted everything I’d been taught during my time in the Army.  

The mission continued. On the day of our first memorial service on the FOB, which was for Tulsa Tuliau and Casey Howe, a high ranking general came to the FOB and decided to have lunch with us. There was a separate room at the dining facility and the general sat with us and ate. I noted that his Personal Security Detail was made up of people who I believe were civilians. What I remember about them was that they refused to acknowledge any of us, and they stood guard over us to protect the general, apparently, not only from the enemy, but from us! I don’t know what their background was, but it appeared to me that not only did they not trust us, but I got the impression they felt as though they were too good to mix or even talk with common soldiers and dog faces like us. That was my impression.

We sat around the table while the general made some small talk. I appreciated the fact that the general took the time to eat with us. We were certainly at a low point morale-wise, maybe the lowest point during the entire deployment. We were still grieving the loss of our own. At one point the general asked us straight out if we felt we were winning or losing the war. He said he wanted to get a feel for it from troops who were actually fighting the war everyday, like us. 

The straight forward question surprised me. It probably caught everyone else at the table off guard as well. An uncomfortable silence descended upon us. As I looked around, I could see most people at the table looked down onto their plates and didn’t respond. I can understand this. Being Senior NCOs and Company and Field Grade Officers, the wrong answer to a question such as this to a high ranking officer could become a career retarder or even career ender. 

The US Army is many things, but it is not an open democracy in which you could always express your personal and political opinions freely, certainly not when in uniform. The concept of Group Think was very well established in the Army, certainly during my time in Iraq and the years that followed. This dynamic can have a chilling effect on the Army’s own leadership philosophy that leaders think outside of the proverbial box, and provide candid feedback to their superiors.   

For whatever it’s worth, I do believe the general was earnest in his question, and he did want to know how we felt about the subject. Finally, one of the Regular Army E-7s that was on my team spoke up. He told the general point blank that we were losing the war out here, and gave a few reasons why he felt that way.

Now I must say that although there was much I disagreed about how we were fighting the war where I was, I never got the feeling we were losing. And, I feel that way to this day. But, apparently not everyone I was with felt the same way. What was notable to me, was not only that the sergeant answered the question in a candid way, but the reaction it caused. 

Present at the lunch, I believe, was our new brigade commander, LTC Kucksdorf, who replaced LTC James, and the next higher commander, who was, at the time the commander of our Iraqi POB Division US advisors. In other words, he was Colonel James and now Colonel Kucksdorf’s immediate superior. He went on to become a general officer at one point after his time in Iraq. I won’t name him here because I had a strong dislike for him and his leadership style and I do not want to embarrass him, so I’ll leave it at that.   

This colonel (not Kucksdorf) immediately interrupted the sergeant, dismissing the points that the sergeant started to list when answering the general’s question. The Colonel started to list all the reasons why he felt that we, especially he, was winning the war. I could understand his reply if I felt there was a speck of accuracy in what the colonel’s evaluation was, but alas, I felt the statement was totally self-serving on the part of the colonel and meant to curry favor on himself from the general. 

After the colonel shut down the sergeant and that conversation, he had the gall to point to my brother and I, and tell the general that Frank and I were brothers and we were serving here together. He presented it in such a way that I thought he was bragging about it as though he was proud of it and he had something to do with it. The thing that bothered me about his bringing it up was that the entire time I was in Iraq, the man never spoke to or acknowledged either one of us. I always thought it was because we were reservists. I thought it was self serving and his motivations for talking about us were opportunistic at best. In any case, at no time did that colonel ever express to me or anyone else any indication that he gave a damn about either of us. We were only a step on his stairway to attain his general’s star. That’s how I felt. 

One other notable event occurred during that lunch. Some of us had ice cream for dessert. My brother, who was a E-7 at the time, a senior NCO was one of those soldiers. After leaving the dining facility, we encountered a Master Sergeant (E-8 in the Army) standing in the door way with our Command Sergeant Major (CSM). These NCOs were from our next level higher up chain of command. I believe the Master Sergeant was a medic. The Master Sergeant was smoking. As we walked out, the Master Sergeant says to my brother (who was not overweight, not that it really mattered in an administrative sense in Iraq) that he noticed him eating ice cream for dessert, and chastised him for doing so because it wasn’t a healthy choice and yada, yada.yada. We had people getting vaporized around us on a daily basis and we were going to worry about treating ourselves to a dish of ice cream. He did this while in the presence of the CSM. Frank and I both recognized the intent of this comment, and it was meant to embarrass Frank in front of the CSM and make himself look good. 

Now my brother was a guy who was able to think on his feet. This ability allowed him to survive for many years as an undercover operative who infiltrated many organized crime, vice and narcotics operations over the years and survive. 

Frank (today a CSM himself) immediately confronted this Master Sergeant who outranked him, and told him that he had a lot of nerve questioning him about his ice cream while he himself was sucking on a cigarette. Talk about healthy choices. He also warned the Master Sergeant to never, ever try to embarrass him in front of another solder again. The Master Sergeant had no response. He knew Frank was correct, and Frank had called him out for it in front of the CSM, who said nothing.

Amid that kind of chickenshit chicanery, after the tragic loss of our soldiers, the mission, for those of us left, and those who would join us as the year went on, continued. We didn’t know it at the time, but in many ways things were going to get worse.   

Turning Blue

That was the Place. At Harmony Church, Ft. Benning GA. 1981

NOTE: EACH BRANCH OF THE US ARMY HAS IT’S OWN DESIGNATED COLOR AND INSIGNIA. THE INFANTRY BRANCH, WHICH IS THE OLDEST BRANCH OF THE ARMY, IS IDENTIFIED BY A LIGHT BLUE ROPE WORN ON THE RIGHT SHOULDER OF THE DRESS UNIFORM OF ANY SOLDER WHO IS A QUALIFIED, SCHOOL TRAINED INFANTRYMAN, WHILE SERVING IN AN INFANTRY UNIT. THE INFANTRYMAN ALSO WEARS AN INFANTRY BLUE DISK BACKING TO HIS COLLAR AND HAT BRASS WHICH IS REFERRED TO AS DISTINCTIVE INFANTRY INSIGNIA .THE ARMY WISHES TO IDENTIFY INFANTRYMEN FROM OTHER SOLDIERS DUE TO ITS MISSION, WHICH IS SIMPLY TO CLOSE WITH AND DESTROY THE ENEMY, AND THE UNIQUE HARDSHIPS AND HAZARDS THAT THE COMBAT INFANTRYMAN MUST ENDURE IN ORDER TO ACCOMPLISH ITS MISSION. THE INFANTRY IS CALLED THE QUEEN OF BATTLE, REFERRING TO THE PIECE OF THE CHESS SET, THE ONE PIECE THAT CAN MOVE OR STRIKE IN ANY DIRECTION, AT ANY DISTANCE, THEREFORE THE MOST LETHAL WEAPON ON THE CHESS BOARD. INFANTRYMEN OFTEN REFER TO THEMSELVES AND EACH OTHER AS BROTHERS OF THE BLUE CORD, OR OFTEN, JUST SIMPLY BLUE, AS IN INFANTRY BLUE. WHAT FOLLOWS IS MY SHORT STORY ABOUT MY TIME   ATTENDING BASIC AND INFANTRY TRAINING AT FT. BENNING GA. IT IS TRUE, AND THE NAMES ARE REAL. Ft. Benning, Ga. Early August 1981. 

Hot, Hot, Hot. Tough week. Tougher than most weeks, all of which were tough for me. Very little sleep. Drills crawling all over and around us, around the clock. We are exhausted. When the hell do they sleep? Bravo Company is humping down the road from one training site to another. On the left, a river. Perhaps the Chattahoochee? Don’t know if we are in Georgia or Alabama. Doesn’t really matter. Miserable as an infantryman can be. No one could possibly know just how miserable and painful that can be unless you humped a full combat load from point A to point B without rest or sleep, in  searing humid temps, always around 100 degrees. It’s always either too hot or too cold, they say. Every part of my body that came in contact with a strap or piece of equipment was on fire, chaffed and / or bleeding. Drill Sergeants are like sharks  hovering all around us, pouncing upon the weak, and those who can’t keep up this blistering pace. To be fair, the Drills are also humping, carrying a load, running around us like crazy men but without rifles. Suddenly, the company is slowed on the road. We are ordered to get into step. Drill starts calling cadence. It’s an administrative march now, no longer tactical. 

Quick time, MARCH!

Left Flank, MARCH!

We execute. We do so sharply and without thinking about it. Automatically, as if we were robots. But robots don’t feel pain. As miserable as we were, we were coming together. The Drill Sergeants were our common enemies this week in particular. We were focused on showing them up. Or, at least showing them we could hang. We hated it, but we were going to show them we could take whatever they dished out. Fuck ‘em, one and all. We were past the point where the Drill Sergeants and their Campaign hats, which they wore with their brims tilted forward at a menacing angle, covering their foreheads, impressed us. 

No Sir. Those days were gone. We long ago reached the point to where our Drills had to earn our respect. However, what we did clearly understand is that the Drill Sergeants still had the ability to make our lives miserable, even painful. However, we were at a point where we almost didn’t care. Almost…  

Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left, Yo(ur) Left Right… the drill sergeant barks out, in a soulful kind of cadence.

BRAVO! “ we respond in unison. Each time the drill sings “right”  we scream BRAVO at the top of our lungs, as tired as we were. For not doing so would demonstrate a lack of motivation and we would be immediately stopped and motivational physical training would be administered to help “motivate” us to a proper level. We learned it was better to feign motivation and expend energy sounding off, than to be punished for not demonstrating it to the Drills’ satisfaction. 

Problem is we are only a few yards from the river. We continue to march off the road down into the river. Trying to stay in step while getting deeper into the river. What a foolish and strange sight it must have been. We may not be the toughest soldiers yet, but we are disciplined enough to know that we are to continue to march, and dare not question the fact that our Drill is marching us into the river. It would be no different if we were being marched off of a cliff. 

For a fleeting moment, I became somewhat alarmed with the fact that I do not know how to swim. I could not swim if I were naked, nor if my life depended on it, so I sure as hell couldn’t swim carrying a full combat load. My instincts told me that, no, they wouldn’t purposely drown any of us. But still, these guys have made me believe that their idea of sane and crazy, and the very thin line that separates the two, are somewhat different then how you and I may view the issue. 

Our Drill Sergeants never did instill in me the idea that, as hard core as they were, they were only interested in our well being and the ability to facilitate our transition from civilian to soldier. Something the Army calls the “soldierization process”. 

In all actuality, the message I got from them was that we, the trainees, were some disgusting life form that they were forced to contend with, sometimes toy with, but always make our lives as miserable as possible as we struggled to master the lifestyle and basic skills to transform us from civilians to soldiers. 

As we marched forward, well into the river, my past, my recent past, flashed through my mind. Kind of what a dying man is supposed to experience when he is about to die. Or so I’ve always heard. “No, no! I really can’t swim!” I silently protested as we marched forward. Always forward. Never back.  

The first days at our Company Area. New grass had been planted and we were instructed by our Drill Sergeants to talk to the grass each time we passed by, in either direction, coming or going. The directive was clear, our first mission as new members of the United States Army was to persuade the grass to grow. That, along with moving piles of rocks from one side of the company street to the other, for no apparent reason. Personally, I thought the rocks looked fine where they were. 

As a result, the first week or two one could see as many as 240 new soldiers stopping at the area which was newly seeded, and in sing song voices, imploring and with somewhat incredulous voices trying to convince the grass to grow: “come on grass” or “please grass, grow, please grow,” all under the stern watchful eyes of whichever Drill Sergeants happened to be present. Once satisfied, the Drill Sergeant would then order us to move on, or, if he wasn’t satisfied he would reward us with additional motivational physical training. This motivational “PT” could come in many variations. Pushups, Body Twists, the Lunger, or worse of all, the Low Crawl. Today, there are less than 140 or so of us left in Bravo company. Just like each of us individually, Bravo company has trimmed down quite a bit. Bravo-8-2, like those of us who remained was becoming lean and hard. 

So, back in the middle of the river, and after brief consideration, although I knew they were all crazy, I thought, no, even they wouldn’t drown any of us. I don’t think. At least not purposely…     

We advance to just about to the middle of the river. Not quite the middle. Thankfully, we are halted before we go any farther. Locked up, in formation, at attention, we wait further instructions. Cannot imagine what’s coming next. We’ve learned to expect anything, with a cynical and healthy fear of what may come next. What could this possibly be about? Certainly can’t be anything good. Surely they are about to mete out some tried and true method of punishing us which we have not experienced previously. As long as they can say whatever form of torture they decide to inflict on us has training value, it will conform to Army standards and regulations. This was especially true here at the Infantry School. For the life of me, I don’t know what we have done to deserve whatever is coming…

We halt. Streams of sweat roll down onto my face, down my neck and back, and into my eyes. Stinging, salty, and running like a faucet, it makes my eyes burn. I dare not blink, much less wipe the sweat away, for I am at the position of attention. The slightest movement will draw unwanted attention to me. So I suffer these little discomforts, which, as they fall upon me and accost me, make me indescribably miserable, which is actually the norm, more often than not.  

All is quiet. We are still. The river flows in a direction to our left. The cool, muddy water swirls around my knees and thighs. It is actually the only sound I can hear. On the opposite bank of the river, I see the red clay, which is indigenous to this part of the world. Have to watch out for Jake the Snake. Jake is aways around. Watch out for Jake the Snake we were told when we arrived a few months back. 

While standing in the river, sure enough, almost as if on cue, Jake swims by the formation, in front of us. All snakes are named Jake. It’s an Army thing. What if it’s a female snake?… I wonder, deep in intellectual meditation. Maybe the heat is getting to my brain. Is his name still Jake? If he’s a her? Jake moves in kind of a combination of floating and at the same time slithering through the water. If our presence is of any concern to Jake, he doesn’t show it. He just moves on by. Very leisurely. If we moved in such a relaxed fashion, there would be low crawls through the mud or red clay, preceded and followed by pushups on hot asphalt that would literally burn our hands. Could never walk in the company area. Always had to double time. No, we learned that painful lesson early on, even before we were instructed to talk to the grass. “Move like lightning, sound like thunder”. It wasn’t just a motto, it was a way of life, the only way to survive here. 

As I continue to watch Jake float by, I can see he’s decided that there is need to involve himself in some outrageous adventure with this collection of idiots. It’s too hot. Even in the river. Jake the Snake glides down river, out of sight, fortunately without showing even a hint of interest in the rest of us. 

Still waiting, in the middle of the river, for the other shoe to drop.  

As I await the next adventure, my mind slips back and recalls a hot night when we were bivouacked near a river. Possibly the same river. We were allowed to swim. Jake stopped by. Not the same Jake, as you will see, however when he appeared, we scattered. Seeing the privates scatter, one of our Drills investigates. He heads directly towards the snake, who didn’t have enough sense to leave the area. The Drill then grabs Jake, held him up for all to see, and then bites him in half. Our Drill Sergeants would never let an opportunity as fortuitous as this pass by. Another chance for them during which they would be able to demonstrate to us that there was no limits to their insanity. Regardless, adult swim was over that evening. At least it was for most of us northern city boys. 

I try to keep my eyes locked and focused on some point in front of me. But I can’t resist watching Jake the Snake pass by. I almost envy him. Thankfully, none of the Drills notice my eyes following him while at the position of attention. 

While I was awaiting our fate, I continued to obsess over the fact that nothing good could come of this situation. My mind wanders back to another time, after we first arrived at the Ft. Benning School for boys, in a rare moment of pity, one of my drills informed us that they could not kill us, and they could not eat us, so, we really don’t have anything to worry about.

What we learned since then, was that as encouraging as that assurance was at the time it was given, the boundaries in between killing and eating us were pretty wide. Our cadre were experts in making us miserable. They told us on arrival that we would shortly hate them, and they didn’t care that we did. They had a job to do, and we will be worthless trainees until after we depart Ft. Benning. They weren’t physically abusive, that is to say that they never laid a hand on us. But, at times, I would have preferred an occasional moderate beating to what passed as the norm for existence here. So, what was this? What’s next I wondered. Absolutely nothing could surprise me. 

As I stood in the river, I heard a soft splashing noise coming from up river, to our right. It got louder and louder as who ever was stomping though the river became closer. “Here it comes” I thought. Around the bend he came. Shit, it was the Company Commander. Bad news, I am sure. Actually marching though the river. Not walking, but marching. 

Marching perfectly, or as perfectly as he could in knee deep water. He wore his usual scowl on his face or at least on the part of his face that showed from beneath his helmet, which was always tilted forward. Definitely moving with a purpose, on he came, approaching our strange, waterborne formation, unlike Jake. Our Guidon Bearer is standing in front of our formation, with the Senior Drill in front. 

The company commander  and the rest of the cadre wore camouflaged covers over their steel pots. The helmet covers fit tightly, without a crease or wrinkle. Perfect. We were not allowed to wear helmet covers on our steel pots until later during basic training. Our helmets were Olive Drab (OD) green, with our roster numbers (not names) stenciled upon a piece of tape fixed to the back of our helmets. Roster number 143. I remember the day we made the tape and placed it on our helmets and helmet liners. Another simple project, made so bad in a way that only the US Army could turn a seeming simple task into a major exercise with a lot of motivational PT mixed in for good measure. “Attention to detail” we were told, time and time again. 

“What’s wrong with y’all” “It’s a simple enough task!” Instructions were simple. So many inches wide, numbers such and such a height. We thought we were done. But then the drills showed up, each with a ruler. They measured each piece of tape. Each numeral. Where it was located on each helmet. Top to bottom, left to right. 240 helmets until roster numbers were identical in appearance and placement. Each measured time and time again until they were satisfied that every piece of tape was placed correctly. 

FFSI they barked out time and time again as corrections were made. Failure to Follow Simple Instructions. FFSI. 

We were not allowed to place camouflage helmet covers on our helmets until we earned that privilege. Later I found out that the only way to achieve perfection placing the helmet cover on one’s steel pot was first soak the cover, then place it on the helmet, pulling it tight in all directions, as tight as humanly possible, and then placing the helmet with cover within a heated oven, and actually baking it. The only acceptable way to wear the helmet and required cover in a garrison environment. Only in the Army could these seemingly mundane tasks turn into major, labor and time consuming projects.

Here comes Good Old Captain Schroeder. We are never happy to see him. He is an Infantry Officer, Expert Infantry Badge, Airborne Wings, Ranger Patch, who knows what else. If we were a nuisance to our Drill Sergeants, we were a wretched group of subhumans to him, so he made us believe. 

I remembered his introduction to us shortly after we arrived. I had already questioned the wisdom, or lack of it that I displayed by joining the Army. But they really hadn’t done too much to us up until that point. Not compared with what was to come. Still though, I knew I was in a bad way. 

I thought back to my recruiter’s office, Quincy (Massachusetts) Square, 1980. Sergeant Matthews was my recruiter. He showed me films about different job opportunities (MOS) within the Army. 

Me: “I want to go Infantry.”

Him:“No, you don’t.”

Me: “Yes, I do.”

“Listen, Marty, there are some nice slots available. I can get you a slot as a Dental Assistant. Maybe after a few years you can go to school. Maybe even dental school, at the Army’s expense.”

“Hey-ell no. I’m going Infantry!”

“Listen to me.” Almost pleading.  

“You are smart. You can do almost anything. You Do not want to go Infantry! I can assure you.” 

“I want Infantry.” Well I got it. It didn’t take me long to begin to think SGT. Matthews may have been correct. 

My mind continues to wander. We are in a large WWII era classroom for our official Battalion Orientation. If it was 100 degrees outside, it was 120 inside. Bravo Company, 8th Battalion, Second Infantry Training Brigade. Sounds exciting. I am really here. Except I am 26 years old, out of shape, overweight and very homesick. I miss my family. Might as well have been on the moon. 

Senior Drill, SFC Bobo gets on stage. Starts to talk to us, then goes on and on about I don’t remember what. What I do remember is that whatever he was saying, it didn’t make me feel any better. As the training cycle went on, Drill Sergeant Bobo, was the most calm, collected and quiet Drill in the company. Didn’t often raise his voice. 

While the other drills screamed at us, cursed us and punished us, (low crawling our asses was the preferred motivational tool of the Bravo Company Cadre) Bobo never lost his cool. All of which made him the most dangerous member of the cadre. We made sure not to piss him off, at any cost. We failed often. 

Our Company Commander arrives. Bobo leaves. CPT. Schroeder is his name. Marches into the classroom. Jumps up on the stage, introduces himself. Then makes the following pronouncement:

‘Nobody asked you to come here. Nobody wanted you here. You volunteered to come here. You want to go home? The quickest way to go home is to keep your eyes open, your fucking mouth shut, do what your drill instructors tell you to do, when they tell you to do it. Then you can go home if and when you graduate’. I took that advice (or threat) to heart.

Next up, the Battalion Chaplain. He marches in. Down the aisle. As though it was a parade field. Boots like mirrors, Airborne Ranger insignia, etc. Jumps onto the stage. Tells us he doesn’t want any of us sons of bitches crying to him about going home or what the drills are doing to us. He then told the Drill Sergeants present to keep doing whatever it was that they were doing to us. Keep our mouths shut and learn. No sympathy from him. No words of encouragement. 

During the months that followed, the Chaplain, who I learned was a Southern Baptist Minister, not that it mattered, did provide some encouragement. However, it was encouragement of an unexpected kind. He would accompany us to the ranges. He would run around, demanding we knock down our targets. “Kill the Sons of Bitches” he would roar. This man of God was demanding we learn to kill, kill, kill. Everything in this world was twisted around. At least it appeared so to me. 

I knew then, at that exact moment, when the Chapalin made his appearance, I had made a serious mistake. Even before he opened his mouth. A mistake I could not get out of. As if to emphasize the point, we were then marched out of the classroom. As we exited the classroom, into the sun, we were all hosed down and soaked by Drills with firehoses. Everything inside of our pockets was ruined. Any letters, papers, booklets issued etc. All disintegrated from being soaked. 

The Captain gets closer, slogging through the river. My mind continues to wander. Six weeks after orientation. Standing in formation outside of our barracks. Saturday morning at Harmony Church. First inspection wearing our dress greens and with weapon. Very bare dress greens I might add. 

Except for our Platoon Guide. Sam Deviore was from San Fransisco. Served in Viet Nam. 1965. 1st Calvary Division. For some reason, he decided to rejoin the Army. This is the first time I have seen him in Greens. He was allowed to wear his awards during this inspection. Highly decorated. Wore the Combat Infantryman’s Badge among others. I was 26 at the time, Mack and Sam were older than me. 

Mack was the 1st Squad Leader. Don’t remember his first name. Also a Vietnam Vet. Served in the 173rd Airborne Brigade, if I remember correctly. Also wore the Combat Infantry Badge and Jump Wings. He also decided to come back to the Army in 1981. The sad joke was, although Mack and Sam were more decorated than some of the Drills, Uncle Sam made them repeat basic, and infantry school. Both combat veterans, both seasoned infantrymen. Sam, as platoon guide, sure did a lot of pushups for my mistakes. All of our mistakes. For that, I always felt badly.

One thing though. We had all received or would receive bonuses for signing up. Don’t remember how much, I think it was a few thousand dollars disbursed to us in increments over the next six years. When Mack joined, his recruiter never told him he was eligible for this bonus. Mack spent much of our time at Ft. Benning swearing that the first thing he was going to do when he left was track down his recruiter and kill him. After a while, I began to believe him. I especially believed him on days like today. 

CPT. Schroeder is conducting the inspection. I was learning to dislike the captain. Misery seemed to follow him around. Misery he liberally issued out to us like so much equipment or chow. He always seemed to have a case of the ass for us, and always brought bad shit down onto us. 

Except, there was one thing. Everything we were required to do, he did. He led the way. Out in front of the Drill Sergeants even. And, the ultimate insult. Everything we were required to do, he did it better. Made us hate him even more. But then, as time went on, I grudgingly and slowly started to respect the man. As tough as he was on us, he never asked us to do anything he himself would not do. And, he would do it much better.  We learned to dislike him. But, the more we disliked him, the more we tried to perform to earn his respect. Same went for the Drill Sergeants. An early lesson in my career about leadership. Why had earning their respect become more important to us as time went by?      

The Senior Drill and Captain finish verbally eviscerating the soldier to my right. A moment before, he was standing tall and proud. After they got through inspecting him, he was turned into something that reminded me of a quivering slice of cranberry sauce at the dinner table, as it waits to be consumed. 

They execute a perfect column right, from the halt, as in marching. March to my front, halt, then execute a perfect left face. Lock step. Both of them. A beautiful thing to behold. What ever else they were, these were sharp, motivated and disciplined soldiers. For a moment, I was proud to be in their company. Of, course that moment was fleeting.

Inspection, ARMS!  

I conducted the movement as taught. The Captain (C.O.) grabbed my M-16. His arm came out of nowhere, from somewhere outside of my peripheral vision. He snatched the weapon away from me with surprising speed that caught me off guard. He then scrutinized the weapon. Spun it around. Pulled it close to his face. Examined every inch of it. His movements were precise, exaggerated and sharp. He then thrust the weapon back towards my face. I had to move quick to receive it without being knocked on my back and losing teeth. I had worked on and polished that rifle for hours that day. I swear the black color was coming off of it. Then he started on me. 

What was wrong with me? 

How could I have been here for six weeks and not learn anything?

I am actually regressing! 

How could I hand him this filthy, dirty thing for his inspection? 

Why am I still here? 

How could I ruin a piece of taxpayers property like this? 

He then told me he had something for me, not explaining what it was he had, but I knew it wasn’t good.  

He then inspected my person and uniform. Yelled out one deficiency after another in an annoyed manner, as the Senior Drill took copious notes of my shortcomings and failures. 

The CO was embarrassed for me. He was embarrassed for the Army.

What was left for me? 

What was left for him to do? 

He and the Cadre had done their best. 

How much more time could he waste on me? 

How much perfectly good food would he be forced to allow me to eat?

It was a waste of the taxpayers money.  

Who was my recruiter? 

What did the CO ever do to my recruiter that he would send someone like me to him?

I wanted to tell him ‘No shit. My recruiter did try to talk me out of it’. I didn’t. 

Is it possible that I was an agent of the Ayatollah Khomeini sent to disrupt the United States Army? 

Did the Iranians send me? 

During this time, while making notes on my many deficiencies, the Senior Drill glared at me from under his campaign hat, his eyes drilling into my face while I tried to swallow and keep my composure.  

Then he discovered it. One glaring, outrageous deficiency. He appeared genuinely offended and disgusted. 

Nasal Hair Protruding from the left nostril! “

Unbelievable! 

This brought the inspection to a complete halt. “In-FUCKING-credible”, so said the Commander.

The CO  was shocked. Drills seemed to wring their hands together with indecision and disbelief. How could this happen? Who is to blame for this abomination? What is wrong with Swirko? How could he have missed such a thing. The presence of this protruding nasal hair was treated as the ultimate insult towards the cadre, which had nurtured and cared for me as they tried to bring me into the fold these last several weeks, without success they added.  

I was ordered to double time to the latrine and remove it. Immediately. No scissors or tweezers. To provide motivation for me, as I broke ranks, the company was placed into the front leaning rest position, otherwise known as the push-up position. There they remained until my return, minus one offending nose hair. 

Inside the latrine. Nasal hair? Where? Oh, OK. I think I see something sticking out. Barely. Tried to grab it with thumb and forefinger. Several times. Fingernails cut short, immaculately groomed. Grabbing the tiny hair and pulling it out was almost impossible. Drill Sergeants cursing me outside, telling me to go ahead, take my time. Continue to waste their daylight, they advised me. I never heard my name being used in conjunction with such foul and obscene oaths and descriptions in my entire life. Not even at Quincy Point Junior High.   

I also knew that by then, my company was pretty pissed at me as they sweat it out waiting for my return in the hot Georgia sun.

Finally, after much frustration, with sweat pouring down my face, I got hold of it, no easy task with my recently clipped and cleaned fingernails. I yanked it out. It hurt. Back out to formation. My green dress shirt under my jacket was now soaked with sweat. 

We were now told how miserable we performed. Why do we not work together? Why are we so slovenly and undisciplined? How did they inherit such a group of scumbags, they lamented, clearly feeling sorry for themselves. OK Bravo Company. One hour. Correct all deficiencies and stand another inspection. Back to square one. Almost. 

Later that afternoon, they loaded us onto buses. The buses took us to a minor league baseball game in Downtown Columbus. Watching the game was actually enjoyable. We forgot our miseries for a short time. But, like all good things, the two hours or so it took to enjoy the game had slipped past quickly, almost unnoticed. Game over. “On your feet” one of the drills bellows. We react and execute. “Police Call,” orders the Drill. The entire stadium. Lined us up at the top, side to side, in back of the seats. 

“Move out!” 

“Pick up anything that isn’t growing”

As though something would be growing out of these concrete steps. Once the management of the stadium realized what a good deal this was they made sure we got trash bags to help us with our endeavor. Or was that the plan from the beginning? 

Worked our way down through all the rows of seats. Step by step, row by row, seat by seat. No wonder the team allowed us to come watch the game. Picked up all the trash. 

After that was complete, we are in formation in the parking lot. Buses waiting. Civilians nearby, watching, taking it all in.   

“Open Ranks, MARCH!

Half Right, FACE!

The Eight Count Pushup!”

In fucking credible I think, as the anger wells up, boiling to the surface.They just never quit. Don’t they ever tire of being pricks? 

We respond. 

The eight count push up! “

After a while, we get relief.

Position of Attention, MOVE!”

More PT Sergeant, more PT. We like it. We love it. We want more of it. Make it hurt drill sergeant make it hurt”  (clap hands twice) was the required response, then snap to attention.

Had to ask them to smoke us! If we did not, they’d punish us even more! 

The civilians who stopped to watch love it. They are eating it up. 

My mind snaps to. Back in the river. Water from the river continues to rush by. The Captain is getting closer. But, I continue, thinking back to the day we went to the baseball game. 

The Drill Sergeants finally seem to have had enough. Mercifully, they allow us to board the bus. On the bus heading back to the base. We all are pretty pissed off at this time and are not happy campers, no pun intended. Threats to harm specific Drill Sergeants abound and are uttered throughout the ride. 

We arrive at our barracks. Maybe about 11 PM. We find two shiny, new trash cans in front of the entrance to the barracks. Each packed with ice. One is filled with soda, the other filled with beer. The Senior Drill informs us we can each take and drink two cans, any combination of beer or soda we wish. Told us first call would not be until 0700 next morning. 0600 if we wanted to eat breakfast. But it was up to us. No PT in the morning and first formation, for church, was at 0900. If we wanted to attend. Unbelievable! Sleeping in! Is there a mistake? 

Sat on the bleachers and drank our beer / soda and the Drills went away.  It was the best beer I ever had. All is forgiven. For the moment, anyway. The Drills really aren’t that bad. That are trying to teach us. Mostly, they are trying to make us hard. Maybe we will make it through after all. Small gesture by the Drills. Huge morale lifter for the troops. The next morning, training did not begin until noon!  

The following Monday, CPT. Schroeder conducted and led PT. I thought I was going to die. Training got worse, and more difficult. The drills turned the screws tighter and the temperature up, which we would have though impossible. Back to business. No the Captain says, from here on out we were going to get serious about training. The previous six weeks were a cake walk. So he says. 

Back to the river. That weekend seems so long ago. So, here he comes. CPT Schroeder halts in front of the company. Faces it. Suddenly, out of nowhere, he has in his possession an Infantry Blue streamer. He unceremoniously affixes it to our guidon. Then he announces, without fanfare or congratulations, that the members of Bravo company were now fully qualified Infantry soldiers. We had officially turned blue. Infantry Blue. The only shade of blue that mattered.

“About FACE!”

“Forward, MARCH!”

Out of the river, awkwardly we stepped, trying to remain in step, together, with our squishy boots filled with water, we pressed forward, up and out of the river, onto the road. 

“Left flank, MARCH!”

On dry land once again. We execute. We get into step. Once again, Captain Schroeder in the lead.  

“Double TIME, MARCH!”

Here we go again. Is there no end to this?  

Captain turns to face us, running backwards for the moment. He them pumps his fist up and down, into the air several times, the signal to increase speed. He faces front. We are off again. He then leads us on another hell run. But, the CO was in the lead, and, as usual, we had to struggle and work hard to keep up with him as the sun scorched us. 

Didn’t matter. The prick. “Go for it Captain” I thought as he increased the pace. I was feeling a mixture of bitterness and stubborn pride at the same time. You can’t shake us off anymore, I silently declared to myself. You can’t scare us anymore and we can hang despite your best efforts. We are not anything like the nervous, sweaty homesick youngsters that were in your classroom that day during the first week we arrived. I grudgingly came to conclude that perhaps this was due in no small part to Captain Schroeder, Sergeants Bobo, Morris, Lawrence and the rest. Like we were taught to say, “fuck it and drive on!” You can’t do anything to us anymore. Bring on your best. We are mentally and physically tough, and we are starting to realize it. We are becoming hardcore. We are soldiers. We are something beyond ordinary soldiers. We are ground pounders. We are blue now. INFANTRY BLUE.