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Writing for, Val Van Brocklin reckons a cop’s life sucks. I’m not saying Brocklin’s supporting bullet points would convince a cop to put a bullet in his brain, but they sure don’t sound like a want ad to me . . .

  • Intense exposure to the worst in human behavior
  • A public that doesn’t understand what police work entails
  • A justice system that frequently fails to do justice
  • Failures of management
  • Politics

And now . . . budget cuts. “Doing More with Less has become Doing Everything with Nothing and 2011 has started off with too many officers giving the greatest love of all.”

Homosexuality? Oh, wait, that’s “the love that dare not speak its name” (except for police departments recruiting gay officers). Val’s referring to John 15:13 – “Greater love hath no one than he lay down his life for another.”

Oh. So, think positive? Nuh-uh . . .

I used to be a fan of optimism. These days I’ve lost my oomph for extolling, “Look on the bright side” and“Every cloud has a silver lining.” I can’t find bright sides or silver linings in laying people off, requiring those left to do everything with nothing, and being 5 months into a year that is surpassing the preceding one in officers lost to us.

But I also can’t roll over – not when I read about the young officers attending a memorial service for Lt. Eric Shuhandler last year in Gilbert, Arizona. Some of them were facing potential layoffs. Like a newspaper reporter attending the service, I wondered what kind of person would enter a darkened building with an armed intruder inside knowing they might not have a job the next week.

A person who should have a SWAT team with him? Sorry, the SWAT team is not available now. Please leave your name and badge number after the beep. We will return your call.

The self-professed “indisputable master of enter-train-ment” finds psychological strength for cops to carry on in Afghanistan, where conditions are so extreme they make an air conditioned squad car in Arizona seem like a suite at The Venetian.

Well, Val didn’t actually go to Afghanistan; like she didn’t actually attend the funeral service. She read a self-help book, though. Well, heard a radio interview with someone who served in the Sandbox, who wrote a self-help book. And she co-opted his message—just like I’m gonna do in a mo.

Captain Tupper belonged to an Embedded Training Team (ETT) stationed in Kandahar, Afghanistan that fought alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA). Asked about the phrase in his book – “Embrace the Suck”– Captain Tupper tried to explain to the civilian reporter.

Circumstances in Kandahar suck. The heat is often triple digits and you work in a helmet, long pants, boots, long sleeves and 50 pounds of body armor. The food is lousy but since you’re running and gunning, the heat and adrenaline suppress your appetite. Tupper shed 14 pounds from his slender build in the first 3 weeks.

Sleep deprivation is common. You’re on night patrols and even when it isn’t your watch you’re thinking about how night time is one of the most likely for getting killed. Hygiene is a memory. Within 30 minutes of getting clean you’re shrouded in sweat and filth. Tupper recounted shedding his boots and peeling off his socks – along with parts of his feet that smelled like rotting flesh.

These are just the living conditions. Then factor in the killing and dying. So, Tupper explained, you figure out a way to embrace the suck and ply it with wry humor because, if you don’t, you will lose all morale and motivation for the mission. The greatest generation of WWII had FUBAR and SNAFU. This generation has Embrace the Suck.

As someone who doesn’t work for law enforcement or the military, when I’m feeling put-upon, I embrace the Schnauzer. Well, two (they’re both jealous-types). But the ETS message resonates for put-upon cops and armed civilians.

Fellow armchair worrier that I am (I’m Jewish), I’ll say this about that: my research and interviews with “normal people” who’ve faced death from the right end of the gun shows that lots of things go wrong. Gunfights suck.

You can be aiming your gun at the bad guy from point blank distance, like that Walgreen’s pharmacist, and miss. You gotta think, “Well, that sucks.” If you don’t embrace the suckage and move on, things are going to go from worse to much worse.

Jeremy Hoven lucked out: after shooting at the bad guy the bad guy aimed and . . . CLICK. That didn’t suck. But still Hoven didn’t ETS. He didn’t do much of anything when his marksmanship proved unequal to the task—other than wait for the final curtain.

The general point: as the rabbi says, a gunfight is a fight with a gun. Don’t get fixated on the weapon OR your plan. Or, most importantly, don’t get sidelined by the suckage. I missed and there’s ANOTHER one? That sucks. Now what? I’m shot! That sucks. Now what? The cops think I’m the bad guy. That sucks. Now what?

The trick is to stay focused on the goal: survival. If plan A doesn’t work, Plan B involves bullets you don’t have and Plan C requires the cell phone you left in your jacket over there, keep working through the alphabet. Improvise.

Train hard. Plan well. But don’t expect things to go as planned. Work to a general strategy, like Adam’s “Speed, Surprise and Violence of Action.” And if that doesn’t pan out, embrace the suck and do something else. ‘Cause winning, surviving, doesn’t suck. Unless it does. And if it does, deal. What choice to your have? You know, other than quitting.


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  1. You could argue that this a general tenet of Stoicism as experssed by Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus. They would argue that “the shit isn’t good or bad, it just is.” When you embrace that and remove the emotional aspects, you can work through it. Forget about teaching the Bible in school, Aurelius should be required reading for every American schoolkid.

  2. The police have a very difficult and dangerous job, and plenty of people don’t really appreciate what they do for us. There will always be a few bad apples, but all the good cops shouldn’t be blamed for what the bad one’s do. Every single profession in the world has bad apples and that will never change.

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