Sheriff John Montgomery Newsletter-Memories at Christmas

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This newsletter was published several years ago today. I ran across it today and felt it was appropriate for this Christmas Season. Thank you for the opportunity to serve.

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First, allow me to wish you a Merry Christmas.  ‘Tis the season’ and we have so much to be thankful for; especially the birth of Christ.   

As you read this newsletter, I ask you to stay with my thoughts.  At the end, I am hopeful you will understand the reason and the meaning behind them and why I chose to write this at this time of year.   

I love the hustle and bustle of the holidays -- the excitement on a child’s face and the joy of buying gifts.  Yet, I also become very sad.  Even though it has been approximately 26-years ago, I still remember vividly the tragedy a young couple faced on Christmas morning.  I was a police officer with the Mountain Home Police Department and had worked the midnight shift on Christmas Eve that year as I usually did. My shift ended at 7 am and I was about to go home to enjoy Christmas Day with friends and family when a 911 call reported a child was not breathing.  Standing there in the Dispatch area of the police department listening to the police radio, I listened as the ambulance radioed in they were doing a code on a baby. I knew the couple so instead of going home, I went to the emergency room to wait on the ambulance.  When it arrived, the crew was working feverishly on the child.  I could tell by the look on their faces that their efforts were in vain.  The young baby died. 

I walked into the side room where this young couple sat with their friends.  The mother began sobbing hysterically when she saw me.  I am not sure if it was my uniform or the look on my face, but they knew their child had died.  The couple has long since moved away but I know they deal with the pain every Christmas.  

Death notifications to families are always tough, but when it is a child it is much, much harder.  You can put on a tough face with strangers many times, but having to tell someone you know personally makes it even tougher and at times almost unbearable.   

I am a cop and have been a cop for more than 27-years. The myth about all cops is that we are rough and tough and don’t care.  We bring calm to tense situations and are the rock for people to lean on.  We are always in control and we don’t cry or show any emotion when dealing with death or tragedy because doing so might show weakness.  We do our job, wash our hands and go home.

I am no different than the other cops.  While most will not ever admit it, every one of us remember all of the tragedies, deaths and mayhem we have witnessed during our careers.  Murders, suicides, traffic fatalities; children who have been hurt or molested, we still see the pain on people’s faces.  We try to become calloused and many of us become cynical as a way to deal with the pain. The problem is… we remember and continue to remember, day after day and long after we retire.   

 It seems easier when it is a stranger, someone you don’t know.  I cannot imagine the horror of seeing your own loved one.  Like the State Trooper I know who came upon an accident to discover his wife was in the vehicle and had been killed.  Or the Sheriff I know a few counties over who was the first to arrive at an accident and discover his own daughter had been killed. 

 In our Sheriff’s Department I have a seasoned officer who has asked not to be on or perform honor guard duties after the death of a fellow deputy… or another deputy who was one of our best divers on the Dive Team who simply cannot dive anymore, not even recreationally, because he has pulled one too many bodies up from the bottom of the lake. This is not a sign of weakness, but of caring and compassion.  

Cops statistically have a high divorce rate and are one of the highest professions for suicides.  They generally cannot or will not share with their loved ones many of the things they witness, so they bottle it up inside, day after day, year after year.

I realize this message is from and for cops but this message applies to all emergency services people -- ambulance personnel, emergency responders, firefighters and our men and women in the military -- all see death and carnage.  

By now I’m sure you are wondering why I’ve chosen this topic for my message, especially this time of the year It is not meant to depress you, but to ask you to take a moment out of this holiday season to say a prayer for the men and women who protect you every day. Take a moment on Christmas Day and ask God to bless them and their families and to give them the strength to deal with the tragedies.  Ask God to protect all of the emergency services people who are working on Christmas Day in order to keep us safe. 

When you see them, give them a hug and thank them for what they do for each of us.  And thank their families.  The families watch their loved ones go to work every day worrying about whether they will return home to them unharmed.  When the tornadoes, floods and ice storms hit us, these officers and emergency personnel were out protecting all of us instead of being home taking care of their own families.  With the death of the Gassville Officer Jim Sell in 2006, the cold reality of our job hit not only us, but our families too. And with the war that has been waged on cops all across America, the stress level for us and our families is even higher.

I am not complaining or asking you to feel sorry for any of us.  We chose this profession and we do it because we love what we do… helping people.  No, this Christmas I am simply asking you to remember all of those men and women who run towards chaos and danger instead of away from it and who put their lives on the line every day for you and me. 

Merry Christmas 

John Montgomery
Baxter County Sheriff

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