As we journey through life, decisions are made, goals are set, challenges are overcome and, in some cases, dreams are realized. While not for everyone, in many officer’s eyes, an assignment to the Special Weapons And Tactics unit is the pinnacle of law enforcement success.
But once you get there and have spent, in some times, the bulk of your career on the sharp end of an agency’s tactical response element, what comes next? What do you do when it is time to move on? What do you do once there are no more mountains to climb, no more challenges to face? At some point, for everyone, the ride must eventually end.
Hopefully over the years you had spent time building for the future, training those who came after you to replace you when the time came. What now becomes of you? Where do you go and what do you do?
For most of your life you have defined yourself as a SWAT Officer. You made choices that were not based solely on a personal whim but instead were tempered with how your decision might impact the Team. Decisions that no one else but you and those of your tribe would have stopped to consider were important. While others might have chosen to have a beer with dinner or go out for a night with the boys, for you it became a juggling act of scheduling. Who’s off call, who is out of town, who’s injured and can’t respond.
For you physical training took on special meaning. It wasn’t about toning or shaping, instead it was all about functionality. Everything you did in your life was always tempered by the Team. But now, for you, there is no more team. Now you are on your own. Now you are an individual. What was once ‘we’, is now, sadly, ‘me’.
For some there will be adjustment problems. Used to being the ones who made things happen now they are just another of the ones who watch it happen and that just doesn’t set well. Some officers will face a perceived ‘loss of worth’, some will face depression, and almost all will have to come to grips with an overall sense of loss at the camaraderie and belonging that there was with the unit, but truly is there?
Is leaving SWAT the death blow to a career, or could it perhaps be looked upon as a new opportunity? Should not the efforts that you once directed toward the Team now be focused elsewhere and put to good use in making other areas of the Department, and your life, better? Those same skills that you once taught to SWAT rookies should now begin to ‘trickle’ down to the officers in your new command. Anything less is simply a waste of good talent—yours, and theirs.
Once leaving SWAT it should be your goal to become the unmoving, unshakeable bedrock of whatever division or unit you are assigned. While in your own mind you were once looked at as one of the best of the Department, to the officers of your new assignment you still are. Whether they know it or not, whether they would ever admit it, in times of crisis, it will be you they lean on. After all, you were SWAT.
Take heart, there is life after SWAT. Just because you have left the Team doesn’t mean you have checked your skills at the door. It does not mean those qualities that once made you special have left you. Now you have become a force multiplier. Now you can and should bring those skills to your new command, strengthening and improving it just as you once did with the Team.
Now you start all over again, striving to make what you have, and what they do the best.
Always remember, however, that just because you have left the Team, does not mean the Team has left you.
Scott Oldham is a lieutenant with the Bloomington, Ind., Police Department. After 18 years with the department’s tactical unit, Lt. Oldham recently left the team after serving in various capacities, including team commander. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.