Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The First Time I Was Officially Shot At

The First Time I Was Officially Shot At 
by W. Hock Hochheim

     Recently, I wrote about the crazy-weird first time I was shot at. And now this month, I want to write about the first time I was shot at … officially, as in during work.

     After graduating the US Army Military Police academy, I was labeled and stamped the old 95 Bravo and shipped off to Oklahoma and into what they still call “Garrison Duty.” There were two kinds of duty back then called Garrison Duty and Field Duty. Field duty is when you are attached to any police units that are out in the field or follow these units around when they are in the field. Today, some call them Combat Military Police. This field duty often included guard duties or what some now call Force Protection. Field duty and Force Protection didn't interest me at all. I wanted Garrison Duty police work - when you are on a regular police force, like working in any city. That's the difference between Garrison and Field. What about military and civilian police work? Why, let's ask Tom Cruise.

     In the 2012 movie with short Tom Cruise as the famous, very tall Jack Reacher, a city cop asks former military policeman/investigator Reacher this question -

     “So, what is the difference between a city cop and a military cop?” 
     Reacher's/Cruise's answer goes something like, “Oh, the same, except every suspect ... is a trained killer.”

     Da-da-da-doooom. Yeah, right. That line is a real groaner. Especially for someone who has done both those jobs for real. Very dramatic. But there are some similarities between the jobs (oh, like the boredom - which would not make for a cool line in a Cruise movie). It is NOT like a Jack Reacher book or movie or the famous NCIS TV show.

     Any decent-sized military base is just like any city. Stores, malls, restaurants, schools, movie theaters, businesses, power plants, housing, apartments, families, you name it. Then the military extras like barracks, ranges, tanks, cannons…. Garrison duty is just like working at a police department in a medium- or large-sized city.

     Upon my arrival, I started out with a training officer in a patrol car, who was not much older and about as dumb as I was. But this lasted a short time. Oh, maybe like a week. This was not so uncommon in the 1970s. I very quickly found myself out on my own in a squad car patrolling a beat with all the aforementioned amenities in a Class A pretty-boy uniform on day shift and OD fatigues on evenings and nights. I was officially "on the road." In fact, in the jargon of the day, a "road MP" meant you were a Garrison Duty cop working the streets (not deskbound). In the very beginning, that is all I wanted to be - just a road MP.

     My patrol supervisor, a staff sergeant, was a cool guy in his late forties, a Nam vet with a great attitude who we all knew was soon to cycle out for his next assignment overseas. One night we had a dangerous armed fugitive loose; and at that squad meeting, he really spoke frankly about taking the fugitive down without hesitation if we had to save our lives. Take no chances. I don't know, maybe because it was the very first time I had heard “that” speech for real (and it was not a groaner!), but I vividly remember that night and his intensity. It's a quiet, intense speech I would hear again hundreds of times and make a few times myself. That speech. A speech that shaves off, that rasps off, a few layers of your “laid-back” and replaces it with a raw “get ready.” That fugitive was eventually caught up in Kansas.

     Anyway, things like this made the Sarge A-OK with me and the troops. So when I heard him one night kind of lose his cool over the radio, I was really curious about why and what was going on?

     THAT speech! A speech that shaves off or that files off a few layers of your “laid-back” and replaces it with a raw “get ready.”

     That one late night, a common domestic disturbance call came over our car radios at a residence way out of my district. The Sarge intercepted the call and started issuing fervent commands over the airwaves. He sounded a bit rattled. It began to sound like a military assault rather than a two-officer domestic call. He even called me in.

     “Car 11.”

     “Car 11, go ahead.”

     “Car 11, respond to the domestic. Park on the street. Remain outside until needed.”


     OK. What's this all about? This was different, but then again, it was all different for me – the rookie in his first month. I drove across the base and down the side street where a row of some ten narrow, really old white houses were. They were all in a line like matchboxes, all on one side of the street and nothing across the street but a fenced-in, industrial looking place. The street was dark. Depressing government housing to live in. Each house had a small front porch in the center of the house front. To my memory there were at least four or five patrol cars parked on the sidewalk curb out front. A lot of cars. I made it about the fifth car there. I came from the farthest, so I pulled up last.

     I parked and got out. All of the MPs present were still on the street side of their cars. The Sarge was shouting to a man. I could see a white male standing on the small front porch. Arms down at his sides. I was off to his left at about 4 o'clock and a good, maybe 40 feet, away. I remember his visage on the porch, a bright white light right over his head. His face in stark white and black shadows. T-shirt and pants. Silent. No one approached him as yet.

     I started to decipher what the Sarge was yelling, when … this guy lifted his right arm up straight. There was a pistol in it! He started shooting at us. His arms swung the wide span of our cars as he fired away. I dropped down and fumbled open the flap holster of my .45. But it didn't take long; and for the first time in my professional life, I drew out my pistol. With these explosions, I also dropped down behind my car. Everyone else did, too, that I could see. Nowhere in my training was it ever mentioned about using parts of a car as a shield against gunfire. The tires. The engine block. Ricochets, etc. But then again, these were stout cars of yesteryear metal. Old 1970's AMC Matadors.

     One of my vivid memories is the metallic sounds of the bullets smashing into our cars. Thumping also describes it. My car! In split seconds, he emptied his magazine just as I peeked over my car at him, getting up to take a shot. No one else had shot yet either! Why? Everyone else was so much closer than me. I could see he dropped his gun arm back down to his side, and the Sarge rushed him gun out and yelling he would kill the man. Other MPs rushed him. The man stood still like a statue. By the time I got around my car and halfway to the house, the man was cuffed. He was yanked off the porch. Another MP held the suspect's pistol in his hand.

     Then a women and three small kids barged out of the door. The woman cried, embraced the Sarge. The kids were crying. My friend who had parked right in front of the house said the kids were crying in the front room while the man stood on the porch. And the wife was at the door inside until he started shooting!

     In a quick sit-rep, no car windows were blown out. Not every car was hit. None of us were shot. Any other rounds the man fired must have landed into the industrial place across the street. Nobody died. It was another good day.

     It was apparent that Sarge was very familiar with the “situation” at the house. Another MP told me they'd been dispatched there several times in the last few months; and this showdown was really brewing, which was why the Sarge reacted to the call as he did. The man was arrested by the district officer who cuffed him, and I returned to my district. Not even a witness statement was needed. Just one report by the arresting officer covered the whole story.

     At the end of the tour, we turned our car keys over to the next shift with a new story. “You see this hole?” At the station, the Sarge collected up our final reports from the night and thanked those of us at the shooting for responding “so well” to this domestic incident. He thanked us for not shooting at the suspect right away. He told us that the old wooden house was full of people - the kids and the mom - and if we all lit up the man and the house with .45 ammo, we could have hit the family inside. And the fact that he took a little time to "debrief us" was another lesson in professionalism for me. He even patted me on the back as we all split up to leave.

     Pat on the back? Hell, I was 40 feet away, and the whole thing was over in about 3 seconds. I didn't do anything at all. But it is still a moment I will never forget. Multiple first impressions, really. The way the Sarge deployed us. And, his forethought of worrying about the family inside the thin wooden walls of the house. I mean, I never thought about such a thing. Oh, well, they barked the four basic gun safety rules at us, and the third Law –
“always be sure of your target and what is behind it!”

     Suddenly that rule had real, physical teeth. Flesh. Real meaning. Oh! Is THAT what it means? The Sarge knew the wife and kids were right there behind the target. And who thought about the “suicide By Cop” syndrome back in the 1970s?

     So in the first month on the job, I'd pulled my gun to shoot someone and I was shot at. Was this the life I chose? The career? The expectations? The reality? Yes and no, but I reckon so. No real regrets, but I do regret that I cannot remember the Sarge's name. I didn't know back then that such remembrances were important later in life, if only for yourself. Within a few weeks he was whisked off to his next assignment. He was a cool guy all right. And the next guy was okay, too, but I don't remember his name either.

     But wait, this story isn't over yet, and I learned the BIGGEST lesson…. Pay day is a big day at a military base, and back then it was all paychecks and cash and carry. The banks went wild with walk-in and drive-thru business. Being the rookie, the lowest of low on the totem pole, I was assigned to direct traffic at one of the banks. I was stoically positioned up on a painted podium in the middle of four lanes of traffic, Class A's WITH white gloves, white hat, and the mighty whistle, working the cars in and out and to and fro. I knew little of this process, too, but it's not brain surgery and I picked it up quickly. TWEET! Oh, and I do hate it, too.

     There were many people and cars criss-crossing everywhere around me. I saw a staff sergeant in his class A's, with a big smile leave the bank and walk across the street right by me. WHAT? It was this guy who shot at us. That was the guy! Right there! He didn't recognize me or even look at me. I have to admit I was shocked. How could a guy shoot at MPs, then three or four weeks later be bouncing around the post, smiling and as free as a bird? That was another big, first lesson for me.

     The criminal justice system, whether military or civilian was a strange, dysfunctional, and bizarre place full of imperfect and often incompetent people. Yes. I was now one of them. And the view from atop my little painted podium that day and for the rest of my life … was not always a pleasant one.

Combat Strikes 1, 2, 3
The First Three Strike Modules of the Force 
Necessary: Hand! course.

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