Not knowing what career direction I wanted to pursue out of high school, I thought back to my elementary school days and my dreams of enlisting in the military or becoming a police officer. I heard about the camaraderie or special connection a police officer has with other officers; “a brotherhood” so-to-speak. I was able to see how this “brotherhood” and a community came together after the tragic story of a local police officer from my childhood. Michael R. Baribeau, a police officer in my hometown of Rice Lake, Wisconsin, was shot and killed on, December 19, 1995 while investigating a domestic disturbance. Officer Baribeau left behind a wife, son and daughter. His story has always reminded me of the reason I wanted to become a police officer, which was not just to serve and protect the community but to also help families of fallen officers, my lost “brothers and sisters”.
In 2006, I graduated from the Green Bay Technical College with an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice. My first job started in May 2006 as a park ranger for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. In February 2007, my dream of becoming a police officer became a reality when I obtained a full-time job at the Hobart/Lawrence Police Department located only a few miles west of Green Bay, Wisconsin. When I was hired, I learned of Hobart/Lawrence’s own tragedy. On July 22, 2002, Hobart/Lawrence police officers Robert Galen Etter and Stephanie Rae Markins were killed by a vehicular assault while they both sat at a stop sign doing paperwork. An adult male driving a truck intentionally rammed the side of officer Etter and Markins squad car at a high rate of speed, killing them both on impact. Since I learned of their tragic deaths, I started getting into a daily routine of waking up every morning to look online at www.ODMP.org, the Officer Down Memorial Page (O.D.M.P).
O.D.M.P is a non-profit organization that reports in the line of duty officer deaths online. On a daily basis, I read about a different police officers death, family members they have left behind and how their deaths have impacted people all over the world. I try to remember their pictures posted on the website and read the reflections left behind.
In 2010, I applied and was selected to attend a very challenging Drug Recognition Expert (D.R.E) program through the State of Wisconsin. I felt like part of a specialized team similar to specialized military forces such as the Navy Seals and Army Rangers. During my training, I was privileged to meet fellow police officers from all over Wisconsin and create new friendships, one of those including Tyler Gaidish. Tyler knew how to touch the lives of everyone he met. Tyler always spoke softly no matter what situation he was in and always made the person he spoke with feel important. On April 8, 2012, Tyler died of suicide. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing when I got the phone call in the middle of the night. I thought to myself, “I just spoke to Tyler yesterday, we were planning a trip, if I only asked other questions.” Tyler’s gravestone reads: A Life Touched The Hearts Of Others Lives Forever.
After Tyler’s death, I vowed to change my life mentally, emotionally and physically. I knew Tyler was important to many and it showed with the words engraved on his headstone. I thought about Michael, Tyler, Robert, Stephanie and other police officers that have died in the line of duty. I felt that special and emotional connection. I wanted to make a difference for my “brothers and sisters” who gave their lives serving and protecting others.