When’s the last time you felt that sense of satisfaction that comes from truly selfless service? I’m talking about doing something for others with no expectation of recognition or reward, and, in particular, doing something you don’t have to do. During my career, I’ve had the opportunity to ask hundreds of applicants why they wanted to be a police officer. Not surprisingly, about 99% of the time the response was a version of, “Because I want to help people,” or “I want to serve my community.”
Unfortunately, once in the job, many tend to drift from that initial service commitment and become self-absorbed. Once a person gets comfortable in a job, it’s very easy—too easy—to simply look at the world in terms of, “What have you (or my employer) done for me lately?” When times get challenging, as they are right now, too many people reflect solely on how their world is impacted.
Some of you may have heard of Will Jimeno, a person who, in my opinion, is the absolute embodiment of service. A native of Columbia, South America, Jimeno gained U.S. citizenship while serving as a gunner’s mate in the Navy. He had always felt a strong calling to serve and realized his lifelong dream by becoming a New York & New Jersey Port Authority police officer at the age of 33. His dream came to an abrupt end on Sept. 11, 2001.
Jimeno and other members of a rescue team were buried under tons of debris when the first World Trade Center tower fell. Jimeno sustained critical injuries, as did his sergeant, John McGloughlin. Two officers were killed in the initial collapse, and Jimeno’s academy classmate, Dom Pezullo, died in front of Jimeno when the second tower fell. In an experience so incredible that it became a hit movie ( World Trade Center ), Jimeno and McGloughlin managed to survive.
After months of intensive surgery, Jimeno was able to walk again. Despite his best efforts, he eventually had to retire from the job he loved. He struggled with post traumatic stress disorder and depression but persevered with a determination that few could match. He has spoken in front of countless police groups, and a common theme in his talks is what an honor it is to wear a badge and serve. To read the Jimeno story, “Buried Alive,” which appeared in Law Officer, go to www.lawofficer.com and keyword search “Jimeno.”
In 2006, Jimeno was instrumental in helping Law Officer launch Project Inspire, a relief effort for police officers after Hurricane Katrina. And when we rolled out Project Inspire II to help Macon County, Tenn., recover from a devastating tornado, Jimeno was at the center of the effort. When he won a large sum of money on the game show, Deal or No Deal, Jimeno continued to serve by giving to those who needed help, including an officer who lost his leg in an accident, another officer battling cancer and a family who’d lost a loved one in the line of duty.
When I started working on this column, I called Jimeno and asked him to share some thoughts about the honor of policing. He didn’t hesitate in his response.
“Police work is a special calling,” he said. “It gives you an opportunity to go hands-on and really affect people’s lives in a dramatic way.”
When I asked Jimeno what he’d say to those facing challenges, his voice filled with passion.
“Those are the times when we need to commit ourselves even more so to the job,” he said. “We should not be deterred because of challenges. Shrug them off and keep on with our mission—to protect and serve.
“Those who wear the badge should know they are someone that the community needs and relies on,” Jimeno said. “Don’t come on the job expecting people to praise you all the time. That’s great when it happens, but it won’t always be the case. You should look in the mirror and be proud of what you do. Yes, there will be challenges, but we’re a better country because of the officers who serve. Officers need to remember how special they are because of the service they provide.”
The bottom line: Stand up like Will Jimeno did after the whole world came down on top of him. Step out even when you’re feeling down. Serve proudly because doing so is an honor. Remember the pride you felt when you first received your badge, and then remember that it truly isn’t about you; it’s about those you serve. —Dale Stockton, Editor in Chief