*Note: This essay was published in the Colorado Springs Gazette print edition on October 16, 2017. It can also be found online here.

While wearing my military uniform, I often hear a distant, direct, “thank you for your service.” It’s always appreciated, but, during a painfully long week, containing the aftermath of the tragedy in Las Vegas, wildfires tearing across California, and a personal emergency closer to home (not to mention the immense recoveries in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico) – it’s high time that someone in the military paid forward that common compliment. To all those involved in our nation’s public safety and service, please accept a full-throated, deeply heartfelt, “thank you for your service.”

The Las Vegas Police Department has earned a kind word. There can be no doubt they saved hundreds of lives in responding effectively to the shooting spree unleashed from a cowardly killer’s many smoking guns. At such an elevated position, with so much weaponry within reach, the only thing stopping many more murders was the speed, professionalism, and courage of the local police.

It took them 12 minutes to reach the killer’s room on the hotel’s 32nd floor. Because the killer chose to take his life instead of facing the police, the quick response resulted in fewer fatalities. Las Vegas Sheriff Joseph Lombardo had studied the infamous 2008 Mumbai terror attack (in which tactical teams used small arms and explosives to wreak havoc for several days in that major Indian city), and so he trained his force to “immediately react to a stop a shooter at any cost.” While a more dangerous approach, this preparation clearly saved hundreds, maybe even a thousand lives.

Another kind of merciless fire rages to the northwest. In California, almost two dozen wildfires are incinerating buildings and lives. Frightening numbers, revised upward each day (and likely worse by the time you read this), tell much of the story: over 30 deaths, at least 20,000 evacuated, more than 200,000 acres containing 3,500 homes and businesses have been burned out of existence (in comparison, the Waldo Canyon fire destroyed about 350 homes).

Firefighters in California are working around the clock, some as much as 80 hours straight. One battalion chief, Kirk Van Wormer of Cal Fire, told his people: “I wish I could say the cavalry is coming – it’s not.” These 8,000 firefighters, risking life and health, are all that stands between our fellow citizens and certain devastation.

It’s hard not to spot the heroism in those that run toward the fire and the flames. They keep the bad from getting worse.

But others, in a quieter, steadier way, also keep us on life’s better path. Their public service is equally meaningful, particularly because they often care for the youngest and oldest among us.

Consider my 6-year-old daughter. She has seizures and has moved four times in three years. At times, she can be cripplingly bashful with adults and other kids, and has had some trouble adjusting to school. So we’re infinitely grateful that her kindergarten teacher and classroom aides have been exceptional at breaking our little girl out of her shy shell. Or the librarians that patiently support her development by making available thousands of books that nurture her maturing mind. Or the neurologists and nurses that monitor and show genuine concern for her budding brain.

Just a few nights ago, a team from the Manitou Springs Fire Department arrived at our house within minutes, responding to a second seizure in recent months. They were so kind, so helpful, so steady in an uncertain moment, and they honored every syllable of their motto: “Neighbors serving neighbors.”

As a military officer, my first duty is to the nation’s defense, even above the needs of my family. That reality is so harsh it’s sometimes hard to even express, let alone write. It goes against every human instinct: to leave for long stretches instead of being there for them as a husband and father. My wife’s done too many emergency room trips alone.

I couldn’t do my job without the support of this enormous public security and service community. That’s why it’s so important for me, as a member of the military, to say to all the cops, firefighters, paramedics, nurses, doctors, TSA professionals, teachers, librarians, and the cornucopia of others that serve our American public: thank you for your service. You are appreciated. You make all our lives safer and better.

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