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For This Law Enforcement Officer, 9/11 Inspires Service

How the Tragedy of 9/11 Helped Show Me How I Could Be Better and Dig Deeper


9/11 100th Recruit Class Memorial Symbol

100th Recruit Class symbol, commemorating the tragedy of 9/11/2001. The class started on 9/10/2001, a day before the attacks. Photo copyright 2011 by Tim Roufa

Timothy Roufa

On September 10th, 2001, my wife dropped me off at the police academy so I could begin my law enforcement career. For the next 6 months, I would be living at the academy during the week, away from home and away from her, only allowed to go home on the weekends. We both knew it would be hard, but we also knew it was something I had to do.

The Hardest Day...So Far

As we gave each other one last hug goodbye, we were both well aware that our lives would be changed forever by my new career choice. What we couldn't have known at the time was that the entire world would change forever in less than 24 hours.

I entered into my law enforcement career on that warm September day with 47 other recruits. All of us thought we knew what to expect as the instructors shouted orders and had us doing pushups for even the slightest deviation from their seemingly contradictory orders.

For the next 8 hours, as we found ourselves staring at the slippery, sweat-soaked tile as we did pushup after pushup, I'm sure I wasn't the only one who wondered if I could really do this and if it was worth it. Finally, we were released to get some sleep so we could do it all again tomorrow.

For me, September 11th, 2001, started right where September 10th left off, with pushups, leg lifts, shouting and sweating. Relief came for us when we entered the classroom. We were, after all, there to learn.

When the physical discipline finally ceased and we took our seats, the negative thoughts came flooding back. Was I going to be able to do this? Could I really last 6 months? I began to believe that I wasn't cut out for the job and that there was no way I would be able to finish my academy training. I had not been there 24 hours, and I was already a failure in my mind.

The World Falls Apart

At approximately 10 o'clock that morning, the chief training officer entered the classroom and took the podium. He told us that two planes had crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and that there was a belief that it was a terrorist attack.

There was no elaboration and no explanation. Just a brief, stoic announcement. We were placed on a short break, and one of our fellow recruits was allowed to call his sister, who lived in New York and worked in the World Trade Center and make sure she was okay, which she was. We then continued with our training day, and I continued wondering if I could make it.

At the academy, we were cut off from the world. No television, no phones, no radio. We were told that we were there to learn and study, and nothing else. There were two small T.V.'s in the classroom. At 4 o'clock, our recruit class coordinator turned them on briefly and let us watch the news.

We were given a quick, 5-minute glimpse of a World Trade Center tower in flames and saw images of what we later learned were live people jumping to their deaths as they made a grisly choice between a terminal plummet and a fiery hell. That was the last we saw or heard of 9/11 for 4 days.

We were allowed to use phones that evening to call loved ones to check on them. My wife was scared. She said it was bad, and she was clearly shaken. I had no idea how bad.

No Distractions, No News, No Idea

The instructors, not wanting us to be distracted from our training, kept the true horrors of 9/11 from us during that first week, and so we went along, blissfully unaware of what was really going on in the world. I spent the rest of the week still struggling with my choice, as the discipline and the physical and mental exertion continued. I constantly questioned my mental and physical toughness as we were tested every step of the way.

We were released on Friday afternoon. That evening, 4 days after the towers fell, I sat in my living room and watched the news. For the first time, I was able to take in the true terror that the attacks of 9/11 had wrought. For 48 hours, I watched what the rest of the world had been seeing for a week.

The True Horror, Revealed

I marveled at the heroism of the firefighters and police officers who I saw on television, running toward the burning buildings as so many others were running away. I mourned the loss of first responders and innocent civilians I had never met, who had started that day wanting nothing more than to go to work and earn a decent living with no idea of what was to come. I cried for 2 days straight, sad for the families, sad for the nation, sad for the world.

New Purpose, No More Doubt

I realized that weekend, as the true nature of the world and humanity was revealed to me, with all of the good and bad of all of us on display all at once, that there was no longer a question of whether I could finish the academy.

I was going to finish. I was going to honor those who gave their lives for others, in every way I could, and it was going to start with me enduring whatever our academy instructors threw at us. I was going to get tough, I was going to get smart, and I was going to serve my state and my country, no matter what it took.

Never Forget, Always Honor

Now, years later, I am the academy instructor. The halls of my training facility are filled with reminders of that terrible day. Not an hour goes by at work that I don't think about those who died on 9/11 so that others may have lived. My career, and the career of everyone who graduated with me, is inextricably tied to that infamous day.

I promised myself I would work to make a difference in the lives of others, in part to honor the sacrifice of those brave men and women in the towers and The Pentagon. My career has been based on that promise, and I only pray that I have done justice to the memories of those brave heroes during my time as a law enforcement officer.

To Serve is to Sacrifice

Service and sacrifice are at the core of any career in criminal justice and criminology. For those who are contemplating such a career, it's important to always remember the true purpose of the job. Never lose sight of what you may one day be called upon to do, and never do anything to dishonor the memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in service of others.

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