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The makings of a warrior
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 05/27/2008

Tracy Barnhart is a Marine combat veteran of Desert Storm / Desert Shield. In 2000, he joined the Ohio Department of Youth Services at the Marion Juvenile Corrections Facility, a maximum security male correctional facility housing more than 320 offenders. Barnhart works with 16 to 21-year-old, male offenders with violent criminal convictions and aggressive natures. In his monthly column, he discusses everyday issues affecting corrections professionals.

I have written many training articles, and trained many individuals whom I hope never need the tactics and strategies I have shown. I often wonder, while pondering and reminiscing old times, if I told each student everything I know or if I have shown them the details of the tactics necessary to subdue the resisting individual.

However, I always return to the same thought, what makes a warrior? In a very real sense, corrections employees serve more time in prison than many inmates -- they just serve it in eight-hour installments.

The famous criminologist, James B. Jacobs noted, "A career correctional officer in effect commits himself to a life sentence in prison."

The law enforcement and corrections profession have evolved into American icons, the warrior elite. Why? What makes them tick? Why does the individual officer stand head and shoulders above all other professional warrior wannabes?

The answers are complex. True, law enforcement today is a military force, but it is much more. Law enforcement and correctional officers are an elite fraternity, a spiritual brotherhood.

Entry into our ranks is a calling. For most, earning the title is closely akin to becoming a priest. Yet, the ethos of the warrior culture of law enforcement and correctional officers is simple: prowess in conflict.

Each officer, past and present, has entered more than just the brotherhood. He has become, and will always remain, part of a mystical fellowship of valor.

He must comply with hallowed rituals. He must conform to an uncompromising code of honor, discipline, and personal integrity. Commitment to his agency and moral strength become the norm.

Throughout history, these virtues have sustained warriors during the chaos and perils of combat. You may be able to win without fighting, and that is preferable. But, it is harder, and the enemy may not cooperate.

The mission and the accomplishment of that mission are grander than your own well being. Warriors have a calling and those individual warriors would serve a higher calling even if there was no conflict to fight.

Some individuals were meant to call 911; and some individuals were meant to be 911. What make courageous individuals knowingly and willingly walk into a maximum security prison, the so called, “Belly of the Beast,” or respond effectively to a call of shots fired? A modern day law enforcement or correctional warrior.
    Of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there; Eighty are nothing but targets; Nine are real fighters….We are lucky to have them….They make the battle. Ah; but one; one of them is a Warrior….And he will bring the others back.” Heraclitus (Circa 500 B.C.)
Once they have earned the title and entered the brotherhood of law enforcement, then the new warrior can draw upon the legacy of his brotherhood. Therein lies their strength. In return, the strength of the agency lies in the individual officer.

The character (often defined as "what you are in the dark") of these warriors is defined by the three constant Organization Values: honor, courage, and commitment.


Honor requires each officer to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct. Honor is many things, and requires many things.

A law enforcement and correctional officer must never lie, never cheat, never steal, but that is not enough. Much more is required.

Each officer must cling to an uncompromising code of personal integrity, accountable for his actions and holding others accountable for theirs. And, above all, honor mandates that an officer never sully the reputation of the profession.
    "Honor never grows old, and honor rejoices the heart of age. It does so because honor is, finally, about defending those noble and worthy things that deserve defending, even if it comes at a high cost. In our time, that may mean social disapproval, public scorn, hardship, persecution, or as always, even death itself. The question remains: What is worth defending? What is worth dying for? What is worth living for?”
    William J. Bennett, United States Naval Academy, November 24, 1997

Simply stated, courage is honor in action -- and more. It is moral strength, the will to heed the inner voice of conscience, the will to do what is right regardless of the conduct of others. It is mental discipline, an adherence to a higher standard. Courage means willingness to take a stand for what is right in spite of adverse consequences. This courage, throughout the history has sustained officers during the chaos, perils, and hardships of conflict. And each day, it enables each officer to look in the mirror -- and be proud.
    “The harder that you work; the harder it is to surrender.”
    Vince Lombardi

Total dedication to profession and brotherhood. By whatever name or cliché, commitment is a combination of selfless determination and a relentless dedication to excellence. Officers never give up, never give in, and never willingly accept second best. Excellence is always the goal. Commitment never dies even after the badge is retired or a folded flag is handed to your significant other.
    “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
    Abraham Lincoln
Honor, courage, commitment; they make up the bedrock of the character of each individual officer. They are the foundation of the organization, handed down from generation to generation, making law enforcement and correctional officers the warrior elite. Speaking specifically about correctional officers, but I think that it also applies to law enforcement officers, C.T. Mangrum stated:
    “There is not much that average correctional officers can do about their external environments, but they can change their self-images, gain pride, and place emphasis on professional behavior. Officers must be committed to professionalism and must be competent, credible, and confident.

    Commitment comes from action, perseverance, and attitude. Competency must be gain and maintained. Credibility must be earned internal and external to the individual and the organization. Confidence ... flows from these other attributes and characteristics.

    It is a widely accepted belief that the officer who has a solid educational background, professional supervision, ongoing in-service training, and continuous professional development will be better able to cope with the external influences that will have a continuing impact on corrections.”
Draw upon the pride and knowledge of our predecessors and revel in the knowledge that you walk among greatness. The profession that you have chosen is one of greatness and pride.

The image you create will not only affect you but also affect the entire image of us all. Take pride in yourself and in your profession.

Walk tall and revel in the path of greatness that our forefathers cut into society. Train as if your life depends upon it; because, someday it just might.

Other articles by Barnhart:

Survey of violent youth, Part II, 4/14/08 Survey of today’s violent youth, 4/7/08


  1. Gene Atherton on 05/29/2008:

    A well designed, inspirational message. One of the best I have read. It is always good to have someone giving this message somewhere at the front of the correctional organization. However, I believe that there is a major failure of use of force training systems in correctional system to teach and cause correctional staff to walk and talk the warrior ethic. Part of the problem is, most often, causing staff to be ethical is seen as a formal training issue only. Most want, and desparately need, the technical skills and to choose to keep their homemade ethics derived from the community or battlefield. Gene Atherton

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