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What Makes a Warrior?
By Tracy E. Barnhart
Published: 08/30/2010

Warrior I have written many training articles and trained many individuals who I hope never need the tactics and strategies that I have shown. I often wonder while pondering and reminiscing of old times hoping that I told each student everything that I knew or 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 corrections profession has 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, corrections officers today are a Para-military force, but it is much more. 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 correctional officers is simple: prowess in conflict.

Each correctional 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 for assistance in a rioting pod? A modern day correctional warrior.

“Of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there; 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 corrections, then the new warrior can draw upon the legacy of his newly acquired brotherhood. Therein lays 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: Honor requires each officer to exemplify the ultimate standard in ethical and moral conduct. Honor is many things; honor 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

COURAGE: Simply stated, courage is honor in action, and more. Courage 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

COMMITMENT: Total dedication to profession and brotherhood. “Teamwork.” “All for one, one for all”. 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 mans character, give him power.”

Honor, Courage, Commitment, they make up the bedrock of the character of each individual officer. They are the foundation of the Organization these three values, handed down from generation to generation, have made 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.”

“It is not the critic who counts, not the one who points out how the strong man stumbled or how the doer of deeds might have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred with sweat and dust and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes up short time and time again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself a worthy cause; who if he wins knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.”

Draw upon the pride and knowledge of our predecessors before us and revel in the knowledge that you walk among greatness. The profession that you have chosen is one of greatness and pride. The image that you create will not only affect you but 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.

Why does it take a crisis to make us aware of what is important? Typically, it takes a crisis to make us change the way we do business. Today, corrections are in such a crisis. As unprecedented demands are placed on it, as violence escalates among our inmates, as the threat of terrorism persists, today’s officers confront a range of issues and challenges more ominous than their counterparts of even two decades ago could have imagined. Agencies must move to a new style of leadership that will assist them in increasing public trust and increase effectiveness in resolving and avoiding future institutional crises.

Visit the Tracy Barnhart page

Other articles by Barnhart:


  1. shakey on 09/05/2010:

    This where we disagree Gunfighter. You see, I’m not a desk jockey sitting around thinking of articles to put on this site, I am what some would call a actual Correctional Officer doing my job, dealing with the things that normal Correctional Officers deal with daily. I also am a senior Correctional officer at this Institution and I'm always asked for and give advice. I may not be perfect but I will never steer anyone wrong or place another Officer in a position that might jeopardize his or her safety or job. Ask anybody who knows me, if trust me to have their back in any situation. You see I have always been a professional and have been since 1981 as a Military Police Officer, VA Police Officer and also as a Correctional Officer(not saying that I don't screw up once in a while). Being a professional entails all the aspects of this and any other job, be it simply observing the day to day activities (75% of the time) handling the unruly (20%), to hitting the go switch to handle heart pumping (warrior) stuff. But also as a professional I try to keep everything in prospective, this job changes very quickly and I have only seen it go up in the aggressiveness level one time and that was when they had all the officers here at RiCI carry OC. Everything else has pointed to a more passive style of Corrections, do I agree, NO but it is what it is. I will end this string of posts here, because I always fail to learn my lesson about picking arguments with people on the web. If you want, we can sit down over beers and share stories, heck I don’t live but 10 miles from Galion. I don’t have anything against you personally but after 17 years in the system, I just see things differently.

  2. Gunfighter on 09/05/2010:

    Shakey, I wanted to respond to your post so bad but I forced myself to wait so that I would not be demeaning to you. I understand your points and if you would actually read my articles you would find that we have a lot of things in common. You are reading the header and attempting to make it fit into your reality of what you believe corrections officers should be. I am attempting to create a more knowledgable officer who is prepared and ready if a problem happens. No where in anything I wright do I advise officers to attack or use deadly force when its not justified. I give them those green light indicators where thier safety may be in jeapoardy. Why don't you actually ready the articles on my page and then post comments. I look forward to your educated comments. Moving forward and establishing a professional officer is tough on the old school officers who don't see themselves as professional and holding a warrior mindset. Its sad Shakey that you don't see yourself in that light.

  3. Tery on 09/05/2010:

    OK total newbie here. I liked the article. To me the warrior mentality is something I strive for every day. And I can tell you that I don't "strut my stuff" anywhere. To me it is a calm, decisive mental state that allows a person to "see" 3-5 seconds ahead of themselves. We are duty and honor bound to maintain a higher standard of personal integrity and this does not include "riling up inmates". As I understand it we were called "Guards" back in the day. Here is your boost of ego in verbiage, now we are called "Correctional Officers". Does it make a difference? I think so. Not just to new officers like but more important The Public's (which is where the funding comes from) perception. I don't want to be seen as a thug with a set of cuffs and a bottle of pepper spray. I want to be seen as a Professional Officer with a proper attitude and well trained abilities. So for me that Warrior Mentality will keep me aware of my surroundings and safe when I am alone with 100 convicted inmates. Just because I have this mentality also does not mean I have to be a difficult person (i.e. Dick). Just my two cents.

  4. tthr81 on 09/05/2010:

    I also work at RiCI and know what Shakey is talking about. He is no burnout and one of the most professional c/o's here. I did not find anything in your article that comes even close to describing corrections as I know it. Go ahead and call me a burnout too, but you would be wrong. I have worked with Shakey on every post there is since transfering here ten years ago, and he treats everyone, be it staff or inmate as a professional.

  5. shakey on 09/04/2010:

    Come on Gunfighter, you post articles about the warrior mindset all the time, I think every posting you place on here has something to do with attacking people, On one post you started, it was “Deadly Force Use” the issues that came up in that post provided all understanding about your mindset. You, I think need a pill (or 3) to calm down or move to a job that requires you to be this warrior monster that you perceive yourself to be. You sound like one of those Officers (and we have a few in ever prison) that no matter what's going on in the pod or dorm, have to go in and rile the inmates up and get things started. If you fall into this category of Officer, then a guess that I'm always going to be a one of those problems that you will never overcome, because myself and most officers don’t believe in such crap. It all points to a internal problem that those type of Officers have and that's excitement, they crave it to the point that they have to make it up at any cost. To think a rookie saying I not a professional, grow up son, because I have been there and have done that and most likely do more than you ever will..

  6. shakey on 09/04/2010:

    Like I stated prior, I work and continue to work for the same State Agency where the author has gather his Correctional working experience from, so I do have a knowledgeable understanding of the environment for which he works and what the majority of our co-workers are like. If keeping it real as they say, makes my statement in poor taste to you, then so be it. Before you get the impression that I have not worked at any of the tougher institutions, please look up the 3 that I listed earlier. Some people like to boost their egos with the power of verbiage, i.e.... Sanitation specialist = Garbage collector (not that I have anything against that profession) same meaning, just one sounds better. We are just Correctional Officers doing the best we can with what we have. No need to make us something that we are not, we live in a Society that expects professionalism from our ranks, not warriors looking for an arena to strut our stuff in.

  7. Gunfighter on 09/04/2010:

    Shakey, It seems that you are one of the problems that I am attempting to overcome. Its called burnout officer syndrome. It also sounds like you do not think of yourself as a professional not to mention a warrior. These are core attributes, that go hand in hand with dicipline. As for your thoughts , You might want to look around, I think you may be standing alone. As for the mindset you possess, lets just say change happens as a result of slow steady pressure applied over time. Change for you and your institution may not happen until you retire. Sorry you did not get anything out of the article.

  8. booch on 09/04/2010:

    The article written is a warriors motto: Honor, Courage, Commitment, discipline, and personal integrity. The respect given comes from the attributes stated in Tracy's article. The value of opinions is an American liberty which is why I serve and continue to serve the citizens of our United States. The attack mode on the author or his mind set is in poor taste. Thanks for sharing the information my fellow warrior! United We Serve..

  9. shakey on 09/01/2010:

    I have worked in Correction for almost 17 years and have worked at MCI, ManCI and opened RiCI. 3/4 of the officers do not even come close to what you have written in this artical. Get your head out of the clouds about the precieved Warriors that stomp down the range with you. As for Para Military? NO, NO and NO again, only the officers on the SRT teams get close that mentality but only when called up to preform. Before you write anymore Hyped up bravado stories about Correction offices please change the info on you BIO about working for the State of Ohio because the mind set you have about Warriors does not apply here. Any question you have about my comments please call me @ RiCI ask for SHAKEY everyone knows me here.

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