As we approach the 20h Anniversary of the terrorist attacks on our country – those committed on September 11, 2001 – we are also seeing our country completely pulled out of Afghanistan; an event that has left the country overrun by the Taliban. The Taliban – those who attacked us in the first place. As I ponder this new reality this morning, I heard a song on the radio that made me think about a lot of people I know and how current events might be affecting them.

The song is “One Wing In The Fire” by Trent Tomlinson. The main refrain is, “He’s an angel with no halo and one wing in fire.” That phrase struck a chord in me – no pun intended. All my adult life I’ve spent either in a uniform or training, supporting and serving those others who are. I am a veteran of the U.S. Army and the Maryland Army National Guard. I spent 11 years as a volunteer firefighter. I have been a sworn police officer longer than many of my readers have been alive: 35+ years.

Through all of my years of service I was acutely aware of one thing: “doing good” isn’t always easy or simple. Sometimes, doing what’s best for society overall, or for a segment thereof, or just for the people I was tasked with protecting, meant having to do harm to another.

I won’t get into the academic argument about whether or not pacifism is the only morally pure way to overcome violence. I have never been one to accept violence without response. I was not raised to be a victim – and don’t believe anyone else should be. I believe that every individual has an innate right to self-defense without any threat of punishment. If you are attacked, I believe you have the right to defend yourself in whatever manner and with whatever force it takes to stop the attacker from causing you harm. I don’t believe there is anything dishonorable, immoral or unethical about defending yourself.

History and experience have taught me the reality that there are some people who simply can’t or won’t defend themselves. They are incapable of violence even in their own defense; or they choose to be willing victims rather than commit an act of harm against a fellow human being. God bless them.

Thankfully, they are still protected by others who are capable of committing those acts of violence. In fact, it’s one of the most honorable and admirable things a human being can do: risk their own life and well-being in the defense of another. I’ve done this and I consider myself lucky to know dozens of men and women who have done the same. Sadly, I knew a few who made the ultimate sacrifice along the way, giving their life in the service of protecting, serving and defending others. It’s a lesson even noted in The Bible (King James Version): John 15:13 – Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. And I know people who gave their lives for total strangers.

Let’s face it: our military service personnel and our law enforcement professionals are, without argument, angels to some. They appear when most needed to serve and protect or defend and protect those who most need it. These men and women make great sacrifices to perform these duties and every one among them I call friend considers it an honor to have done so. They took an oath and they feel obligated still to abide by that oath.

Sometimes though, abiding by that oath requires them to be less than angelic – as we usually think of angels. We tend to view, in our mind’s eye, a golden white glowing being with a bright halo and spread wings who descends from heaven or appears when most needed, commits some miracle and then disappears again.

Let me offer you a slightly different version of an angel: The Archangel Michael – leader of God’s armies in heaven. Not just an angel but an ARCHangel, Michael was a warrior who fought God’s battles.

Well… if an archangel can do it, can’t human beings do it? When a soldier or a policeman shows up in an emergency and performs an act that protects and/or saves an innocent victim from harm, isn’t that a miracle? If you think not, perhaps you should ask some of the victims.

BUT… that soldier or policeman might have to commit an act of violence along the way. That’s not very angelic is it? Will that earn him (or her) a halo?  I’m not so sure. I think that’s when, just maybe, they’ve spread their wings but one tip is a bit closer to the fires of hell than any of us would be comfortable with.

And so, I bring you to where I am in my head as I write this: “An angel with no halo” – that describes so many men and women I know; people who wear a uniform and protect others, committing acts of random kindness and small miracles along the way. “And one wing in the fire” – an almost perfect analogy for the behavior that we have to embrace to maintain our oath; to protect and defend; to save others who are incapable of doing it themselves.

As we approach the 20th anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, I want you all to remember each and every angel with no halo and one wing in the fire: Every man and woman who serves or served in a military uniform and all of the same in any law enforcement uniform. Every one of them stands like an angel to skirt the fires of hell in defense of the innocent. Remember them with honor and appreciation. Never forget.

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