Everything They Said It Would Be
By John R. Russo
The FBI National Academy (NA) was everything they said it would it be! Only 10 weeks ago, we arrived in Quantico, out of our comfort zone and forced into a foreign environment that we all have come to cherish.
Good morning and welcome. What an honor this is to stand here in front of all of you on behalf of law enforcement’s best of the best, NA session 268. This is the highest honor of my career, and it has been my privilege to work with each member of this session.
The 268 would like to acknowledge and thank FBI Acting Director Andrew McCabe; Executive Assistant Director Joshua Skule; Assistant Director David Resch; NA leadership, agents, staff, and counselors; and our fellow law enforcement personnel in attendance today.
We also would like to extend our deepest gratitude and love to our husbands, wives, children, and other loved ones whose sacrifices during these last 10 weeks far surpassed those we all have battled through here at the academy. Your commitment and understanding allowed us to chase our dreams and attain the status of NA graduates, a pinnacle so very few can say they have achieved. We thank you, and we love you. And, now that this is over, we owe you.
As soon as we arrived on that first Monday, we could tell this was the start of something special. We now were in a place where everyone had accents and spoke just a little differently. It took only one night for lifelong friendships to begin, for communications and healthy debates to start, and for us to realize that this journey would be more than we ever could have imagined.
From friendships grew a family, and that family—as those of us in law enforcement know—has deep roots. This family now stretches from New Zealand to Alaska, the Netherlands to California, Ireland to Hawaii, Japan to New York, and all points between. We are a family built on the fortitude and morality that form the foundation of this NA.
We pushed ourselves academically, athletically, and socially at the lead of the finest instructors we ever have had the pleasure to learn from.
During our studies we looked deep inside the makeup of today’s society, the makeup of this profession, what we stand for, and who we want to become as law enforcement leaders. We were forced to look deep inside ourselves to get a better understanding of our own implicit biases and what makes each of us so different and yet so similar.
Chief Russo of the Rutherford, New Jersey, Police Department delivered this speech at the FBI National Academy Session 268 graduation on June 7, 2017, in Quantico, Virginia.
The wealth of knowledge and experience shared during our classroom discussions was invaluable. All of our terrific instructors made cramming a college semester’s worth of work into 10 weeks enjoyable. For many of us, one of the most rewarding classes was our media seminar. The unconventional approach to a topic neglected by so many in law enforcement is a true game changer for this profession.
Every single instructor’s dedication to teaching true leadership and healthy lifestyles will help us put our agencies where they need to be. Thank you all again.
As our classes and weeks progressed, we began to see the bigger picture. We began to realize that what we have and who we are truly is something special and that we are the faces of the 21st century law enforcement leader. We are those leaders who will bear the burden of bringing this profession through some of the darkest moments we have witnessed in quite some time, and we are the leaders who will flourish in the face of adversity.
We are not here to apologize for who we are. Rather, we are here to be the voice for close to 1 million law enforcement officers throughout this great nation and countless others abroad who live to serve others and strive every day to be the role models that our society so desperately needs.
We are here to say thank you to all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty and to assure their loved ones that those sacrifices shall not be in vain!
During our time here, we had the unfortunate task of saying goodbye to many of our fallen brothers and sisters in blue and several of our own loved ones. There were numerous other instances similar to those that we dealt with as well, and I am confident that they helped bring us closer together as that family I spoke of earlier. Fortunately, all of our time here was not so trying. We have had many memorable occasions, and the laughs we have shared have been priceless.
Our time outside of the classroom was just as productive. Our mandatory nightly enrichment sessions based out of the Boardroom, the atrium, and the grove allowed us to “let our hair down” and learn more about who each of us is outside of a professional setting.
Then, there was our physical fitness training, which was intense throughout each week, with the apex being the Wednesday fitness challenge. The Cyclone, the Lion’s Leap, and the Wicked Witch Hunt, to name a few, all tested our endurance, but nothing could keep us from arriving at the Yellow Brick Road.
And, arrive we did! Just 2 days ago, the 268 earned its chance to tackle the Yellow Brick Road. Just like every other adventure during these last 10 weeks, we tackled it together, laughing, limping, sweating, and making memories along the way.
Our Wednesday fitness challenge usually was followed by a themed night in the atrium, which was a pleasant break from the cafeteria routine. There was Louisiana night, where we all became just a bit Cajun, and Texas night, which featured a display rivaled by none. Our silent auction, benefiting our charity of choice, Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), raised $32,268 (an NA all-time record), and no one will forget International Night. We traveled around the world, one drink at time, becoming even closer with our international brothers and sisters. Each of those nights was made extra special, thanks to our in-house professional DJ.
Finally, there were our weekend excursions. They stretched from New York City, to Gettysburg, to Virginia Beach. And, the hospitality we received at each location was second to none. We received behind-the-scenes U.S. Capital tours, White House tours, and presidential treatment during numerous trips to Baltimore.
We attended professional baseball and basketball games, concerts, racing events, museums, beaches, and, most important, Police Week in Washington, D.C. We did it together, leaving the mark of the great 268 everywhere we went.
Some of the finest times during the session have been interactions and collaboration with our international classmates who represent 24 nations. When I put this speech together, I tried my hardest to come up with the most appropriate phrase that could describe all of you, but when all was said and done, I kept coming back to the same conclusion. It is simple. You all are truly ladies and gentlemen, and it has been a pleasure to learn alongside each of you. You all have honored your nations.
Now our challenges here in Quantico are complete, and our Wednesday night karaoke superstars must find a new venue. The Boardroom has closed its doors, and the atrium and grove lie silent, but we have left our signs to remind all that we were here. The time has come, with love, sadness, and much admiration, to end this chapter, part ways, and carry on to our next mission.
You see, we were not selected to attend this prestigious academy because of who we were; rather, we were selected because of who we will become. We came here as leaders within our own agencies and will leave as gatekeepers for the future of our profession. We have been tasked with spreading the culture of the NA and forging ahead to ensure tomorrow’s leaders share these values that have been instilled in us.
We will not succumb to the cowardly acts of those few in society who show hatred for who we are. The 268 comes from all walks of life, yet we share the common desire to lead ourselves out of these difficult times.
We understand and accept the fact that whether it is the 36,000 member New York City Police Department or the 33 member Brooklyn, Ohio, Police Department, we all are just one incident away from having our agency on the front page of the international news. When that time comes, and, make no mistake, it will come, we will be prepared to thrust this profession into the positive light it deserves because of who we are and what we have experienced here at the academy.
We have received our marching orders, and we will not fail. That just is not an option! We are the 268 session of the FBI National Academy. And, after all, the NA is everything they said it would be.
Chief Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.