Opinion | Bruce Butler: Remembering those who serve

As I write this, Memorial Day is upon us. As you read this, Memorial Day has either just passed (if you’re reading the print edition) or is waning. Ronald Reagan reminded us: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.  We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.” It is appropriate to thank all our military members, their families, veterans, and first responders for their service on Memorial Day, but it is important to remember Memorial Day is a solemn day or remembrance for those who paid the ultimate price in service to our country and did not come home.  It is a day to embrace their families and be thankful for the life and luxuries we enjoy, and often take for granted, because of their sacrifice.

Compared to other places, Summit County is not a large military community, although we have some great citizens who have enlisted in the Armed Forces, signed up to test their mettle in the U.S. Military Academies, and gone on to great service to our country. Serving others is very rewarding, and it is never too late to serve others in our community. There are many opportunities to serve and help others right here in Summit County, no matter your age or income.

Three weeks ago, Red, White and Blue Fire Chief, Jim Keating, announced his retirement. This week we say goodbye to Silverthorne Police chief, former Summit County sheriff, and longtime law enforcement officer John Minor. Let’s thank both for their many years of service.

I recently had an opportunity to hear some of our local first responders speak. They are concerned that Summit County, and many localities across the country, are seeing a decline in recruits to fill the vacancies of the older generation who are retiring. While they feel the Summit County community is supportive of police and firefighters, there is no doubt that law enforcement has been visibly under attack by politicians, news media and anti-police district attorneys in several major U.S. cities, which has had a chilling effect on younger recruits entering the profession. While there are bad actors in every profession, and we have even had a few in Summit County, it is important not to demonize the vast majority of police officers who have a deep commitment to public service because of the acts of a few bad cops.

Other challenges the speakers mentioned included salary compression, retaining officers and career longevity. Many local industries struggle with salary compression. For those not familiar with the term, it is essentially when the starting salary is near or above the pay range of existing employees with several years of tenure. Clearly, it hurts morale when the new employees get paid as much or more than the veterans, so pay ranges must be adjusted to reset the pay scale or the more seasoned employees will leave. In addition, many of our first responders commute up to Summit County from the Front Range. When openings occur in Front Range agencies, many take the job closer to home. This hurts because it takes considerable time and money to train new recruits, only to have them leave once they are more credentialed.

On the street, mental and behavioral health and illegal drugs remain challenges, though Summit County has made strides with the SMART teams deployed through the Summit County Sheriff’s Department. These specially trained officers respond to behavioral and mental health incidents, outside of a typical law enforcement action, and connect those in need of specialized help with the necessary support and resources.

Put aside your grievance about the speeding ticket you didn’t deserve and admit that you take for granted the professional help that quickly arrives when you call 9-1-1.  With summer traffic and fire season approaching quickly, take the opportunity to thank our local first responders for their service, and thank you to those who have served our country and their families. A special thank you to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

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