“Police officers are never ‘off duty.’ They are dedicated public servants who are sworn to protect public safety at any time and place that the peace is threatened.” – Larry D. James
May is a month filled with military and first responder observances. One of the most important weeks this month is National Police Week, a week dedicated to honoring the constant sacrifices made by men and women who serve as police and their families.
Since the establishment of police in the United States, an estimated 23 thousand police officers have lost their lives in the line of duty. On May 15, 2022, police nationwide will be honoring those fallen officers during National Peace Officer Memorial Day.
There are so many amazing first responders who participate in HOW. Their stories are reminders of the impacts that this profession can have on men and women who choose to devote their lives to serving and protecting our communities.
Connected by Honor
HOW’s Success Stories page is full of veterans, police officers and first responders who talk about how life-changing a peaceful, fun day on the water surrounded by HOW volunteers and other participants was in their healing process. While their service and personal experiences may be different, the common thread connecting every single one of these people is the experience of improved overall health that participating in outdoor events and activities with a great group of people has brought to their lives.
Officer Keith Mackenzie is a father of three who has built a 28-year career as a police officer in Bethel, Connecticut. He is the Assistant Coordinator for HOW’s Western Connecticut Chapter and is an avid sportsman, fisherman and kayaker. He says he recognized the positive impact HOW made in his close friend Mike Libertini who is HOW’s Chapter Coordinator for the Western Connecticut chapter. Keith says, “I see how he responds to it and how it helps him and how it opens him up. I’m pleased to see how being part of Heroes On the Water is helping him. It’s great to see people out there. Good to get out and fish and talk about people’s experiences or not at all.”
Keith enjoys seeing other officers and their families find activities that improve wellness. Many organizations recognize the power that recreational therapy has on people who have dealt with trauma. One of those organizations is the Police Unity Tour who creates events dedicated to honoring the memory of fallen police officers through a group bicycle tour. It’s a 250 mile trek that takes place on or around National Peace Officer Memorial Day and spans several states raising millions of dollars that go toward the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Every rider is riding for someone whether it be a family member, friend, comrade or even a fallen officer they never met.
Sergeant David Enzbrenner, a husband and father of 3 daughters, was beloved by his family, his peers and his community. He was an active member in his church and spent time coaching his daughters’ sports teams. He was also an avid sportsman who enjoyed fly fishing, hunting, basketball, volleyball and fast pitch softball. In a tragic chain of events, David was shot and killed in a murder-suicide that occurred while he was administering a nuisance order in Atchinson, Kansas, where he had served on the police force for 24 years. He loved his family and his community and made the ultimate sacrifice to protect them.
One thing that many veterans and police officers, as well as their families, can relate with is the daily stress and loss related to their service. When Keith began his career as a police officer nearly 3 decades ago, the new adrenaline-inducing experiences helped propel his career forward. Learning new lessons every day made the job interesting. However, after a few years, Keith realized the toll the job took on his physical and mental health.
While he’s never lost his passion for serving his community, like many first responders and veterans Keith had developed an inability to let down his guard. Hypervigilance is a symptom often experienced by police officers that can lead to increased stress, inability to sleep or focus, as well as many other symptoms. It’s estimated that 18-24% of dispatchers and 35% of police officers suffer from PTSD. To combat his stress, Keith often looked to sports and outdoor activities. This passion would eventually connect him to Sergeant David Enzbrenner’s story, David’s family and the Police Unity Tour to honor his legacy and the legacy of thousands of other officers.
Carrying On His Legacy
When Keith learned of David Enzbrenner’s story, he felt a sudden connection that made him decide to dedicate his ride to David’s memory. He contacted David’s police department and Keith’s wife sent David’s wife Kerri a card. “He struck a chord with me because he had 3 kids and was a sergeant on the job for 24 years,” Keith says, “I really just related to him because this could’ve been me just 1300 miles away.”
Since his first ride in 2012, Keith has completed the tour several times, dedicating each ride to Sgt. David Enzbrenner and his family. He has become friends with several of David’s former colleagues and has even influenced one of David’s sisters to join in on the tour. “In 2014 David’s sister contacted me and said they were moved by the Unity Tour,” says David, “They were blown away by the response. She knew about the support and camaraderie, but didn’t realize it to be as strong as it was until she and her husband were immersed in it.”
Keith has carried the memory of David Enzbrenner, dedicating each mile to an officer who dedicated his life to loving his family and serving his community. May is a great month to reflect on the legacy of those we have lost and how we can carry their memory forward in a way that leaves the world a little more peaceful, a little bit happier and better than how we found it.