National Guard — June 2013
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Last Word
Brig.Gen.Paul Gregory Smith

AWISE PERSON once wrote, “We sleep safe at night because rough men stand ready to do violence to those who would harm us.” I’m not sure who actually authored those words, but they always seem fitting when I think about our core mission in the National Guard.

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings April 15, I pondered that quote as I watched police of- ficers, firefighters and Guardsmen rise to the challenges that this tragedy presented.

Media observers expressed amazement when they saw people in uniforms charge into the smoke and chaos immediately following the explosions on Boylston Street.

I believe it would have been more remarkable if police, fire and military personnel were seen running away from the blasts.

What the commentators didn’t understand is that those who take on public safety or military service are morally and ethically bound to do all they can to safe Guard others.Everyone in uniform today is a volunteer who freely chooses to face the danger that comes with service and accepts the obligation to risk injury or death to protect strangers.

Cynics argue that young people are bribed into service by bonuses, college tuition or promises of early retirement. But money doesn’t count much when bullets fly and blasts split the air.

I once heard a young Iraq combat veteran tell a school group, “My buddies and I love you all so much that we’ll lay down our lives to make sure you’re safe and free, and we don’t even know you.” After hearing his quiet passion, all I could say was, “Amen.”

When the manhunt for the second bombing suspect Took shape four days after the blasts, the parking lot of the Arsenal Mall in Watertown, Mass., was filled with hundreds of police officers, firefighters and EMTs from all over the Northeast.

What drew these professionals together wasn’t cu- riosity or thrill-seeking.It was a stubborn determina- tion to offer their services, to do anything they could to protect the people of the Boston area and bring those responsible for the bombings to justice.

Throughout that long day and evening, they stood ready, with the tools of their trades slung across their chests or snug on their belts, waiting to be called to action.

It was a tribute to the discipline of this large group of armed professionals that, when the second suspect was cornered, it was left to a relatively small team to take him into custody, while the larger body stood by in support.

I can assure you that every soldier, airman and police officer in Watertown that night wanted to be in on the final apprehension.

Who are these men and women who risk their lives and well-being for others? They’re our neighbors, classmates, customers and relatives.Most of them don’t have Ivy League educations, although some do.Most of them come from working-class backgrounds, although a few are the daughters and sons of privilege.

Most would be more comfortable at Fenway Park than Symphony Hall.They’re working men and women, but their work is the safety of our towns, our states and our nation.

Often their workdays are filled with tedium and rou- tine, but every now and then, the boredom is punctuated by heart-pounding danger for which they must always be ready.And while they don’t often think about it and never discuss it, they know that any day could be that day when they lay down their lives to save another.

Our police officers, firefighters, EMTs, National Guardsmen and other public safety professionals performed heroically during the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings when we needed them most.

Our own rough men and women stand ready.Sleep well tonight.

The author is the land component commander of the Massachusetts National Guard.He served as the Joint Task Force commander during the Boston Marathon bombings response.

It would have been remarkable if police, fire and military personnel were seen running away from the blasts at the Boston Marathon.