He tapped on the window, but no one moved.
Officer Robert Michaels looked through the window of the mangled vehicle, and what he saw was devastating—five men, heads lolling unnaturally backwards and to the side.
None of them had survived the impact.
It was the very first wreck he worked in his 11 years as a law enforcement officer, and it was a sight he’ll never be able to erase.
“There’s some things you never forget,” said Michaels.
Like when he watched a college girl take her last breath. Or the heartbreak of babies abandoned in their homes with burn marks on their stomach from cruel abuse. Or the thousands of other traumatic scenes law enforcement and first responders see. Over time, it takes a toll on their health.
And on the soul.
Then there are horrors like that 2016 nightclub shooting. “I can’t even imagine what the first responders walked into in Orlando,” Michaels recalls. “What were they getting into? Forty-nine lifeless bodies. Fifty-three more wounded. It’s a shock that creates emotional and spiritual wounds.”
Serve & Protect: When Heroes Need Help
Michaels says what he does now is really the culmination of 41 years of stories. But he clearly remembers the moment God showed him what to do about it.
“It happened at church, but it wasn’t anything the pastor said,” remembers Michaels. “I was coming in late one Sunday, and my normal second-row seat was taken. So I had to move to the front row. Now I’m way out of my comfort zone! And isn’t that usually where God chooses to speak to us?”
Sitting on that front row, Michaels says he knew there had to be more he should be doing with his life. And as he prayed for wisdom, he got his answer.
“I heard two words: ‘Serve’ and ‘protect.’”
And that was the beginning of Serve & Protect.
The challenges facing law enforcement officers and emergency personnel often end up destroying families and costing even more lives—often their own. The statistics are sobering:
Every 17 hours a law enforcement officer commits suicide (Dr. Jean G. Larned, Ph.D., Criminal Investigations Instructor; Understanding Police Suicide, Forensic Examiner Magazine Fall 2010).
75 % of officers and 87% of firefighters have been divorced (Firefighter Nation / Journal of Police Psychology).
40 % of first responders are involved in domestic violence (Nat’l Center for Women & Policing / Purple Berets).
85% of first responders and 35% of dispatchers experience some elements of PTSD (Anxiety/Depression Magazine).
Serving the Hearts of those who Protect
Serve & Protect was founded by Michaels in 2011 to help our heroes that need help. Their mission is to locate and facilitate trauma services for public safety professionals with PTSD symptoms, addictions, or both. They serve law enforcement, fire/rescue/EMS, dispatch, corrections professionals and their families through a unique combination of Crisis Line, Chaplain Alliance, and four networks of mental health professionals.
Though based in Brentwood, Tennessee, Serve & Protect reaches internationally. In the past five years, over 2,500 law enforcement and emergency management professionals have been helped. And it is truly a labor of love. They don’t charge a dime for their services.
“It usually takes between 3-5 calls to find the right therapist for each situation. It’s got to be someone who understands the unique challenges in the profession. I do this thing full-time now and we operate on a shoestring budget of between $35,000 and $50,000 a year. But I have a passion to help the people I admire so much! God gave me a heart for these folks.”
Finding Your Call
Michaels says his résumé would be a career-planner’s nightmare; he’s done everything from patrol and detective work to radio announcer, preaching, music business marketing exccutive, and now chaplain for the FBI and Tennessee Fraternal Order of Police.
“Nothing you do in life is a wasted experience,” says Michaels. “You simply have to ask, ‘What is it God is calling me to do?’ God will open the door, but it may not look like what you think. So never stop learning. God wants to equip you for the next thing. Everything in your life is a series of building blocks that He will use in the future.”