Associate Magazine - FBINAA - Q4 - 2022


F B I N A A . O R G | Q 4 2 0 2 2

Mike Hardee

“I Will Carry the Load If You Help Me Lift It”

R emember your first day at the FBI Academy? How can we ever forget the awesome experience of driving up to the massive building with the FBI Academy seal perched high above the massive entrance doors? Each one of us were hand-picked by our senior leaders to represent them, our departments and our communities. We would engage with the best law enforcement minds in the profession. It was a privilege earned by hard work, critical thinking and good decision making. We all have our own unique memories and takeaways from this incredible opportunity, but for me, it’s what I learned spiritu ally during those 10 weeks at the Academy that has helped me get through many career- and life-challenges since. I was 50 years old at the time and I was going to be one of the oldest recruits in the program. It had been a long time since I’d been in school and I wasn’t sure how well I would do academically, so, to compensate, I began preparing to meet the physical demands of the Academy with rigorous weight training and running half marathons. My physical conditioning was going to be my ace-in-the-hole -- but in seconds that got taken away. One week before I was to leave for Quantico, I blew out my right knee during an early morning run. It was a torn meniscus and it needed surgery. I didn’t know that at the time because I wouldn’t go to a regular doctor and run the risk of getting benched -- I was afraid that if I couldn’t meet even the most basic physical challenges of the Academy then my chances of success fully completing my session was probably over. It was going to be a brutal 10 weeks, managing the pain and keeping up with the rigors of the Academy. Had it not been for the spiritual guidance of one very special man in my life, I am not sure if I would been able to push through. His name was Al Gordon, my dear father-in-law, a distin guished WWII fighter pilot and successful businessman. He’d grown up hard. Homeless after his father lost everything in the Depression, Al became a professional prize fighter in Philadel phia out of necessity. It allowed him to provide for his parents and younger brother and eventually reunite them all under one roof. It also allowed him to go to flight school, before joining the military, as a pilot. When he learned that I had injured my knee, Al naturally saw the similarities between a boxer who’d just gone down for the count and his manager in the corner, shouting for him to get up. So, as I headed off to the Academy, Al insisted that that I stay in contact with him by phone with updates on how it was going. Nearly every night I would walk the hallways in the dorm to find good enough cell reception to call him. Al would always listen to my worries and concerns with long pauses before he would talk to me about his own struggles. Now he was my trainer in the ring, pouring water on my wounds, talking strategy for the next round, and encouraging me to get out there and fight. “I will carry the load if you help me lift it.” – Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky

His messages were not necessarily directed at me but more about him and how he lived his life, or perhaps as an example for me to follow, or at least call upon when I needed to. He had high expectations for himself, and now for me. His faith in God and his obligations to his family had given Al the determination he needed to continue despite adversity. He made sure I was empowered with that same drive to overcome and succeed. He reminded me that being at the Academy was a privilege, honor and opportunity. There was no mistaking his most important message though — quitting was never an option he would accept. Not for himself, nor for me. According to Al, we never quit once we are commit ted. That was his brand, and he was proud of it. Our late-night phone calls gave me the courage to meet the challenges of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I actually aced my classes and even finished all the weekly runs with constant encouragement and the unconditional support of my fellow class mates from Session #232. And I finished the Yellow Brick Road despite a torn meniscus. It wasn’t pretty, but I didn’t give up. Halfway through, in our fifth week at the Academy, Al Gor don passed away unexpectedly. But he’d already given me the strength to go on. Whenever I recall my conversations with Al, I can’t help but think that there is more for me to do, and I know he is watching me closely to make sure I get it right. Being in law enforcement requires us to be strong and deci sive—it doesn’t give us much room to be vulnerable when we face moments in our work or personal lives that threaten to break us. When times get hard, we need to look to someone we can trust to guide us—someone who will listen and not judge us for our mistakes but support us for trying. Al was that person for me. I hope my story will help those who are dealing with seem ingly insurmountable problems to open up to someone… or enable those who see a colleague in need to reach out to them. I will be forever grateful that I had someone to pull me through. Unfortunately, I had to finish the Academy without Al.

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