Pull up a chair and help me welcome Michael E. Witzgall to the blog as today’s Wednesday’s Guest. I reviewed his police procedural mystery,Sentinel’s Dilemma, here on Sunday, and today he’s sharing a very nice story about how he learned to think outside the box. Or maybe more like he showed his grandfather how to. Either way, this is a great illustration of how we can look at things from different angles and come up with an answer to a problem.
Maybe we can all have a piece of pie and a cup of coffee as we read along. Help yourself and enjoy.
Now here’s Michael.
My father was career military. Because of his job, this meant that he was often deployed to Vietnam. My mom was a trauma nurse and always “on call,” working or sleeping. As you would expect, this was tough on a 10-year-old boy. My aunts, uncles and cousins lived on the east coast and had little interest in raising me. They welcomed my brothers and sister, but I was too much to handle for any one person. I wasn’t a bad kid at all; however, a good way to describe me was as a squirrel monkey, drinking red bull, and getting into all the bananas while wearing roller skates.
Needless to say, family didn’t line up to help out. My mom’s dad, Granddaddy Charles, was the exception.
I have so many wonderful stories about granddad and I (some are in my books, Sentinel’s Choice and Sentinel’s Dilemma). He was always there for me with wise counsel, gentle guidance, and a firm hand (usually on my backside) to rein me in when I needed it. To this day, I believe the most important part of our relationship was that the old guy listened to me. He treated me like my voice mattered.
Circa 1966. I’m not sure why I remember the weather, but it was a brutally hot day in central Texas. I had finished my chores, so I climbed to the top of the cattle fence to watch the farm hands running the tractors and, the newly purchased, wheel mounted flatbed cart. If you have never seen a true cattle fence, these things are not made of barbed wire and t-posts. They’re made of 3-inch steel piping. Each section is thirty feet long with three rungs (pipes), spaced about 18 inches apart, welded into an upright steel post, cemented into the ground.
From my vantage point sitting on the fence, I could see the tractor on the far end of the field make a sudden and unusually sharp turn. Somehow the cart snapped loose and, with a loud grinding bang, hit the fence and then slid under the lowest rung.
All the work came to a screeching halt as the farm hands dropped tools and ran to the accident scene. I’m not sure exactly where Granddad was when this occurred, but the dust hadn’t settled when I heard him barking out orders and checking on people.
Being a farm hand myself, at least that’s the way I saw things, I figured I should go help, too. By the time I arrived, everyone was staring at a valuable piece of equipment and a very expensive fence. Amazingly, neither the fence, nor the cart were seriously damaged. That was the upside. The downside, the cart was hopelessly pinned under the lowest rung of the fence.
For the next three hours, I watched as everyone tried different ways to free the cart. Digging didn’t work because of Texas rock and clay. Pulling it out with a tractor would damage both the fence and the cart. Cutting the fence seemed to be the only option.
I wanted to help, and I had a great idea, but everyone kept shooing me away. That is, everyone but Granddad. Seeing the look of frustration on my face, Granddad came over, put his hand on my shoulder and asked, “You got and idea, boy?”
Nodding, I replied, “Yeah, I do.”
Always the good listener, Granddad said, “Okay, out with it.”
I explained that because of my size, I could go underneath everything. “So, if you made the cart shorter, it will come out.”
Looking perplexed, Granddad smiled and asked, “How we supposed to do that, boy?”
Shaking my head, I answered, “Let the air out of the tires!”
Granddad busted out laughing and said, “Now that’s thinking outside the box, boy!”
Ten minutes later the cart was free, and I was the hero of the day.
Learning to think outside the proverbial box is a valuable skill for a cop (like me) to have. Being the hero of the day was inspiring. Having a hero that listens and believes in you is priceless!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR – The son of a career military officer, Mike Witzgall spent twelve years on active duty as a non-commissioned and commissioned officer. While in the military, Mike served in the US Marine Corps’ elite Force Reconnaissance teams and then later as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army Infantry and Military Police Corps.
In 1988, after numerous deployments around the world, Mike left the military as a Captain and joined the Dallas Police Department. He served as a patrolman in south Dallas and as a member of a Tactical team (SWAT). Mike’s career with Dallas ended after a severe line of duty injury forced him into early retirement. Mike continues to contribute positively to the law enforcement community today by sharing his experience and wisdom with his fellow officers through mentoring and providing the best training available to their tactical teams. He has written numerous articles for law enforcement magazines and has published eight tactical training manuals.
Currently, Mike is co-owner of Charlie-Mike Enterprises, Inc, which specializes in teaching SWAT courses. Since its inception in 1998, Charlie-Mike Enterprises, Inc. has taught over 5000 officers from 500 different law enforcement agencies.