Sheriff’s captain serves in Alabama Honor Guard
Franklin County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Mark Swindle stood at attention and saluted while families of fallen law enforcement officers filed past him.
As the families processed by, one man stopped short and began looking at Swindle and other officers who were also standing at attention out of respect for the sacrifice these men and women had made during the past year.
The line of families began to back up with the man’s pause and as he was urged to keep moving forward he simply shook his head from side to side and replied, “I can’t. These officers are honoring my son.”
This scene played out during National Police Officer Memorial Week in Washington, D.C, last May and Swindle said it’s emotional moments like that when he doesn’t quite know how to choke back the tears.
“You just can’t describe the emotions you go through when you see how appreciative these families are for what you are doing for their loved ones,” Swindle said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling.”
For the past two years, Swindle has attended the weeklong events held during National Police Officer Memorial Week as a member of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Alabama Honor Guard, which he has been a member of for two years.
There are only 14 law enforcement officers in the state who are members of the Alabama Honor Guard, so being part of that elite group is an honor in itself.
Members of this group attend funerals for fallen or retired law enforcement officers across the state, they attend the annual police memorial service in Montgomery, they post colors at different events as requested by the governor or attorney general, and they attend the events during National Police Officer Memorial Week in Washington, D.C., as representatives of the state, the fallen officers and their families.
Swindle and his wife, Vicky, attended this year’s events from May 12-17 and he said it’s an experience he won’t ever forget.
“It is such an honor to be a part of the things that take place during police memorial week,” he said.
“To see all the officers who are there from all over the world and to see the people who show up to pay their respects to the officers who have been killed in the line of duty – it’s just a very special thing.”
Swindle said during the week, members of the Alabama Honor Guard act as escorts for the families of the fallen officers from their state.
“We check in with them as soon as we get there and we make sure they have everything they need during their stay,” Swindle said.
“Through all the events, the memorial service itself and even just sightseeing in the city, we make sure they are taken care of.”
The Alabama Honor Guard also participates in a parade of officers as representatives for the state, they get to take part in the special candlelight service with the thousands of officers and supporters who gather for the week, and they pay tribute to the fallen officers during the actual memorial service, which was held on May 15 this year.
“It’s hard to describe the range of emotions you go through during that week,” Swindle said.
“You are filled with happiness and pride that you are able to represent the state of Alabama and the brave officers who serve here, but you are also filled with deep sorrow for the families of those who were killed in the line of duty.
“When we are standing in our two lines forming a pathway up to the memorial service for the families, it just breaks your heart to see the fathers, the mothers, the wives, the husbands and the little children who have lost someone special to them. When you see those children crying or looking around hoping they’ll see their mommy or daddy, it just breaks your heart.”
Swindle said those strong emotions he feels during events like the ones he experienced two weeks ago are something that would be difficult to understand for someone who has never been in law enforcement.
“Until you have put on that badge and went out not knowing if you would see your family again, until you have put your life on the line to protect someone else’s, it’s hard to know the gravity of what those men and women have sacrificed,” Swindle said.
“And when you see the appreciation from those the fallen officers have left behind, you know the grief they feel and you just want to do all you can to let them know what a hero their officer was.”
Being a law enforcement officer is not an easy job for the one who puts on that badge each and every day, but it also isn’t easy for the officer’s families.
Swindle has been serving and protecting the people of this community since 1978 and he said that even though being in law enforcement was always a dream of his, he couldn’t do it without the support of his family.
“My father, Buford Swindle, was in law enforcement for more than 30 years, so I knew the toll it can take on a family and I just appreciate my family for always being there and supporting me, whether it’s in my job with the county or in my role as a member of the Honor Guard,” he said.
“I also appreciate my department and the support they give me when I am serving in my different roles. Having the support of those around you is important to an officer.”
Swindle said being a member of the Alabama Honor Guard is something he has been proud to be a part of and he looks forward to serving as long as he can.
“It’s such an honor to pay tribute to the officers who have given so much to their communities,” he said. “I’ll do this as long as they will have me.”