May 15, 2016
2016 LAW ENFORCEMENT EXPLORERS CONDUCT ANNUAL WREATH LAYING CEREMONY AT THE NATIONAL LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS MEMORIAL
The weather in Washington, DC preceding National Police Week was gloomy with daily rain and overcast skies, and the forecast for Saturday, 14 May was more of the same. Call it divine intervention or some other force of nature, but on that day the rain stopped, the sun shined bright and the skies turned blue with wispy white clouds to provide a window of opportunity to conduct the Annual Law Enforcement Exploring Wreath Laying ceremony before the clouds and rain returned to the nation’s capital.
In what has become an annual tradition on the first day of National Police Week, a wreath was placed at the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in front of the name of a former Law Enforcement Explorer or Advisor that made the ultimate sacrifice as a law enforcement officer. This year, the wreath from Law Enforcement Exploring was placed in front of the memorial wall panel that contains the name of Officer Craig Allen Birkholz, a former Law Enforcement Explorer with Post #509, sponsored by the Kenosha (WI) Police Department. Officer Birkholz, a Fond du Lac (WI) Patrol Officer, was killed in the line of duty on 20 March 2011.
National Youth Representative Cynthia Garcia served as the master of ceremonies for the event and following welcome remarks to the many law enforcement officers, guests, Law Enforcement Explorers and Advisors attending the ceremony, introduced the dignitaries and a very special guest seated behind the podium. The dignitaries included the Honorable Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (and Chair of the National Law Enforcement Exploring Committee); Chief Terry Cunningham (President of the International Association of Chiefs of Police); Mr. Craig Floyd (President and CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial); Dr. Kevin Parsons (CEO of ASP, Inc., and member of the National Law Enforcement Exploring Committee), Fond du Lac (WI) Police Department Explorer Captain Brooke Mathes, and Fairfax County (VA) Police Department Explorer Christopher Kim. Joining the dignitaries behind the podium was special guest Mrs. Gay Anne Birkholz, mother of the late Officer Birkholz.
Also present at the memorial, in full dress uniforms, were approximately 65 Law Enforcement Explorers representing Posts sponsored by Kenosha (WI) Police Department, Fond du Lac (WI) Police Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Prince George’s (MD) County Police Department, Fairfax County (VA) Police Department, and Harford (MD) County Police Department. They were accompanied by Advisors and command staff personnel, also in their dress uniforms, from each agency.
In front of the memorial seal located in the center courtyard, and facing the podium, dignitaries and Mrs. Birkholz, stood a wreath from Law Enforcement Exploring honoring Officer Birkholz; a placard mounted in the middle of the wreath contained his family’s favorite photo of him in his Fond du Lac Police Department uniform and the wording, “In memory of Officer Craig Allen Birkholz and all other former Law Enforcement Explorers who have made the ultimate sacrifice.”
Assembled behind the memorial seal and wreath was an Honor Guard of four Law Enforcement Explores representing the Fond du Lac Police Department and the Kenosha Police Department. Two Honor Lines of ten Law Enforcement Explorers each, composed of a combination of Explores representing other law enforcement agencies at the ceremony, formed behind the Honor Guard.
Explorer Christopher Kim gave a very nice invocation for the ceremony after which National Youth Representative Cynthia Garcia directed the Honor Guard to assemble at the wreath. The Honor Guard, wearing white parade gloves, was escorted to the wreath by a bagpiper, DEA Special Agent Mike Galu, dressed in traditional bagpiper attire and regalia, and playing a marching tune. Explorer Captain Brooke Mathes then delivered a moving tribute to Officer Birkholz that addressed his childhood and family and highlighted his time as a Law Enforcement Explorer, as a U.S. Army Sergeant and combat veteran, as a Fond du Lac Patrol Officer, and the heroic actions that resulted in him making the ultimate sacrifice to help two other wounded police officers. Explorer Captain Mathes concluded her remarks by stating,Etched on the end of the memorial wall to my right, below the lion watching over his cubs, are the words, “It is not how these officers died that made them heroes, it is how they lived.” Officer Craig Birkholz lived a hero’s life as a son and brother, a nephew, a husband, a solider, a police officer, a friend, and a patriot. May God rest his soul and continue to grant comfort to his parents, brother, wife and extended family as well as his many friends and colleagues. Let us now honor, with a wreath of remembrance, Officer Craig Allen Birkholz.
Upon conclusion of the tribute, members of each Honor Line marched in separate directions, meeting and then assembling adjacent to and across from the memorial panel with Officer Birkholz’s name. Once the Honor Lines were in place and standing at attention, the Honor Guard, carrying the wreath and escorted by the bagpiper playing an appropriate tune, solemnly marched along the west wall of the memorial to the panel etched with the name of Officer Birkholz where they stopped and then slowly and respectfully placed the wreath. The Honor Guard, Honor Lines, and all other Explorers and Advisors in attendance executed a reverent salute in tribute to Officer Birkholz while the bagpiper played “Amazing Grace.” The Honor Guard, followed by the Honor Lines, were then escorted to the front of the memorial’s reflecting pond by the bagpiper whereupon National Youth Representative Garcia announced the conclusion of the ceremony, thanked all participants and asked all Explorers and Advisors, along with dignitaries and other participants, to gather for a group photo with Mrs. Birkholz.
In addition to CBP Commissioner Kerlikowske and USMS Assistant Director Prout, several other members of the National Law Enforcement Exploring Committee attended the ceremony to include Federal Air Marshal Service Special Agent in Charge Kent Jefferies, Muskego (WI) Police Department Captain David Constantineau, CBP Chief Anye Whyte, and ATF Special Agent Michael Knight. Additionally, Senior Director for Exploring Tim Anderson and Director of Exploring Kristen Falatko from the national office for Exploring attended the ceremony.