Nov. 10—Lieutenant Eric Cole with the Cullman City Police Department might not choose the word hero when describing himself — in fact when he first heard this section’s title was Community Heroes, he said his first thought was to try and think of another person he felt was more worthy of being featured. But, his choices, selflessness and sense of duty show that he is worthy of the title.
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 were still a recent memory, and the War on Terror had just begun when Cole enlisted in the United States Army. He recalled that as a child who grew up enthusiastically playing with G.I. Joe, and with a veteran father to set that example for him, that when those events occurred “it wasn’t if I was going to go, it was how quickly was I going to go.” But Cole said that a coworker at the time wasn’t as ready to see his friend enlist.
“I remember him saying, ‘Man, let someone else do that,’ and I was like that’s your outlook. My outlook is someone’s gotta go fight, someone’s gotta go do those things, why should it not be me? If I feel like I could be a good soldier why would I not want to be,” Cole said.
As a Cavalry Scout attached to the 3-7 Cavalry with the Third Infantry Division Cole was responsible for performing route security and reconnaissance, and being a forward observer for tanks, artillery and supply trucks moving through areas known to have explosives. Cole’s unit played an integral role in leading the way into Iraq as they crossed The Berm and led the way up through the Battle of Baghdad.
“Basically, what I did most of the time in Iraq was go secure areas and go on patrols. If you were having a problem with explosives or weapons being brought into an area through, or through an area, my unit was one of those that would get sent out. There might be three of us sitting all night watching an intersection for a guy to come plant a bomb or something like that. We would do everything from full blown twenty man platoon patrols of a neighborhood to just a couple guys sitting and watching an intersection,” Cole said.
Cole had dreams of joining the 101st Airborne unit, but with a wife and young daughter waiting for him at home he knew that his services were now more needed on U.S. soil. So after his 12-month combat deployment, he chose not to reenlist and began the transition back into civilian life or as Cole said that he had to “figure out how to put these weird skills that I now have, that don’t transition very well into the civilian world to use.”
Cole said that nobody was very surprised by his enlistment into the military, but the same can’t be said for his current career in law enforcement. But as he began to acclimate to life outside of the armed forces, a discussion with a childhood friend who was an officer with the Hartselle Police Department caused him to start looking at careers as a first responder. His first thought was becoming an EMT, but that required schooling and Cole needed a job. It was then that he landed on becoming a police officer.
“Law enforcement was the first door that opened, so I stepped through and took it and I’ve been blessed because of it. It’s been a great career. One of the things that I was happy about moving from military to law enforcement — really any of the first responders — is that you get that same kind of camaraderie. You get the same kind of ability to throw a uniform on and come into work, and you know maybe it’s not super exciting and nothing happens that day, but you always have that opportunity to hopefully make a difference in somebody’s life or in the community for the better. I wanted one of those jobs that when I was finished with, I’d be proud of,” Cole said.
Beginning his career as a patrol officer, Cole served two years with the Hanceville Police Department before transferring to Cullman. He has now been with the CPD for 14 years, most of that time has been spent on patrol duty with 12 years of overlap as part of the CPD tactical unit. He then began climbing the ranks, being promoted to the investigation unit, and earlier this year earning the rank of Lieutenant.
His new rank prompted a move into administration, where Cole utilizes the experiences from his time in combat as well as on the CPD Tactical Unit to train his fellow officers on how to respond in violent and potentially violent situations. He said that while on the tactical team he took part in active shooter training, which has become a focus for his career as he recalls the lesson that CPD’s Captain Jason Mickle taught him early that “you don’t rise to the occasion, you fall to your level of training.”
“I usually travel to the academy three or four times a year teaching different classes to prepare guys to be more tactically sound and respond appropriately to an active attack event,” Cole said. “My background in combat definitely prepared me, and led me to have a broader outlook on what attacks, and events, and violence looks like and how it may or may not affect you.”
While many people may value Cole’s time in service and his career as a police officer, it is his role of Youth Pastor at Bethlehem West Baptist Church in West Point that he considers his most important. While he understands that it may appear to stand at odds with his other career choices, he views it as more of an extension of his services.
“I grew up in a good Christian family and a good Christian home,” Cole said. “When I tried to marry that faith side of my life with my service side of my life (it is dark), so I think that is the only thing that helps me be balanced and grounded — is my faith and my trust in a sovereign God. No matter the chaos in the community or in the world that I have had to deal with, I serve a God that is sovereign over all and in control of it all. One of the reasons I wanted to be in the military and law enforcement, and one of the reasons I love being in ministry is trying to do something to help others.”