By NANCY J. SEMON STAFF WRITER “Charlotte Sun Newspaper”
It was years after moving back to New York from Texas our lives reconnected through a “mutual friend.” My wife and I had a special events company at the time that catered to many well-known politicians and high profile clients and one such client asked us to handle the event for her daughter’s wedding at their mansion on Long Island’s north shore, also known in many of author Nelson DeMille’s books as “The Gold Coast.” President George H.W. Bush was supposed to be in attendance and wasn’t able to be present so he sent his son Neil to represent the family. While setting up one of the arrangements on the home’s grand staircase Neil Bush walked over and introduced himself to me while complimenting us on the work we were doing. I then asked him if he was from Houston and shared with him that I thought we had a mutual friend in common, Jim Napolitano, who at this time was part of the team protecting the Bush family. To my surprise, Neil Bush said to me, “You know Nappi?” Before I knew it I was sitting on the staircase with Neil Bush and the Secret Service agents sharing stories of my summer escapades with Nappi.
Years passed and during that time Jim went through the ranks with the Secret Service starting as a Criminal Investigator, where he was moved through different squads for exceeding quotas of arrests and closed cases, and then to the “West African Task Force” where his responsibility was to thwart and arrest Soviet-backed Nigerians who were fraudulently obtaining birth certificates and drivers licenses to obtain numerous credit cards to buy and sell merchandise illegally. However, this is just the tip of Jim’s illustrious career. “Agent Napolitano” was selected to work on a task force that investigated “The Supernote”, a far superior counterfeit note being used by Middle East terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Al Qaida, and was successful in helping standing up the Supernote Task Force that was comprised of the U.S. Secret Service, CIA, and DEA. He was the 160th agent to ever become part of the elite Counter Assault Team under the Presidential Protection Division, which included “training with the Tier 1 Special Operations Forces”. He was a Rescue Swimmer for Presidents George H.W. Bush 41, George W. Bush 43, and Bill Clinton and their families. He was only 1 of 42 agents to be a member of both the C.A.T. and Rescue Swimmer Teams. He went on to be an instructor in Control Tactics and Rescue Swimming, further becoming manager in Water Safety and Emergency Medicine, among other courses he directed for Special Agents.
As if this isn’t an impressive enough background during his 23 years as a Secret Service Special Agent, Jim has protected three Presidents and their families and was personally instructed by President Reagan to make sure he and his team provided the utmost protection for Presidential Candidate Reverend Jessie Jackson. Since retiring from the Secret Service, Jim was Security Representative for Marathon Oil, traveling throughout the Middle East safeguarding the employees and their assets. In June of 2013 he took his vast array of skill sets and went on to become Chief of Police for the City of Montgomery, Texas for six years.
Recalling the events of 9-11, Jim shared with me that at that time he was the Resident Agent in charge of the Waco Resident Office. Jim was responsible for security around the President’s Crawford Ranch which was known as the “Western White House.” He was responsible for “hundreds of agents, arranging staff, military assets and other governmental entities,” according to an article written in the Montgomery County (Texas) newspaper “Golden Hammer.”
“I was at Baylor University’s Rec Center,” Jim recalled, “when I saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center and immediately changed into my battle dress uniform…I called the ranch and there was no answer on any of the lines which was highly unusual and increased our level of high alert….I was able to get in touch with the Major in charge of the DPS regional office in Waco and requested as many troopers he could spare. Two agents and several Texas State Troopers raced to the ranch….Upon arrival two agents who were allowing various construction trucks entry into the ranch for ongoing work being performed told us how the construction crews had accidentally cut the power to the ranch and it was currently being reconnected.” In the meantime, Jim had been in contact with the team and President Bush, who had been in Sarasota reading to second-grade school children and upon being briefed of the attack, had been immediately rushed onto Airforce One. Jim recalls hearing the President expressing his frustration that he wanted to get back to Washington D.C., not circling for hours in Air Force One out of harm’s way. While President Bush and Airforce One were on high alert, Jim was equally frustrated and wanted to head to the areas of attack, but headquarters and the FAA said they were expecting “inbound (flights) coming to the ranch.” With the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on fire, and Flight 93 supposedly headed for Camp David before turning into a different location, Washington and Waco both weren’t options for the President to land. I remember calling Jim that day and asking if they were safe, and him saying, “Gary, I can’t stay on the phone we’re expecting incoming.”
We sat on the tailgate of our parent’s Ford Country Squire station wagon on our way to the beach where we swam all day, made sandcastles and threw jellyfish at each other. As if we didn’t spend enough time together during the day, many times we would sneak out at night to play flashlight tag or just sit and talk about the day’s events or what we would like to do when we grew up. My fondest recollections are those of summer when life seemed sweeter and gentler with each day being more savored.
As a community, we all seemed to grow a bit closer. Today I see something vastly different. While we aren’t consumed picking up the pieces from homes and properties lost during Hurricane Charley, we have been forced to ” pause,” and with that pause, I am seeing people going back to those things I was so fond of as a child. I see couples taking early morning walks and riding bikes together. Many have taken to the water paddling kayaks or taking out those boats that have been sitting idle for months on lifts. I can hear the laughter of neighbors planning impromptu cocktail hours in the streets or on front lawns as they socially distance themselves from one another. Long overdue phone calls are being made and facetime chats are now allowing us to speak with loved ones in real-time.
During this time I’ve often wondered if this was God’s way of bringing us back to the way of life he intended for us. Where those simple pleasures and friendships we enjoyed as kids were meant to be enjoyed as adults, and not to be taken for granted.For those who celebrate Easter and the significance of its meaning, this year will be one that is very different. No longer will people be getting dressed up to go to church. Children won’t be participating in community-sponsored Easter egg hunts and small gatherings with only immediate family for Easter dinner will become this year’s norm.
It seems like yesterday when I was in elementary school and how I look back to those years with a special fondness. The class projects we worked on together, the field trips we took to places like the Wonder Bread factory where we saw how bread was made and to the Coney Island Aquarium with its vast display of marine life that featured an impressive electric eel demonstration. I think of the excitement we had acting in our school plays and who can forget those countless games of dodge ball during recess! Those were indeed great times. It was a time when riding your bike to school gave you a sense of new found freedom and when your teachers felt a bit more like extended members of the family. It was also a time when moms and dads were able to participate more in your school activities, and who can’t say how excited you were when you looked from the stage during your school play to see the loving support from your parents in the audience cheering you on? Did we have our occasional schoolyard fight or little clicks, sure we did, but overall there was a comradery that carried us through our high school years, creating some very special memories and friendships that are with me to this day.
With the fast paced world in which we live, and so many families relying on two incomes to support their households, it seems like the tenderness of those years I experienced have been compromised. The world of social media, video gaming and the vast offerings we can download from our cell phones, which by the way I’ve been told are more sophisticated than the first space craft that landed on the moon, have changed the way we interact with each other. Rather than calling, today’s generation prefers to skype, text, facetime, Instagram and tweet. Combine this with a family dynamic that is seeing more “quality of time” being compromised, any teacher you speak with today will tell you they are experiencing an educational setting far different than the one in which we grew up.
As a young child, it was pretty cool to say you knew a fireman or a policeman, and with this newsletter being focused around a back to school theme, I wanted to reach out to two good friends of mine, Officer Joe Angelini and Officer Terry Chow, who proudly serve our community as Officers with the Punta Gorda Police Department, to gain their insight on some of the challenges they face today in protecting our children.
Officer Angelini serves as School Resource Officer for Sallie Jones Elementary School and in addition to protecting the children of this fine elementary school, also teaches a course in “Bullying Awareness.”As early as kindergarten, Joe makes this one session class mandatory for all grades from kindergarten through 5th. He has the children sign a contract entitled “Grit Pledge,”where they promise to be good role models, be forgivingand compassionate of others and to “speak up instead of being a bystander. “
For the very young children, Joe reads “The Juice Box Bully,” a very interactive book that teaches the children how to stand up for others. For the older children, Joe has developed a very effective power point presentation that includes the effects of “Cyber bullying,” something as children my generation would never have understood. Joe said, “While bullying can manifest itself in many ways, simply stated a bully is someone who continues to act after being told to stop.” He continued by saying,
“in a bullying scenario, you have the victim, the bully and the bystander, and you don’t want to be a bystander and do nothing.”
Perhaps one of the most effective analogies Joe uses in showing compassion towards others is his use of two apples. During his presentation Joe takes one of the apples and drops it several times on the desk, the other is untouched. Visually they appear the same, but once the skin of the apple that has been dropped is peeled back you the bruising that came as a result of the abuse. Joe’s message to the students is, “You don’t know what someone has gone through in their lives they are keeping inside, so try to be more understanding if their ways are different than yours.”
Terry Chow, Resource Officer at Charlotte High School and now Punta Gorda Middle School, has seen how change in the family dynamic and social media have resulted in some children not only becoming more aggressive with their classmates, but challenging their teachers and school administrators as well. Terry said it starts with the home and if kids are being allowed to challenge their parents, give in to their children’s demands, combined with various social media sites that are more tolerant of confrontational behaviors, that is going to be carried into the school setting.
A question everyone has on their minds is school shootings. When I was growing up we had our school yard fights, but no one ever thought about bringing a gun to school and shooting up his classmates and teachers. Both Joe and Terry responded by saying, when you look into each case, there has been some psychological history or perhaps a copycat behavior that has been either ignored or not acted upon. Terry said a parent should look at changes in eating habits, sleeping patterns, the activities their children are participating in, the friends they keep and what they are watching, as the media hype today has been very polarizing.Both Officers said they are seeing more children today being raised by single parents or grandparents, which in many of these cases results in the absence of a “father figure.” Joe said, he fostered the “Watch D.O.G.S.” program which stands for “Dads Of Great Students, and is an innovative father involvement educational initiative of the National Center For Fathering.”
Joe said they look for “dads” to come to the school to spend some time with children with no father figure, who will become role models for these children. He continued by saying,
“Moms were always involved, but now we are trying to get Dad’s more involved in the children’s school activities.”
Both Officer’s Angelini and Chow have told me for years how the Punta Gorda Police Department prides itself in being able to answer any call in under 5 minutes. They said while the schools have taken great steps in securing the entry into the buildings, they have created a security presence they feel will deter an “active shooter” situation. While these officers have been trained to go aggressively “right to the threat,” they also stress the importance in training the student body and staff in how to respond in an “active shooter” scenario and on August 9th, Officer Chow conducted an “Active Shooter” presentation held at C.P.A.C located on the Charlotte High Campus.
In closing, the back story that always seems to be missing is the passion and love for the children these Police School Resource Officers have that never seems to be reported. Both of these officers not only protect and defend the residents and children in our county, but they have coached some of our children and have given tirelessly of themselves to many non-profit organizations apart from their police duties. Their story is not just about making our children safer, it is about their love for community and a desire to give these children every unobstructed chance to pursue their dreams to the fullest; and they will never end a conversation with you without saying, “Please let me know if I can ever do anything for you or your family,” something we don’t hear enough of these days.