Role Models: Two Men Named John
Who was that Masked-Man?
“A fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust and a hearty Hi-Yo Silver! The Lone Ranger! … With his faithful Indian companion Tonto, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains led the fight for law and order in the early western United States! Nowhere in the pages of history can one find a greater champion of justice! Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear! From out of the past come the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver! The Lone Ranger rides again!”
Do you remember that famous introduction at the beginning of every Lone Ranger TV episode? Well, maybe you didn’t grow up watching the Lone Ranger as I did, but he was probably my first fictional role model as a kid. For those of you who are not familiar with him, one version of the story tells of a lawman named John Reid who was the sole survivor of a Texas Ranger posse’ led by his brother, Capt. Dan Reid. They were in pursuit of Butch Cavendish and his murderous gang. However, they were betrayed by a guide and led into an ambush in Bryant’s Gap. All the Rangers were killed during a fierce gun battle, except John Reid. A Native-American named Tonto finds John Reid, shot and near death, in the embrace of his murdered brother. Tonto rescues him and nurses Reid back to health. From there, the Lone Ranger is born and together with Tonto, they seek vengeance against Cavendish and bring justice to the wild frontier. At the end of every episode, after the Lone Ranger and Tonto had saved the day, they would ride off to their next adventure as onlookers watched, and someone would always ask, “who was that Masked-Man? In short, they were asking, “who was that symbol of justice?” “Who was that symbol of courage, humility, and hope?” The Lone Ranger had all the qualities many young boys were looking for, an action-taking crimefighter with a strict moral code. Yep, I wanted to be just like the Lone Ranger.
Fiction Becomes Reality
I’ve said it before, I grew up in the land of giants. What I meant was, that I was surrounded by some terrific role models as a kid. The two prominent ones were my father, a career Marine, and my big brother John (known as “Jack”), a career police officer. From a very early age, I knew that I wanted to be just like both of them. Role models can have a considerable impact on your life’s direction. Once we look up to someone, we can find ourselves not only idolizing them but actually imitating them as well. When I was a kid, my fictional role model was the Lone Ranger, but my real-life crime-fighting role model was my big brother, Jack. It’s worth noting, my two brothers and sister are all much older than me, by a range of 14-17 years. So, it was easy to look up to them on age alone. But with my brother Jack, I would latch on to him extra tight. But why? Yes, he was a crimefighter just like the Lone Ranger, but what was the real source of the admiration that caused me to copy his behavior?
For starters, just like the Masked-Man, Jack Redlinger was bold, confident and courageous. He always reminded me a bit of Burt Reynolds, with a similar swagger and sense of humor. I remember when he graduated from the Atlanta Police Academy in the early ’80s, I told everyone who would listen, “My brother is a cop in Atlanta!” It didn’t take long for him to establish a reputation as being a tough street cop, respected not only by his fellow officers but also the criminals. Maybe this is why one of my favorite movies is “Sharky’s Machine”, where Burt Reynolds plays a tough Atlanta Cop with a big heart. It reminds me of Jack.
When I became a cop years later, I really started to understand just what others thought of him. I would always run into people in the street while on-duty. I would constantly be approached on calls when people would read my name tag, “Redlinger”. They would say, “are you related to the other Redlinger?” When I would say yes, reactions would vary but they would always have the same underlying respect. The response might be, “Man, Redlinger ain’t no joke, that man don’t play” or “Crazy-ass Redlinger, this one time…”, or “That Redlinger, let me tell you what he did for me.” Often, I would get immediate street cred by proxy, just because I was his brother. It seemed like he was always in the middle of the action, there are just too many stories to tell. I was probably a teenager when this big shooting kicked off in a public housing complex called Carver Homes. The police were already there investigating a separate case and the news truck was on scene covering that story. Suddenly, gunshots were being fired at police and the news camera was catching all the action. I saw my brother in plain clothes, running from car to car with a shotgun yelling out commands. I was mesmerized, that was my big brother and I couldn’t wait to be just like him.
Atlanta, The Proving Grounds
Those city streets took more than their fair share of flesh and blood from my brother. I remember multiple times where he was assaulted, injured in car crashes and subjected to other occupational hazards. Once, when I was a kid, I awoke one morning to find a blood-stained, tattered police uniform on the floor in the kitchen; he had been injured and hospitalized the night before, and there lie the remnants of his uniform. Another time when I was a rookie officer, I got a phone call he had been rushed to Grady Trauma Center by ambulance. But, like always, he would recover, then journey right back into the belly of the beast. He was as committed as crime fighters come and he knew that meant facing down the predators of the world.
Jack demonstrated this time and time again when he became one of the original members of Atlanta Police’s Red Dog Squad, created in the 1980s to combat the crack-cocaine epidemic and street-level violence that plagued the city. Red Dog, which stands for Run-Every-Drug-Dealer-Out Of-Georgia, was known for its bold tactics, like having 4 officers patrol in a “slick-top” police car (no light bar on top) so they could penetrate into the heart of open-air drug markets. They were combining the element of surprise with effective force to send a message to violent criminals who were becoming very comfortable operating in plain sight. This had a marked effect on the hardest of criminals who were now denied the freedom of movement to openly case businesses for robbery, target car-jacking victims and openly sell illegal narcotics. That meant Red Dog officers were signing up for greater risk of danger and violence.
A Compassionate Leader Emerges
To be a truly positive role model, qualities and traits can’t stop at courage and bold action-taking. Just like the Lone Ranger and Tonto, they operated with a strict moral code and were symbols of compassion and hope. As a child, I often witnessed this from my big brother. He was always helping others in ways that demonstrated just how big his heart really was. Moreover, I’ve never seen anyone who can put a room of people at ease like he can. He instantly uses humor and charisma to either disarm or uplift people in a way that breeds relationship building. That was the interesting thing about being approached in the street as a cop, when people recognized my last name.
Whether it was a single mother trying to raise a son or a guy who had made some bad decisions and was trying to turn things around; they would have a story about Jack’s compassion. It could be anything from convincing that single mother’s son to join the Police Athletic League and learn positive qualities through sports, or maybe it was some tough love for those he knew could be turned around. Additionally, I saw this when I went on a few ride-alongs with Atlanta Police prior to becoming a cop. I would be riding with an Atlanta Police officer and inevitably end up on a call that my brother was on. I saw him in action, the way he spoke to people, the way he encouraged and comforted those who needed compassion.
My admiration for him only grew more and more over the years. There were plenty of stories growing up where I was the target of his compassion. He looked after me and taught me a lot along the way, even if he didn’t know it. Once, I was bored and messing around in the living room. I found entertainment in partially slipping off one of my shoes then forcefully kicking it off my foot. A catastrophe in the making, it sailed across the room, past a rocking chair and through the closed window behind it.
My brother Jack turned the corner and could see the shock and fear in my face; he knew I didn’t want to disappoint our dad, my other role model. When our dad returned home from work, selflessly, Jack apologized to him and said he had rocked too far back in the rocking chair and shattered the glass. Some may think, “oh, he covered for you!” Well, on the surface, yeah, I guess he did. But, much deeper than that, he was practicing discretion. In his world, he was the older brother and expected to lead the younger one. Essentially, he was the accountable leader who exercised the discretion to handle this issue at his level. I have learned this lesson from growing up around strong leaders like him. Great leadership and camaraderie come from your people knowing you care about them, that their leader is not going to destroy their world when they slip up along the way. Situations will always dictate the appropriate corrective action, but strong leaders use discretion and consider the totality of the circumstances. In the end, they are leading because they care, not for ego, power or fortune. Great leaders develop people and build teams. They do this incrementally by being selfless, humble and accountable. Jack took the hit for me on this small indiscretion, but he was going to make sure I knew the right way forward. I recently wrote an article about this very thing, comparing sheepish leaders to lion-leaders. Jack Redlinger is without a doubt a compassionate lion-leader.
A Creative Communicator
Jack always used his natural gift of humor combined with his outgoing personality to make friends and build relationships. When I learned that he was going to be a hostage negotiator for Atlanta Police, I thought, “Gezz, what a perfect guy for the job.” Over the years, he responded with the SWAT team to be that calming and reasonable voice needed to defuse violent and dangerous situations. I began to have a real appreciation for his abilities as a communicator. Even before his time as a hostage negotiator, he dedicated a lot of his time to the Police Athletic League. Here the focus was drawing in less privileged and at-risk kids and communicating with them through sports. Jack was using boxing to teach these kids life lessons, but most of all he was showing them that someone cared about them. He taught them skills and together they experienced small achievements that grew into bigger achievements. Again, he was using his creativity, humor, personality and compassion to communicate with kids who otherwise may have ended up as a statistic in Atlanta’s annual triple-digit murder rate.
All throughout my Junior and High School years, my brother would come to my school and talk to kids at the invitation of teachers. He spoke about being a cop, avoiding drugs and generally making good choices. During those years, he was assigned as a plainclothes officer, so he had this whole cool-guy vibe going, combined with a personality that seemed like Miami Vice meets Beverly Hills Cop.
Totally fitting in the 1980s and complete with his Don-Johnson-leather-shoulder-holster and a quick wit like Eddie Murphy, Jack was a fan favorite. The students, teachers, and principal loved his visits along with his big personality. Jack was an entertainer, he made everyone laugh, but more importantly, we were listening to what he had to say.
When the Atlanta Braves won the World Series in 1995, my best friend and I attended the parade in downtown Atlanta. It was held on Peachtree Street, the main avenue that stretched all the way through Atlanta. It was jam-packed as proud citizens lined the streets with their families. My brother was now a motorcycle officer and was working the parade. He told us the best place to park and view the parade. We finally got settled and stood along the street right downtown among the skyscrapers.
The sidewalks were should-to-shoulder with people and it was still about 30 mins before the parade would reach us. My brother was walking around in the middle of the blocked-off street, wearing full uniform, including black motorcycle boots and a white helmet. Hundreds of people just stood there waiting along the edge of the street, probably a bit bored. Jack walked up behind a small unsuspecting boy and picked up his oversized foam Atlanta Braves hat. Jack removed his helmet, put on the hat and started walking around in the middle of the street like business as usual. Everyone in the crowd was watching and laughing as the skit unfolded. The small boy looked to find his hat missing then noticed some policeman strolling around with the same one on his head. The boy’s reactions were priceless and the roars of laughter echoed between the buildings. For a good half an hour, he entertained the whole crowd, moving between families like he was hired entertainment. He had literally stolen the show from the World Series Champs on that small patch of city street.
“The Kemosabe Effect”
In the Lone Ranger, Tonto would always refer to the Masked-Man as Kemosabe; faithful friend. If there was ever a strength that shined brighter with my role-model brother, it was this. I like to call it, “The Kemosabe Effect”. Like the Masked-Man, friends are there when you need them. With my brother, he has always been a faithful and loyal person, most importantly to his wife and two daughters. Even those that just meet him, are greeted with this warmth and sincerity. And, of course, when you’re in trouble, like the Lone Ranger, he would come to your aid.
From celebrity music artists to movie stars, to pro wrestlers, Jack seemed to have an eclectic group of friends. Often, they would find their way into my Atlanta-area childhood home. I think I have met all the big names in wrestling through my brother, be it Rick Flair or Macho-Man Randy Savage, Bill Goldberg, Hulk Hogan and the list goes on. One time back in the 90s, he actually showed up at the house with Grammy-Award Winner and swooner, Michael Bolton… I’m not kidding. For you newcomers, you probably know him from the hilarious Lonely Island music video, “Jack Sparrow”. My mother, along with every other woman in the 1990s, was in love with Michael Bolton. So, what does Jack do? He shows up at the house with the angel-voiced heart-throb so he could hang out with our mother. I think that stunt moved him into the number-one son position.
While we were on the topic of celebrities, one of the funniest things I’ve seen was where iconic wrestler and former pro football player, Bill Goldberg, involved my brother and some of his fellow officers in a live television skit on TNT Nitro in January 1999. Here is the link if you’re up for some Academy-Award-winning acting.
In 2014, I invited my brother over to Jordan where I had been living and working as a government contractor. My company, MissionX, had been hired to design and manage the 6th Annual Warrior Competition at the King Abdullah II Special Operations Training Center. Previously, I was employed at the center and was one of the architects of the combat-oriented competition. Jack agreed to come over and help manage some events as well as perform as a judge/scorekeeper. There were special operations teams from across the globe and from almost every continent. I was curious to see how Jack would behave in this new environment with so many cultures smashed together. After he was spun-up, he headed out with the rest of MissionX’s multinational team. As I made my way around to the different events, I found everyone knew him by name and he had built a rapport with all of them. The Chinese, Lebanese, Jordanians, Malaysians, Dutch, and so on. I think he had made more friends in one week than I had made in eleven years in Jordan. I discovered that his infectious personality and humor were international!
After retiring from the Atlanta Police Department, he became an entrepreneur for a couple of years and opened a restaurant in the Atlanta suburbs of Newton County. Despite the success with serving up some tasty BBQ, he could not ignore the calling to serve again. He sold the business and started his second crimefighting career as a deputy with Newton County Sheriff’s Office. Jack continued to spread the “Kemosabe Effect” in his new community but probably the best example of being a faithful friend occurred on the dark and bloody night of Sept 13, 2018. On that tragic evening, an officer named Matt Cooper from the neighboring Covington Police Department was pursuing a suspect into the woods on foot. Gunfire erupted and the officer was shot in the head. In such cases, a state-wide “officer down” call is broadcasted across the radio waves. Jack was nearby and rushed to the scene. When he arrived, he located Matt in the woods, bleeding profusely and struggling to breathe. With the suspect still lurking in the dark, Jack recognized that Matt’s mouth was full of blood and he was choking to death. Jack rolled Matt to his side and cleared his airway. Matt’s fellow officers, his brothers-in-blue, were on scene and obviously distressed with their friend’s seemingly grave condition. I’ve heard that Jack was the calming force during that tornado of chaos.
Fortunately, Matt Cooper survived and to this day is still on the long road to recovery. Matt’s story is an incredible one and demonstrates that even with a gunshot wound to the head, you keep fighting. Following the incident, Matt joined the Convington Police Chief is awarding Jack with the Police Star Medal for bravery under the significant possibility of serious injury or loss of life. I think Jack became a role model for a few more people following that terrifying night in the woods.
Someone Looks Up to You
Since I can remember, I’ve looked up to my big brother and always wanted to be just like him. In my book, he is the genuine article. I’ve grown up imitating his behaviors and following in his footsteps. In a strange way, he may just be a professional role model. I wonder how many lives he’s influenced; from the kids at the Police Athletic League to actual lives he’s saved. Role models are how we see into our own future, it’s like getting a glimpse of what we could be, whats waiting for us. When life beats us up and we think our dreams are out of reach, role models are the reminder of what’s achievable. In this modern-day when things sometimes seem upsidedown, we probably need them more than ever. The best part is we don’t have to look at the TV to find them. They’re all around us; in our police departments, our communities and maybe even within our own families. Yeah, I’m still a big Lone Ranger fan, but if I hear someone ask, “who was that Masked-Man?” I’ll say, “for me, his name is Jack Redlinger.”
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