Illinois State Trooper Performs Taps out of Sense of Service

tapsIt's a service that takes less than one minute to perform. But the memory Mike Atkinson creates by playing taps at memorial services and funerals is far more lasting. "They call it the 24 most difficult notes for a trumpeter," said Atkinson, 48, who lives in Urbana with his wife and three children. He is one of five trumpeters employed by the Illinois State Police who volunteer their musical skills to pay honor to others. "It's all volunteer. I do it on duty, but it's based on operational need. If I'm in the middle of a case, I can't," said Atkinson, a 21-year veteran of the state police. A master sergeant, Atkinson supervises the general crimes division and the methamphetamine response team for the state police zone based in Champaign. "Our unit concentrates on violent crimes, public integrity and major cases," he said. It's Atkinson who is among the first called if an area police officer shoots someone or is shot. "The Illinois State Police is really good about letting me do it if I can. When I retire, it's something I want to do much more often," he said. Atkinson grew up in Bethany and first picked up the trumpet when he was in fifth grade. His chops must have developed quickly because his father, who was an honor guard commander in the American Legion, and his mother, in the Legion Auxiliary, persuaded him as a sixth-grader to play taps at veteran funerals in town. "I can remember in junior high practicing taps out the bedroom window when the opposing football team would walk from the high school to the field. That was inappropriate, I'm sure," he said, chuckling at the memory. "I got into trouble for that from my dad." In high school, he was a member of the marching band and credited "the world's greatest band teacher, Marty Lindvahl" with helping to hone his craft. He continued to play for funerals while in high school and occasionally when home from college at Eastern Illinois University. As a teen, he was aware of his contribution. "It was remarkable being out there in a cemetery with Legion members doing honor guard, a rifle volley, and then playing taps," he said. After graduating college, Atkinson began his foray into law enforcement as a telecommunicator and auxiliary deputy for the Moultrie County sheriff's office. After a year there, he became a police officer for the Illinois Commerce Commission, holding that post until 1994 when he joined the state police. "I put my trumpet in the closet. I just got too busy," he said. Several years ago, his attendance at a service where a recording of taps was being played got to him. "I saw one of the Legion honor guard members using an electronic bugle. It looks like it has a mute in the end. But it's a speaker that plays a perfect rendition of taps." "Honest to goodness, I was ashamed of myself because I had left my trumpet in a closet. I could have volunteered to do that had I only kept up my playing," he said. "That's when I fast-forwarded to my midnights master sergeant who was on the trumpet team and I thought, 'I should look into that.'" His good intention to get back into playing taps at funerals didn't happen immediately. In 2014, he was carting his children to the Community Center for the Arts in Urbana for music lessons on their stringed instruments when he got involved with a fun adult group there called "The Marvelous Cretaceous Band." "The leader, Tom Faux, for some reason, let me play the trumpet. I played in that band and I got my embouchure back," he said of the facial configuration needed for a brass mouthpiece. "They call it getting your chops in shape. I had had roughly 25 years without playing so it took me a while to get it back. After I did that for a while, I thought, 'I'm going to see if I can play in the state police.'" Atkinson is one of five state troopers from all over Illinois on the honor guard trumpet team. He's been performing since June 2014, averaging eight to 10 ceremonies each year. "There's me, a patrol lieutenant from District 9 in Springfield, a crime-scene investigator from the Champaign office, a special agent from the division of internal investigations from Springfield, and a patrol trooper from Joliet," he said. They play for state police events like recruit or cadet graduations but also at statewide memorial events for fallen police officers or a veterans event that Secretary of State Jesse White hosts at the state library in Springfield. "Peoria, Carlinville are the farthest I've traveled. The most I've done in a day is two services in Peoria. This is a big time of year because of the Illinois Police Memorial" held in early May, he said. There may be one, two or three trumpeters at a time depending on the event, the music played and their availability. Getting away from work is not always easy. Besides taps, they also play the Star Spangled Banner, which has three parts. It's not until they arrive at the event that they decide who will play which part. "With 'The Star-Spangled Banner,' it's always a three-person team. We can use music on that," he said appreciatively. "Memorizing three different parts is difficult for my old brain." Asked what he likes to play best, Atkinson said without hesitation that it's taps. That's because of the solemn nature of the events where taps is performed. "It's normally chaos for me with cases and callouts," he said of his daily grind. "With taps, I have to completely unplug from investigations, calls, callouts, and be 100 percent in the moment. That is absolutely the only time my phone is not on my person, except when I'm sleeping but it's within arm's reach." And while his taps performance takes only 48 seconds, it is preceded by hours of travel and practice, often done outdoors. "If it's really cold outside, brass instruments are affected. It helps to play in a lower key because if it's really cold, it can get really, really sharp and their tuning goes haywire," he said. He also has to worry about wind taking his dress uniform hat. Mostly, he frets over the undivided attention. "When it's time to sound taps, it's usually after three rifle volleys and it's just silent. You are totally exposed," he said. "There is no band behind you, no percussion, no rhythm section." Performance anxiety kicks in. And it's difficult and emotional if he's playing at the funeral of someone he knows personally. "In a solo at a band performance, you want to do good for yourself. For me, I'm always afraid I'm not going to do good enough for the person. That's the nerve-wracking part." And when the performances are over, there are usually grateful groupies. "Folks thank us for doing this," he said. "I feel just the opposite. I'm flattered that people ask me to do this. It is my honor."

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California Highway Patrol Officer Rescues a Seal

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Over the weekend Officer Alameda found a seal stranded on Highway 1 near Marina. Officer Alameda put the seal in his patrol vehicle and transported him to the Marine Mammal Center. During their initial contact Officer Alameda mistook the seals signs of affection and gratefulness as hostile bites. Officer Alameda and the seal made up and left each other on good terms.

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New Jersey Trooper gets student to exam on time

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A recent 911 call for service to the New Jersey State Police did not turn out to be the usual call for a disabled vehicle on the Garden State Parkway. On May 4, at 9:02 a.m., a call came into the Galloway State Police Station for a vehicle fire on the roadside at milemarker 61.2 in Eagleswood Township. Trooper Kimberly Snyder said she was the closest trooper in the area and rushed to the scene. When Snyder arrived she said she could see smoke billowing from the engine of a 2005 Nissan Frontier. “When I got there I found out he actually blew out his radiator and it was overheating,” said Snyder. She called for a tow truck and the driver John Lancellotti explained he was driving to take a final exam at Stockton University at 10 a.m. Lancellotti said his parents were working out of the area and couldn’t come to pick him up. It was then that Snyder said she made a decision to make sure Lancellotti arrived on time to take his final exam. Snyder, 35, said Stockton University is part of her patrol area, so she drove Lancellotti to the school. “He told me his father is retired from the job and he really appreciated that I did that for him. It was important for me to do it because he seemed like a good kid and he needed help to get there,” she said. “I felt bad he had to roll up in a troop car, but he made it on time. I was just doing my job,” said Snyder, an 11-year veteran of the State Police. A statement from the State Police this week said, that in a situation like this, a trooper is required to relay a stranded motorist to a safe area where the motorist can make arrangements for a ride home. But Snyder went above and beyond the call of duty, the release said. “Not too often do we come in contact with people on good terms. Usually they’re not happy, especially if we have to write them a ticket and it’s bad circumstances. It’s nice to do something under good circumstances,” Snyder said. A letter to State Police from Lancellotti’s parents said the ride from Snyder was a big deal to them and to their son. The letter said they were touched by Snyder’s professionalism and character and they were extremely grateful that she helped their son during a very stressful time.

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New Jersey State Trooper Gives Two Students a ride to prom

trooper prom ridejpg d91395241441e4b3Two Marine Academy of Technology and Environmental Sciences students arrived in style at their prom Friday night. No, it wasn't a stretch limo or party bus. Rather, the two 17-year-old students, Edward Fengya and Reno D'Agostini, were escorted to the school's prom in a New Jersey State Police cruiser. That's because the car they were in, a 2003 Lincoln Town Car, became disabled after it crashed into a utility pole off the Garden State Parkway. Fengya had borrowed the car from his mother. And as the two headed to the prom, traveling southbound on the Parkway, the vehicle careened off the side of the highway and struck a utility pole shortly before 5:30 p.m., State Police said in a Facebook post. State Police Troopers Chris Jones and Charles Garrison responded to the crash. The two boys weren't injured but time was ticking away to the start of the prom. With little convincing, Fengya and D'Agostini hopped into Jones' State Police patrol cruiser, and off to the yacht club on Long Beach Island they went. When they arrived at the venue, Fengya and D'Agostini exited the patrol car and received a paparazzi-like welcoming from their fellow students. Jones walked up to the chaperon with the two students and said, "Hey, do these two belong to you?" according to the State Police post. After a handshake, Jones left and the two students enjoyed the prom. "We all hope that our children have good memories of their prom," State Police said. "We hope that they get there safe, and that they come home safe."

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Massachusetts State Trooper Shares a meal with a homeless woman

525A Selfless Meal, and Conversation, for Two

We were shown this picture from a third-party who had not taken the photo, nor knew anything about it, other than they thought it was taken in Fall River. After a little digging, we were able to locate the citizen who had taken the photo. The citizen said the well-dressed Trooper in a suit appeared to be having lunch with a panhandler on Davol Street in Fall River. The citizen was struck by what he saw, snapped the photo, and posted it to a Facebook group in Fall River, captioned “And they say chivalry is dead…….Much respect.” We are grateful to that person, who thought to take the photo and share it.

After a little more digging, we found out the trooper is Luke Bonin, who is assigned to the State Police Dartmouth Barracks. After reaching out to Trooper Bonin, he was a bit surprised that someone had taken his photo, stating that he wasn’t seeking or expecting any publicity for it. But we pressed him, and he very reluctantly told us how he ended up sitting on his cruiser’s bumper that day sharing lunch with a stranger.

Trooper Bonin had just left court when he drove by the woman, who appeared down on her luck. She was holding a sign and asking for help from anyone who would pay attention. Trooper Bonin continued to drive on – directly to a local establishment, where he ordered two meals. He returned to the woman, pulled up, and exited his cruiser. Thinking he was there to remove her from the side of the road, she immediately stated to him that she would leave, that she knew she shouldn’t be there with her sign. But Trooper Bonin told her, “I’m not here to kick you out.” He then extended the two meals and told her to pick one.

They then sat, shared a meal, and a conversation.

Yes, Trooper Bonin, we know you do not want or expect publicity. We know you didn’t want to be noticed, but you were, and the job is proud of you. We commend you for your selfless act, and for “doing the right thing” for someone less fortunate than most people.

We have extraordinary troopers on the Massachusetts State Police who conduct themselves honorably, and perform selfless acts, every day. Most times, it goes unnoticed. But not this day.

 

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