Created By: Nadamir on June 23, 2012 Last Edited By: Arivne on November 10, 2015

Badges And Dog Tags

When a cop is a current or former member of the armed forces.

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Trope
A lot of cops in media have a history in the military. Maybe they're a former Marine, or a soldier in the Army Reserves. You don't usually see a cop who was in the Air Force, Coast Guard or the Navy (excluding Navy SEALs).

Basically, this trope applies to all members of law enforcement who've done a stint in the military, including the Reserves and National Guard. Note: this trope is not specific to only America, other countries' militaries also count.


Some examples separated by service branch:

    open/close all folders 

    Branch uncertain 

Live-Action TV
  • Foyle's War - Foyle is a veteran of World War I. His sidekick, Sergeant Milner, starts the series in active service, but returns to police work after being losing a leg.
  • Hawaii Five-0 (2010 remake) - Steve McGarrett's father, John was a retired cop and Vietnam vet.

    Army 

Live-Action TV
  • The Andy Griffith Show - Both Andy Taylor and Barney Fife served in World War II, however neither saw combat, and Barney admits that he was not allowed to leave the States.
  • Bones - Seeley Booth (Ranger)
  • The Bridge - Inverted and then played straight in one episode. A police officer took leave from work and joined the army so he could serve in Afghanistan. He was wounded and had his foot amputated. When he returns he tries to become a police officer again despite his disability. Frank and the police union end up supporting him after he proves that he is still capable of doing the job even with a prosthetic foot.
  • Dexter - James Doakes (Ranger)
  • Dragnet - Bill Gannon and most likely Joe Friday
  • Flashpoint - Sam Braddock (Canadian Army)
  • Happy Days - Officer Kirk
  • Justified - Deputy US Marshall Tim Gutterson was a sniper with the US Army Rangers
  • The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed - Vladimir Sharapov was a former Red Army scout, now in Moscow Criminal Police.

    Marine Corps, Royal Marines, etc 

Live-Action TV

Literature

Video Games
  • L.A. Noire - Cole Phelps was a Marine in WWII. His past and that of the rest of his former unit plays a major role in the plot.

    Navy 

Film
  • Fatherland - German police officer Xavier March and reluctant SS police major is also, or has been, a Kapitan zur See in the Kriegsmarine - one of Doenitz's U-Boat commanders. Also applies to the book.
  • Tag Team, a Pilot Movie starring Jesse Ventura & "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as two former wrestlers who become cops: During the target practice portion of the Police Academy Ventura's character displays remarkable marksmanship skills; he mentions that he was a SEAL (as he is in Real Life)

Live-Action TV
  • Hawaii Five-0 (2010 remake) - Steve McGarrett (SEAL)
  • Hawaii Five-O (the original) - Steve McGarrett, the head of the Five-O police unit, is a former U.S. Navy officer and a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Several episodes had references to his past career.
  • Magnum, P.I. - Magnum was in Vietnam as a SEAL. This pops up occasionally.
  • NCIS: Los Angeles - Sam Hanna (SEAL)

Real Life
  • President Theodore Roosevelt was essentially the Acting Secretary of the Navy when the Spanish American War broke out and he joined the Rough Riders in the Army's Cavalry. He was also the Police Commissioner of New York City. And an all around Badass.

    Air Force 

Literature
  • The Choirboys - Sergeant "Sperm-Whale" Whelan of the LAPD is also a USAF reservist. He therefore spends weekends and down-time from the police in flying transport and logistic missions from the USA to Vietnam and back ('The Choirboys'' is set in the early 1970's). This has humorous consequences. When on Monday morning the other cops are discussing where they went at the weekend and are coming out with things like "Took the kids to Venice Beach. Some rain." Whelan can laconically reply "nowhere much. Da Nang. Some flak. how about you?" When late getting back once, Whelan went straight to the station house in his USAF uniform. As a Major in the USAF, he out-ranked his commanding oficer in the police force. (A man who hates Whelan and everything he stands for). As both were in uniform, the police lieutenant had to salute the Air Force Major. (Whelan's Crowning Moment of Awesome ?)

Live-Action TV
  • London's Burning - one of the firemen was also a reservist in the Royal Air Force and trained by the RAF to deal with aircraft fires or crash-landings. Which came in useful in the big series finale concerning a plane crash in London.


Community Feedback Replies: 65
  • June 23, 2012
    chicagomel
    So no one's confused, Danny Messer on CSI NY doesn't count, the dog tags he wears are his grandfather's.

    The shows listed will probably have to be potholed...

    Army: Bill Gannon and most likely Joe Friday from Dragnet.
  • June 23, 2012
    KTera
    • James Doakes from the TV adaptation of Series/Dexter was an Army Ranger. In the novels, the character's name is Albert Doakes and he's a former Marine.
  • June 23, 2012
    randomsurfer
    • Bones: Booth is a former Army Ranger sniper.
    • Tag Team, a Pilot Movie starring Jesse Ventura & "Rowdy" Roddy Piper as two former wrestlers who become cops: During the target practice portion of the Police Academy Ventura's character displays remarkable marksmanship skills; he mentions that he was a SEAL (as he is in Real Life)
    • Barney Miller: Wojo is a Vietnam vet.
  • June 24, 2012
    Nadamir
    There, I potholed the shows and added the ones you gave me. I seem to have a lot of TV shows and not a whole lot of movies and books. Any ideas?
  • June 26, 2012
    Nadamir
    I was also thinking of calling it Detective G.I. Joe. Which do you like better?
  • June 26, 2012
    nielas
  • June 26, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Happy Days: Minor recurring character/bane of Fonzie's existence Officer Kirk is also in the Army Reserves as the Drill Sergeant Nasty.
  • July 2, 2012
    Nadamir
    Any more ideas?
  • July 2, 2012
    PaulA
    this trope is not specific to only America, other countries' militaries also count.

    In that case:

    • Foyles War: Foyle is a veteran of World War I. His sidekick, Sergeant Milner, starts the series in active service, but returns to police work after being losing a leg.
  • July 3, 2012
    planswalker
    how would you handle examples that don't fit into the general military scheme set up in America?
  • July 3, 2012
    aurora369
    Soviet example: Vladimir Sharapov from The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed, former Red Army scout, now in Moscow Criminal Police.
  • July 3, 2012
    Arivne
    Live Action TV
    • Hawaii Five O TOS (1968-1980). Steve McGarrett, the head of the Five-O police unit, is a former U.S. Navy officer and a commander in the U.S. Naval Reserve. Several episodes had references to his past career.
  • July 3, 2012
    kamai
    Also from NCIS, Ziva comes from Mossad. Kate (now deceased) used to be Secret Service didn't she? Does that count?
  • July 3, 2012
    Nadamir
    "how would you handle examples that don't fit into the general military scheme set up in America?" Uh most militaries have three main branches: land, sea and air. (Army, Navy, Air Force) some such as Great Britain also have amphibious branches (Marines) who operate on both land and sea.
  • July 3, 2012
    Nadamir
    "Also from NCIS, Ziva comes from Mossad. Kate (now deceased) used to be Secret Service didn't she? Does that count?" Kate probably wouldn't count but it is debatable whether or not Ziva would be included. Mossad is like the CIA and as the Israelis have a separate military force, it probably wouldn't be included. However, all Israelis are required to do a short stint in the military, as does South Korea.
  • July 3, 2012
    nielas
    • Justified: Deputy US Marshall Tim Gutterson was a sniper with the US Army Rangers
  • July 4, 2012
    AgProv
    Literature: sergeant "Sperm-Whale" Whelan of the LAPD is also a USAF reservist. He therefore spends weekends and down-time from the police in flying transport and logistic missions from the USA to Vietnam and back ('The Choirboys'' is set in the early 1970's). This has humorous consequences. When on Monday morning the other cops are discussing where they went at the weekend and are coming out with things like "Took the kids to Venice Beach. Some rain." Whelan can laconically reply "nowhere much. Da Nang. Some flak. how about you?" When late getting back once, Whelan went straight to the station house in his USAF uniform. As a Major in the USAF, he out-ranked his commanding oficer in the police force. (A man who hates Whelan and everything he stands for). As both were in uniform, the police lieutenant had to salute the Air Force Major. (Whelan's Crowning Moment Of Awesome ?)
  • July 4, 2012
    AgProv
    And in the book and the film Fatherland, German police officer Xavier March and reluctant SS police major is also, or has been, a Kapitan zur See in the Kriegsmarine - one of Doenitz's U-Boat commanders.
  • July 6, 2012
    nielas
    • Inverted and then played straight in an episode of The Bridge. A police officer took leave from work and joined the army so he could serve in Afghanistan. He was wounded and had his foot amputated. When he returns he tries to become a police officer again despite his disability. Frank and the police union end up supporting him after he proves that he is still capable of doing the job even with a prosthetic foot.
  • July 9, 2012
    AgProv
    May need checking: in the drama/soap about the London fire brigade, London's Burning, one of the firemen was, I think, also a reservist in the Royal Air Force and trained by the RAF to deal with aircraft fires or crash-landings. Which came in useful in the big series finale concerning a plane crash in London.
  • July 12, 2012
    Nadamir
    Not sure if a firefighter would count but OK. Anyone know of any famous Real Life examples? Or any cop formerly in the Coast Guard?
  • July 17, 2012
    Nadamir
    Any one?
  • August 23, 2012
    pyrotorch246
    Anime/Manga: Ghost in the Shell - Batou was a JGSDF ranger. Whether or not Section 9 counts as 'the cops' is questionable, though.

    Live Action TV: Mangnum P.I. - Magnum was in Vietnam as a SEAL. This pops up occasionally.

    Video Games: LA Noire - Cole Phelps was a Marine in WWII. His past and that of the rest of his former unit plays a major role in the plot.

    Mass Effect - Garrus Vakarian was a soldier before joining citadel security. This actually applies to all of the turians within C Sec, because they have to do their mandatory service first. Many of the non-turian C Sec officers have a military background as well.

    I can't think of any real life examples. I'm sure they're all over the place, but cops tend not to make the news much, so it would be hard to find one.

  • August 23, 2012
    randomsurfer
    Don't Wiki Word Tag Team, the Tag Team page is about tag teams, not the tv movie in question. But do Wiki Word Jesse Ventura.
  • May 20, 2014
    randomsurfer
    Moved Barney Miller because Wojo was a Marine, and while I was in there I de-linked Tag Team. And then I edited it again because the navy Real Life section is talking about Teddy Roosevelt, not FDR.
  • May 20, 2014
    DAN004
  • January 14, 2015
    jormis29
    • Castle: Before he joined the NYPD, Javier Esposito was a sniper in the U.S. Army Special Forces and served in Iraq.

    • Vegas 2012: Sheriff Ralph Lamb served as a military policeman during World War II. Bennet remembers how Lamb was able to catch a Serial Killer in Italy when the villagers were ready to hang an innocent man for the crimes.
  • January 15, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Lots of the examples are Zero Context, including a few that have been contributed with context. "Show Character (branch)" does not context make.
  • January 15, 2015
    Dalillama
    Truth In Television to a certain extent; police forces often have disproportionate numbers of military veterans on the strength.

  • January 16, 2015
    StarSword
    This should be sorted by medium, not by service.

    Film:
    • In SWAT Hondo is a former Marine who served two tours in Vietnam and spent the next four years teaching combat survival. Now he's head of a SWAT Team, whom he trains personally. He also shares a bit of Inter Service Rivalry ribbing at one point with Jim Street, a retired Navy SEAL who, as a minor plot point, specialized in demolitions.

    TV:
    • In Blue Bloods, Grandpa Henry Reagan (former police commissioner), Frank Reagan (current PC), and Danny Reagan (homicide detective and the focus of most A-plots) were Marines in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq respectively. Danny's prior service in particular is a plot point in a couple of episodes and he's mentioned to have been the only member of his unit to make it back home.
  • January 16, 2015
    Dalillama
    The Deputy Sheriff in Sharyn Mc Crumb's Ballad novels is an Army vet who, IIRC, fought in Vietnam. This isn't an example yet, because I can't remember enough details, but if anyone else here has read them, feel free to fill in.
  • January 16, 2015
    marcoasalazarm
    Walking Tall: The remake version of the film has Sheriff Buford Pusser as ex-Army (first scene of the film is him mustering out and returning to town).
  • January 17, 2015
    LadySatine
    Its been mentioned on Series/Gotham that Gordon's a vet. If anyone did catch a mention of a service branch feel free to edit this.
  • January 17, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Inverted in Gomer Pyle USMC: Gomer, who was an acting deputy a few times on The Andy Griffith Show, is drafted into the Marine Corps.
  • January 17, 2015
    Ominae
    In "The Border", Kessler was an ex-Canadian officer from Joint Task Force 2 before he went into law enforcement in heading Immigration and Customs Service.
  • January 18, 2015
    jormis29
    • Person Of Interest Detective Jocelyn "Joss" Carter served in the United States Army as a Warrant Officer, first at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from February 2, 2002 until February 2, 2003. She was then relocated to Camp Liberty in Baghdad from January 20, 2003 until March 20, 2004 when she received a Purple Heart, serving as an Army Human Intelligence Collector and top interrogator.
  • January 25, 2015
    jormis29
    ^^^^ They seem to be keeping it vague in line with the whole Anachronism Stew setting.

    • Frasier's father, Martin Crane joined the U.S. Army at the age of 19 and saw combat in The Korean War before returning home and joining the Seattle Police Department.
  • January 27, 2015
    Ominae
    In the Ghost in the Shell universe, Motoko, Batou, Aramaki and Ishikawa were formerly JGSDF soldiers and officer before they got involved with Public Security. In the Arise 'verse, Saito is mentioned to have been a Ranger-trained soldier in the JGSDF.
  • April 22, 2015
    Ominae
    In Gang Related, Ryan Lopez used to be with the 75th Ranger Regiment before he joined with the LAPD.
  • July 14, 2015
    Ominae
    In the 2nd season of True Detective, Paul Woodrugh used to be with the US Army before he joined the private military company Black Mountain. Due to the scandals, he left and joined the California Highway Patrol.
  • September 18, 2015
    Ominae
    Should this be launched? It has some missing stuff though.
  • September 18, 2015
    randomsurfer
    Lost of context missing. "Show: Character" isn't context.
  • October 25, 2015
    DAN004
    Yo, bump
  • October 26, 2015
    randomsurfer
    • NYPD Blue:
      • Detective Andy Sipowicz is a former Marine and a Vietnam veteran. Do not lie about serving in Vietnam in front of him.
      • His son Andy Jr. joins the Air Force; after he is discharged due to an injury he applies for and is accpeted into Hackensack NJ's police force training program.
      • Andy's third partner Danny Sorensen is a former Special Forces ranger.

    Real Life:
    • NYPD Blue creative consultant Bill Clark is a former NYPD detective and served in the Army and later the Army reserves, attaining the rank of Major.
  • October 26, 2015
    nielas
    This trope as is feels "chairy" to me. The fact that a cop was a soldier is probably going to be significant for character development but the trope description and the examples should mention how.

    • On Fargo state trooper Lou Solverson and his father-in-law sheriff Hank Larsson are both veterans having served in Vietnam and World War 2 respectively. This creates a deep bond between the two men and gives them similar views on life, death and the cruelty and horror of unfettered human nature in their line of work.
  • October 26, 2015
    JoeG
    • Major Crimes: Sykes was an MP in Afghanistan before becoming a police officer.
  • October 27, 2015
    Folamh3
    I would suggest sorting the examples by medium rather than branch. The page will become incredibly messy otherwise.
  • October 27, 2015
    Folamh3
    • Det. Vincent Hanna of the LAPD in Heat served as a Marine in Vietnam.
  • October 27, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^ Also this needs a better name. It could be confused for the items themselves (since they are ways to identify characters in various ways), or just any sort of relationship between police and military rather than specifically this trope.
  • October 27, 2015
    DAN004
    What about Ex-Soldier Cop?

    I'm wondering if the inverse (ex-cop soldier) is worth a trope in itself.
  • October 27, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^ Perhaps. Any examples I've seen just seem to be mentioning it as their former jobs (as they would with any profession), but there might be something there.
  • October 28, 2015
    StarSword
    TV:
    • In Quincy, the eponymous coroner (practically a detective in his own right thanks to No Badge No Problem) still has a commission as a captain in the US Navy Reserve. He's reactivated in one episode and asks for a discharge at the end of it.
  • October 28, 2015
    gallium
    How is this not People Sit On Chairs?

    And assuming it isn't Chairs...is organizing this by service the best way? Why not the standard way, by medium?
  • October 28, 2015
    gallium
    But just in case it isn't:

    Literature

    • Harry Bosch, the LAPD homicide cop who is the central character in about 3/4 of Michael Connelly's mystery novels, was an Army "tunnel rat" in Vietnam, fighting the NVA in underground tunnels. Bosch's Vietnam experience is key to the plot of debut novel The Black Echo, in which he discovers the corpse of a fellow tunnel rat, and is referred to often in subsequent books.
  • October 28, 2015
    DragonQuestZ
    ^^ Well we should look at how being former military drives cops in fiction. Do they tend to act even more like a Cowboy Cop than others? Do they tend to be more willing to follow procedures due to their training? Are they prone to have different emotional reactions than other cops?
  • October 30, 2015
    nielas
    • Inverted in Peaky Blinders. Inspector Cambell gets a lot of derision because he did not fight in World War 1 while many of the gangsters and communists he is persecuting are decorated veterans.
  • October 30, 2015
    CrypticMirror
    I do think this is tropeable but I would strongly suggest using the standard listing by media, rather than listing by branch of the military, as that is both messy and does not provide for examples beyond the traditional American structure. Just include where they got their military service in the example and list by medium as normal.

    Things to mention in trope description might be the difficulty characters have in adapting back to civilian life for ex-military types leading for a desire for structure and clear chains of command, a tendency to lack empathy for people who don't desire the same respect for authority, a tendency for using excessive force (prevalent in older works, but often reversed in newer ones with ex-military members showing more restraint), and a desire in Law Enforcement Agencies (and fire departments and prison authorities -other traditional employer of former armed forces members-) to seek people that have a proved track record in working in stressful jobs, facing physical aggression, anti-social hours, and dangerous situations. A trope to mention going with it might be Shell Shocked Veteran

    Some more Law Enforcement and Law Enforcement adjacent, or military and military adjacent examples:

    • Played with in New Tricks where one of the criminals of the week assumes Jack, the eldest of the group, must have been in the military due to National Service, and thus might be able to share his regimental values. Jack, however, states that as he was able to join the police before his call up he was not required to serve with any of the armed forces and a suspect being ex-military does not mean they can expect special treatment from him.

    • Rivers Of London:
      • DCI Nightingale served in WW 2 in an assault on Ettersberg, an action that saw almost all his friends slaughtered and, along with a reputation as a ferocious fighter, left him with a 60 year long case of PTSD.
      • London Fire Brigade arson investigator Frank Caffrey previously served in the Parachute Regiment. He combines his experience from both professions when it comes to arranging fires to help The Masquerade remain in place.

    • The Transformers IDW: Prowl was a fully paid up member of the Cybertronian police force before becoming a soldier on the Autobot side in their civil war. After the war ends he returns to the security-law enforcement field, but is unable to shake the paranoia and militaristic thought patterns he developed as a soldier and eventually ends up in jail after trying to start a new Cybertronian civil war.

    • In Porridge Prison Officer Mister MacKay was in the British Army at some point and has a very authoritarian, stopping just shy of martinet, spit-and-polish attitude towards all the inmates. The Other Wiki specifies that he was a Drill Sergeant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highland Regiment.

    • Set in WW 2, Allo Allo has Officer Crabtree, who is actually a British Secret Agent posing as a French Policeman. After the war Crabtree becomes enamoured with the French lifestyle and chooses to stay in France and becomes a real policeman for the same village.

    • In the Discworld "City Watch" sub-series, Sergeant Colon and Corporal Nobbs both served in the Ankh-Morpork regiments as soldiers before entering (or in Colon's case, returning) to the City Night Watch. Military life taught both of them the best way to avoid trouble and find the cushiest postings going.
  • October 30, 2015
    CrypticMirror
    Is anyone stewarding this or is it Up For Grabs?
  • October 30, 2015
    DAN004
    Nadamir is AWOL.
  • October 31, 2015
    CrypticMirror
    I can re-sort it by medium if no one argues, but I'll need a bit of help with fleshing out the description beyond my previous post if anyone can help with that?
  • October 31, 2015
    DAN004
    ^ Go right ahead.

    Sadly I'm not too knowledgeable with this kind of thing...
  • October 31, 2015
    StarSword
    This trope is very much Truth In Television. In fact, part of the reason modern police forces, particularly in the United States, tend to behave somewhat like military organizations and use military ranks is precisely because when cities began to create full-time police forces instead of mustering a citizen posse to back up the local sheriff, they often recruited from soldiers mustering out of the military.

    As far as the PSOC question, I don't think so. This is a Characterization Trope that deals in particular with backstory.

    TV:
  • November 1, 2015
    Folamh3
    ^^^ Good of you to volunteer. Why don't you sort the examples by medium and do a rough draft of the description? The rest of us will chip in where we can.
  • November 2, 2015
    CrypticMirror
    It'll be a couple of days before I'm free enough to do anything, but I'll give it a go some time this week then.
  • November 10, 2015
    captainmarkle
    I'm not sure what example this specifically comes under, but this could fit:

    • In Parks And Recreation, Leslie's cop boyfriend Dave ends up moving out of Pawnee because he's signed up for the Army Reserve and has a job in California.
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