Casper Police Chief Swears In Chaplain Wes Gudahl
Wes Gudahl had it all as a young cop: the badge, the gun, and the drive to serve his community, he told fellow officers, family and friends Friday.
But he didn't have real life. Not yet.
In his first three months as first responder, he rescued three children who were in accidents. Two of them died.
Gudahl then went to a plane crash where he pulled the occupants from the upside down plane. Both of them lived.
One evening a week later, he returned home from work. He walked in the front door, took a deep breath, walked outside and threw up. He again walked in, walked out and threw up.
His wife was halfway through cooking hamburger, and the smell of blood in the meat had overpowered him in an episode of cumulative stress.
After the reactions to stress early in his career, Gudahl realized he needed help to understand his experiences, he said.
"We all in law enforcement, fire, EMS, we all face those times when stress just overwhelms us," Gudahl said.
Gudahl, 53, was sworn in as the Casper Police Department's chaplain during a brief ceremony at Highland Park Community Church.
Police Chief Jim Wetzel said Gudahl was born into a preacher's family in Wheatland, raised in Colorado, served in the Air Force, and earned a degree at a Bible College. He worked as a volunteer firefighter, began working as a chaplain with law enforcement in Colorado in 1993, worked with the Wyoming Attorney General's Office, started the victims' advocacy program at the Casper Police Department in 2001, worked as a state park ranger, returned to Casper as a patrol officer and hostage negotiator, and had to retire for medical reasons in 2014.
Wetzel cited the writing of British evangelical theologian N.T. Wright, who wrote people have a passion for justice, but it's often a fleeting dream of a society in which things work out, about peace and hope and harmony, Wetzel said.
The desire for justice often drives people to go into law enforcement. Those people often ask whether the end justifies the means, or how they are to maintain a moral and ethical high ground in some cases, he said.
A police department chaplain offers a spiritual understanding to officers and civilian employees who struggle with the elusiveness of justice, and the horrifying scenes and aftermaths of some crimes, Wetzel said.
After Wetzel administered an oath to Gudahl, the new chaplain recounted his early experiences and said he now approaches the job with a more sober attitude.
Gudahl said he won't have all the answers as a chaplain.
"I believe the greatest trust the American people can give is for you guys to uphold the law that they have enacted," he said. "I want you to be able to uphold it in a way that's honorable, in a way that keeps you going. And I don't want you to feel like you're the only ones out there ... with nowhere to turn. And that's what I want to do."