Cobb County Government

What You Do, Matters

As written in Real Hero Report, August 2017

by William L. Tanks
Deputy Fire Chief
Cobb County Fire and Emergency Services

In 1981, my grandfather and I were talking, and he was trying to influence me to join the armed services. I would soon graduate from Murray Wright High School in Detroit, Michigan. My response to my grandpa was indicative of my teenage ignorance, “I ain’t joining the military; the military is for the white man.” My grandfather’s response would forever change me. In his words, “Boy.... are you crazy? Look around the neighborhood and tell me who do you see breaking in houses and robbing other people?” His question penetrated my mind.

A few days prior to our conversation, I witnessed a black woman being robbed at gunpoint by a black man. The incident happened five feet away from me, and I could do nothing to help her. I wanted to help her, but I could only watch in silent terror as she screamed and cried. He finished the lesson with the following words, “Boy, don’t you ever forget you can be a white devil or a black devil, it don’t matter. There are two kinds of people, good and evil, and if good people don’t do anything, evil people will take over.”

In 1984, I had completed naval boot camp in San Diego, had completed an officer selection program, and was given a college scholarship to Morris Brown College in Atlanta, Georgia. Four years later, life happened, and I had served in the U.S. Navy and had become a husband and a father of three precious children. The wonderful experience of seeing the world, serving my country, and having a family reinforced grandpa’s wisdom and rendered forever false the ignorance of my high school buddies.

In 1991, I was honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy. After five months of being out of the Navy, I longed to serve again. My life experiences brought me to a place where I knew what mattered. It wasn’t money or fame. It was service to others. It became my mission in life to make things better for others. On July 15th, 1991, I became employed by the Cobb County Fire Department, and I was sworn into the United States Navy Reserve.

My dual career as a Navy Reservist and a Cobb County Emergency Responder gave me great satisfaction. I have been privileged to lead in both organizations, and have countless sea stories and firefighter folklore. All of the stories are true; most are accurate. I have delivered babies, saved lives, and fought the Grim Reaper’s attempts to take lives. Our efforts were not always successful and some were extremely traumatic.

I look back on my life and the rich experiences of public safety and military service with absolutely no regret and a sense of mission accomplished. To a country, county, and community that have given me so much, my service was my way of giving back.

On July 28th, 2017, I will retire from the fire department. Thanks, grandpa! Thanks, America! Thanks, Cobb County! Thanks, good people! Thank you all for the privilege to serve.

To my military and public safety brothers and sisters who remain in service, protecting our communities and our country, I say farewell, fair winds and following seas. I will miss you. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity of serving with you. Stay strong! Do well. Your journey is noble.

What you do matters!