Four years ago today, the world lost a great man who had dedicated his young life to service. The loss of Craig Birkholz will forever be felt by his family, friends, co-workers, the Fond du Lac community and by thousands of people throughout Wisconsin and the United States but his service and his sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Not only will Craig's name be etched in memorials in Wisconsin and Washington D.C. but it will also be etched in the hearts and minds of thousands of people (many of whom he never knew or met) whose lives he and his memory have touched.
This Is What a Hero Looks Like....
On the morning of March 20th, 2011 officers from the Fond du Lac Police Department were investigating a serious crime and upon approaching the suspect's residence, they were fired upon. Officer Craig Birkholz, hearing a radio call no officer ever wants to hear, "officer down", rushed to the scene to aid his co-worker, Officer Ryan Williams, who had been shot. As Craig approached the scene he was also shot by the suspect and passed away from his injuries.
Craig's desire to dedicate his life to public service started early on as a Kenosha Police Explorer. Craig was a hard worker and in his early school years had worked in newspaper delivery, retail, fast food and for his grandfather in maintenance during the summers. He excelled in school, sports and orchestra as a scholar athlete. He was a planner and goal setter.
Craig joined the Kenosha Police Explorer Scouts during his high school days and found the career he wanted in law enforcement. He had applied to U.W. Platteville criminal science program and while becoming impatient to hear back from the school an Army recruiter encouraged him to join the U.S. Army and train for military police. He entered the Army after graduating from Kenosha Tremper High school in 2000. After basic training and advanced training in military police work at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri he was sent to Fort Drum, New York.
That following fall on September 11, 2001, things changed. Craig’s previous plans of taking college courses between his military work went by the wayside as the 511th MP unit soon prepared for deployment to Afghanistan. In January 2002 they deployed to set up base at Bagram airfield where they were in charge of force protection and detainee holding centers.
After eight months and some close calls, Craig and the 511th returned home to Fort Drum. The following March of 2003 the 511th again prepared to deploy, this time to Kuwait. There they waited for President Bush to give the orders to enter into Iraq. Craig’s unit attached to the 101st Airborne entered Iraq from Kuwait and followed fellow troops and Marines up to Baghdad and then set up base in Mosul. There they stayed until February 2004. Craig, a team leader from early on, went on to advance train in various areas such as border patrol and assisted training other military police at Fort Dix.
After obtaining the rank of Sergeant and honorable discharge in 2005 Craig returned home to Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. With his one year of college credits he was able to achieve between deployments, he was accepted at U.W. Oshkosh and entered the criminal justice program there. While at U.W. Oshkosh he interned with the U.S. Marshals in Milwaukee. Because of his maturity and background he was an outstanding Resident Assistant and leader. Craig graduated Cum Laude with a Criminal Science major and psychology minor degree in December 2008. Craig went on to graduate from the Fox Valley Technical College Law Enforcement Academy in April 2009 and was hired by the city of Fond du Lac Police Department in May 2009.
Craig was a soft spoken leader, a mentor, and a motivator. His sense of fairness, caring, empathy, respect and belief of working as a team player along with his sense of humor caused him to be easily liked and gave him many long time friends.
One of his favorite mottos was: "Stay Strong, Stay Safe, Stay Positive"
(As told by Craig's mother, Gay Birkholz)
Thousands of law enforcement officers from Wisconsin and throughout the United States descended upon Kenosha to for Craig's memorial service. It was here when Craig's favorite motto: "Stay strong. Stay Safe. Stay Positive." was shared with the thousands who had never had the opportunity to know Craig.
In 2012 the Wisconsin Riders, joined by some of Craig's co-workers, friends and family, rode the Police Unity Tour, bearing memorial bracelets with Craig's name. The Wisconsin Riders ensured Craig's memory was carried to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial where his name is etched in eternity.
The Riders were propelled not only by the memory and honor of riding for Craig but also by the presence of Craig's co-workers, friends and family, including Officer Ryan Williams. In 2013, Craig's father, Bill Birkholz, joined the Riders to make the 300 mile journey in honor of Craig.
Craig's parents, Bill and Gay, as well as Craig's co-workers, friends and family continue to inspire the rest of the Wisconsin Riders through their perseverance, dedication to remembering not only Craig, but all fallen heroes, and especially their dedication to assisting friends and family members of other fallen officers.
In addition to being remembered during the Police Unity Tour, Craig's story was also memorialized in the documentary Heroes Behind the Badge which was produced with the assistance of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund. Craig's family and co-workers continue to organize the Birky Challenge, a bike ride dedicated to raising funds for a scholarship fund in honor of Craig.
"Stay Strong. Stay Safe. Stay Positive."
Craig's loss had a major impact on many of us, serving as a reminder of the dangers of the profession and to never take any day for granted. Through his loss though, many of us were united with and inspired by those who had been a part of Craig's life. These bonds and the inspiration gained have forever changed us.
In today's world, where genuine heroes are ever harder to find, it is important we never forget those who were willing to answer the call to serve and those who made the ultimate sacrifice serving. Craig made the ultimate sacrifice after answering calls to serve his country and his community. He is a hero in every sense of the word. May his sense of service, fairness, caring, empathy and respect live on in all of us.
"Stay Strong. Stay Safe. Stay Positive" - Craig Birkholz. End of Watch: 3/20/2011