Served with Honor, Retired with Pride

Written By: 
Charles T. Glazer
Photographs by: 
Randall Hill

Local law enforcement organizations offer services to its members and to the community at large

Along with the roll of drums, the haunting sound of bagpipes fills the air with “Amazing Grace” as the Coastal Carolina Shields Pipe and Drum Band pay homage to another comrade whose life has come to a close. These musicians are members of the Coastal Carolina Shields, an organization of more than 900 retired law enforcement officers living along the Grand Strand. They represent more than 350 law enforcement agencies from nearly every state, the District of Columbia, federal agencies and Canada.

The pipe and drum band has 16 members who perform at weddings, funerals, parades and other special events like St. Patrick’s Day. All were members of similar bands elsewhere before they retired to the Grand Strand. In August, they played at the swearing-in ceremony for nine new Myrtle Beach police officers. They participate in a special ceremony every year to commemorate the September 11 terrorist attacks and honor those who gave their lives that day to help so many others.

The band practices every Tuesday at The Market Common firehouse on Howard Avenue, and it is in great demand for performances. Their reputation extends far beyond the Grand Strand and they’ve performed in Columbia, Charleston, Savannah, Charlotte and elsewhere in the region.

The president of the Shields is Mike Grabarz and he fits the typical profile of a member. After serving 34 years on the Greenwich, Connecticut, police force he retired as a detective and relocated to the Grand Strand. Currently, he is Chief of Community Safety at DeBordieu Colony and is very involved in the operation of the Shields organization.

“Our group is about ten years old now and very active both in the community and in supporting our members,” Grabarz said. “Our mission is to provide an opportunity for retired officers to meet and network with each other in a social atmosphere. We meet the first Tuesday every month at Legends Club House (Legends Drive off U.S. 501 near Carolina Forest) and any retired law enforcement officer is welcome. Our membership is growing constantly.”

Members of the Shields support worthy causes like Toys for Tots and give of their time to help when and where they are needed. They recently helped build a wheelchair ramp at the home of a fellow officer and did a number of housing repairs and cleanup activities after Hurricane Matthew. The group also provides its members opportunities to socialize and network through golf outings, motorcycle trips, fishing, sporting events, concerts, cookouts, an annual Christmas party and more.

But it’s not all fun and games. They do some very serious work too, putting to good use the multitude of years of experience they possess. They recently formed a task force of about 30 members who are helping the Horry County Police Department solve cold cases by bringing a new perspective, a different point of view and creative crime-solving techniques to the cases. These “Cold Case Crime Stoppers” are leveraging the vast experience they have to help our local law enforcement officers when they’ve run into a dead-end on a case.

Another way they help make our community safer is by advocating for personal concealed carry of firearms among their members. Congressional legislation (HR 218) and its amendments have made it universally accepted across all 50 states for retired law enforcement officers to carry a concealed weapon, as long as they regularly meet the qualification requirements. The Shields sends its members to the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Department to qualify annually, and so far more than 500 of the Shields members have done so. Under this process and legislation, they do not have to face the burden of qualifying in individual states across the nation.

The Shields also work hard to help their 900-plus members, especially newly relocated individuals, find healthcare providers in the Grand Strand that will honor their insurance. Because many of them move here from fairly far distances, this has proven to be a recurring problem because many local healthcare organizations and physicians won’t accept their insurance coverage. The strong network of Shields members is helping to overcome this gap by referring members to healthcare providers who are known to honor their coverage.

“I’m really honored to serve as president of the Coastal Carolina Shields,” said Grabarz. “This is an outstanding organization with a membership that is vibrant, active and growing. We provide retired law enforcement officers numerous support services, and in return our members help each other as well as our local communities.”

Mike Fanning is another very active member of the group. With him, being retired is a misnomer. He relocated to the Grand Strand in 2006 after a long and successful career as Detective Sergeant in New York’s Hate Crimes Task Force and Hostage Negotiating Team. Today, he’s as busy as ever.

Fanning continues to serve the public as Chief of the Pawleys Island Police Department. He is not only active in the Shields, but he is also a drummer in the Pipe and Drum Band, and is president of the Myrtle Beach 10-13 Club, a smaller group that includes only retired NYPD officers. The 10-13 Club is just a few years old but already has more than 70 members, including most of the Pipe and Drum Band.

“I’m certainly proud to be a member of the Coastal Carolina Shields,” said Fanning. “We have a very close relationship and the members of the 10-13 Club are also members of the Shields. But we saw a need to form a special, smaller group focused on serving the special needs of just the retired New York officers. One issue in particular that we work hard on is the healthcare issue for our members. We have members who make the trek back to New York a few times a year for doctor appointments because they can’t find a physician locally who will accept their insurance coverage.”

The 10-13 Club meets the second Thursday of every month at TBonz Gill & Grill in Myrtle Beach, and their website is MYR1013.com. Any retired law enforcement officer from New York City can join.

“With the Grand Strand being one of the fastest-growing areas in the country, we are seeing rapid growth in our organizations,” added Fanning. “We love our new home and all that it offers, and we believe residents and businesses of the Grand Strand should feel fortunate to have so many dedicated retired but still active law enforcement professionals living in our neighborhoods and helping our local officers keep us safe when called upon.”