As with protocol, all new Pennsylvania State Troopers are required to complete a Line of Duty Death Form. Included on the form: medical and insurance information, next of kin and pallbearer preferences.
Having just completed coach/pupil training under 34-year-old, six-year veteran and former Marine Joshua Miller, one of Josh’s pupils wrote him an email requesting Josh’s permission to write him in as a pallbearer should he fall in the line of duty.
To no surprise, Josh obliged, and to ease any tension, he reassured the rookie of his personal commitment to his safety, signing off, “I will not let anything happen to my brothers on my watch.”
A par-for-the-course statement for the fiercely loyal and dedicated father of three, these words, some of Josh’s last, are now engraved in the hearts and minds of troopers across the state of Pennsylvania, as hours later, Josh would pay the ultimate price in the line of duty.
Just before 8pm on June 7, 2009, the Nazareth, Pennsylvania Police Department responded to a domestic restraining order violation. Upon arrival, the 31-year-old suspect pried a nine-year-old boy from his mother at gunpoint and fled to his vehicle with the boy in tow.
For 40 hair-raising miles, the suspect recklessly eluded police. Then, careening down Interstate 380 in Monroe County, troopers utilized a PIT maneuver, nudging the belligerent vehicle’s rear end with the nose of their patrol car, bringing the suspect to a jarring halt.
Following the crash, Josh and fellow trooper, Robert Lombardo, approached the driver in an attempt to neutralize him and rescue the boy. As the two advanced, the driver desperately reached his pistol-wielding right hand out of the window and opened fire on the troopers. Robert was struck in the shoulder, and Josh took three bullets--one directly to the thigh, one to his lower abdomen and another that slipped off the top lining of his Kevlar vest and into his neck.
During the melee, in which the driver was mortally wounded, Trooper Josh Osterhout and Cpl. Fred Lahovski of the Tatamy Police Department were able to rush to the passenger’s-side door, rescue the boy and carry him to safety.
Hours later, Joshua Miller, the man who earlier that day pledged his unwavering loyalty to his fellow troopers, succumed to his wounds and passed away at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
After his death, Josh’s fellow troopers knew that they needed to turn their scars into stars and celebrate Josh’s life and service to country and humanity instead of falling into the trap of blame and cynicism.
Everyone kept saying words like ‘us’ and ‘we,’ and that made us believe.
Still in the early stages of mourning, John Edwards, a former army ranger and trooper out of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, saw an online ad for a military-style obstacle course nearby at Bear Creek. Knowing that Josh was a proud Marine with a passion for running and fitness and that many of Pennsylvania’s troopers are former military, John felt that Tough Mudder 2010 at Bear Creek (the very first Tough Mudder) was the ideal living eulogy for Josh.
While choosing a Tough Mudder team name was a no brainer, Team 8819, after Josh’s badge number, no one could have envisioned the turnout of support at Tough Mudder Bear Creek. In total, 50 people--troopers across Pennsylvania and beyond, friends, family and members of the community came together to rally around Josh and his family. Sporting Marine scarlet and gold-colored Team 8819 T-shirts and carrying a large flag with Josh’s badge embroidered on it, Team 8819 was the biggest team at the very first Tough Mudder.
While everyone’s hearts were in the right place leading up to the event, some worried their bodies didn’t follow suit. “Lots of people, including me, were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to do it,” remembers Cpl. Lou Gober of Easton, Pennsylvania, the captain of Team 8819. “But everyone kept saying words like ‘us’ and ‘we,’ and that made us believe we could [finish the race].”
And finish they did--all 50 of them. But the finishes didn’t stop there. Since the first Tough Mudder, Team 8819 has run six Tough Mudders and has earned a total of 401 Tough Mudder finisher headbands.
And they don’t plan on stopping anytime soon.
“It’s become a real grassroots movement,” says Lou. “[Training for and running Tough Mudders] keeps people and troopers in shape, and everyone benefits from that.”