Bad Luck Cadet #5 – Being Late Will Get You Fired!
Over the next three weeks, Stacy and I got our first experience at what being a police officer was like. The records clerk issued us wallet police badges to take to the academy and we were also issued our batons, handcuffs, and firearms.
Guns, this was one thing I hadn’t thought about. I had never shot a gun before. It looked huge. It was a .40 caliber Glock 35. I was told it had an extra-long barrel and was great for target shooting.
P-R-O-B-L-E-M! I could barely wrap my hand around the grip.
Sgt. Spears took us to the range for shooting instruction. I fired it for the first time and screamed like a baby when it practically jumped out of my hands. Sgt. Spears looked like he wanted to scream too. He was patient but I pushed him to the limit. His only encouragement was telling me if I made it far enough, the academy would straighten out my problems.
Of course, Stacy did an excellent job.
Thursday evening, before I left for the academy, I received a call from Sgt. Spears. He went straight to the point. The town council decided to terminate the two police positions Stacy and I had. He told me to return my equipment first thing the following morning.
I called Stacy and we cried. My devastation was complete and I really felt sorry for her. It seemed odd that we would be the first female police officers in town and they removed our positions. Very odd. Add in the council was one hundred percent Mormon men and reading the writing on the wall wasn’t difficult.
Tim was out of town and I drowned my sorrow in wine.
I woke up the next morning with a headache and a great deal of anger. I stopped at the local convenience store to fill my car with gas before heading to the department. A woman I barely knew walked up to me. I was aware her husband sat on the town council.
“This is wrong,” she said. “We’ve needed a female at the police department for a long time. I raised my children and once they left home, I went back to school to become a teacher. You’ve raised your children too and deserve a chance. I’m sorry.”
Her anger fueled mine even more. The town’s elite thought they could stomp on my dream. For the first time in my life I truly understood what it meant to be a woman and not have the same rights as a man. This was 2006.
Stacy and Sgt. Spears waited for me at the police department. I told them about my conversation with the councilman’s wife.
“The chief isn’t happy about what’s happened. He doesn’t like being told who he can and cannot hire.” Sgt. Spears rubbed his palm over his shortly cropped hair. “We discussed a solution last night. We have a records clerk position open. It pays 22k a year starting salary. The chief is willing to hire one of you and send you through the academy as a records clerk. If you make it through, he thinks he can talk the council into hiring you for a full-time position.” His eyes landed on Stacy and all my hopes and dreams were further dashed.
She shook her head. “No, I’m sorry, I can’t do it. I need the money to send for my son’s care. It’s the deal my ex-husband and I made.” She looked at me.
Sgt. Spears looked at me. 22k was 15k less that the starting salary of a police officer.
“I’m in.” This wasn’t about the money. It was about a dream. I would not give in to religious views that said women could not have the same opportunities as men. It’s not who I was or would ever be. My mother was the first woman to graduate from Columbus Tech with a degree in electronics. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and neither would I. Equal pay be damned.
The night before I left for the academy was difficult. The nerves I hadn’t suffered set in and I was too wound up to sleep. I worried about my husband and my horses. I worried I would look like a fool and everyone would laugh at the old, incompetent woman with stupid dreams.
I left Small Town first thing in the morning. I stayed in a hotel in Phoenix that night and was expected to be at the academy at 1300 hours the following afternoon. My hair had to be up and off my collar. I wore the required white dress shirt with black tie, black pants, and black shoes. I carried my duty belt minus the gun and gear. I left my suitcases in the police-issued unmarked vehicle and went inside. There were about thirty people standing around dressed like me. Only three other women.
Everything was going great until a military drill sergeant arrived with several uniformed helpers. The sergeant was short, squat, and had a thundering voice.
“What are you doing?” He bellowed. “Get in formation NOW, NOW, NOW!”
The helpers yelled too and made everything even more confusing. We began lining up and were told to count off. The first five people got it right but number six missed his turn.
“What the hell is your problem? Did you learn to count in kindergarten? Start over and this time, get it right,” the sergeant’s voice blared.
We made it to twenty-two before the woman beside me blew it. Her eyes were huge and I thought she would cry. After more yelling, we started over. This time we got it right. There were thirty-five of us.
We marched outside. The weather was expected to be 115 degrees that day. It felt like 120. Our stiff white shirts and ties were drenched with sweat within five minutes. About half the cadets didn’t bring their duty belts with them and the rest of us stood at attention in the hot sun while they were given five minutes to run to their vehicles and retrieve the required equipment.
We were placed in two lines by numbers and marched around campus. PAFRA is located on a Southern Arizona college campus. Academic students would not arrive for another two weeks. We would have the place to ourselves for now. We ran “double time” in the heat while the library, gym, and cafeteria were pointed out. We ended about ten minutes later at the far west end of campus.
Our classroom was stadium style. There were six rows and I was the third person in the fifth row. The woman who messed up the count sat next to me with a male cadet first in our row. We were squad five with seven cadets in our squad.
The staff gave us one minute to get a drink of water from a single water fountain. No one did more than wet their lips. I was overheated, drenched in sweat, and most likely dying from heat stroke.
My heart rate was barely under control, when the back door at the top corner of the classroom flew open. Our official class sergeant stormed in and kicked a metal garbage can down the classroom stairs. I thought the other guy was the sergeant but soon discovered my error. The new sergeant made the other look like a pansy.
“On your feet. I’m Sgt. Dickens and you will stand when I enter a room. You will address me as sir.” He had our attention. “Don’t eyeball me. You will look through me and not at me. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir.” It came out weak. I wondered what the hell he meant; through me, not at me? I was about to learn.
“What did you say? Is anyone here capable of saying ‘Yes, sir’? Or maybe you don’t understand. Do you understand?”
“YES, SIR.” We were louder this time.
He wasn’t impressed and rolled his eyes. “If you have military experience I want you front and center immediately.” About ten guys started for the front of the room. “I didn’t tell you to walk. For the love of God, get down here now.” Their pace picked up.
Squad leaders were appointed and all sent back to their desks. Some seat shuffling went on as the squad leaders took the far right seats in each row. We were in luck; our guy already had the correct seat. Next we were told to come forward when our names were called and we were given a nameplate on yellow cardstock paper along with two large, white, paper-filled binders.
Before my name was called, a young man, dressed like us, looked into the room. One of the sergeant’s helpers, the only female, noticed him. “Who are you?” she demanded.
“Mike Todd,” he answered.
“And what are you doing here, Mike Todd?”
“I’m supposed to be in this class.”
“What time were you to be here?” she questioned.
“What time is it?”
Mike looked at his watch and said, “1342 hours.”
“And you think you can come in late? Does this look like kindergarten? Sgt. Dickens, this fine young man is late.”
Sgt. Dickens walked over to Mike and got in his face. “Are you eyeballing me, Mr. Todd?”
“You were eyeballing me and now you’re a liar as well as late. You have no business being here. Get out. Go back and inform your department that you were late. See how they like it. Now get the hell out of my classroom.”
Mike left. We never saw him again.
I learned two very important rules—don’t be late and double time means run like hell.
I also realized I had been thrown into the Hollywood set for the remake of Full Metal Jacket. I just wondered who would end up being our Pvt. Pyle and hoped it wasn’t me.