Bad Luck Cadet #7 – Are We In Hell?
Day two at the police academy began at 0430 hours.
A cadet squad leader knocked on our door the previous evening to inform us we would need to meet before physical training the next morning and work on straightening up our marching and formations. And there were some, like myself, who needed to learn basic commands.
We were in front of the dorms at 0445. It was already warm. As we lined up, the space beside me was noticeably empty. Another cadet asked where my partner was. I explained what happened the evening before. Everyone moved down one spot.
My roommate was one of two cadets to drop out the first day. The other was a male cadet from squad three. It was at this point that I swore to myself I would survive the academy. I was not a quitter.
We learned about-face, quarter turn, marching while turning a corner, and standing at attention with our toes pointing out so the sergeant could stand between our feet and inspect us up close and personal.
We then marched to physical training. As much as I would come to dread our early morning workouts, the marching was great. We marched and sang to cadence. One of the cadets, fresh out of the military, knew every cadence imaginable. They were funny, entertaining, and inspiring. Our voices rang across the campus.
Sgt. Dickens was waiting when we arrived. The yelling began and we were introduced to our PT instructor, Sgt. Listberg. He turned out to be a great guy but we weren’t aware of this on the first day of PT. After warm-ups we went on our first run. Sgt. Listberg told us it would be the last mile we ever ran at the academy.
He was correct. Wednesday we ran two miles.
I was a slow runner and placed in front to keep the pace. Another female, Cadet Higgins, was put in front too. She ended up dropping back because of her asthma and barely finished the mile run. I finished, but I could tell my pace didn’t offer a challenge to the other cadets. I had work to do.
We were taken into the weight room next and put through Sgt. Listberg’s idea of a power workout. There were thirty-one torture stations set up. Every sixty seconds he blew his whistle and we moved to another station. Arms, legs, wrists, butts, and thighs were all given a workout. The only good thing was Sgt. Listberg turned on some great 70s classic rock music. Through the pain I remember George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone” and Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” blaring through the speakers.
After the workout, we had to jump with both feet together to the top of the gym’s bleachers. Then we ran back down and began jumping our way back up again. This went on until the end of class. I had no idea your teeth clack when you land on both feet but I learned. My head was killing me. We double timed it back to our dorms, changed into our shirts and ties, and then headed to breakfast.
Eating was again a difficult task because of my shaking arms and hands. God forbid we spilled anything on our ironed white shirts; it would mean changing before inspection. Somehow I managed to get food into my mouth.
My table mates were the other two female cadets with a few un-athletic male cadets joining us. Our “cliques” were already forming.
Cadet Chavez sat next to me. He was obviously as stressed as I was. He was an emergency medical technician sent to the academy in order to be part of a SWAT team. He was twenty-seven years old, fifty pounds overweight, and worried about what he’d gotten himself into. He was told the academy would be a piece of cake, but he was having doubts.
I had them too. We made a pact to complete the academy and help each other out. We weren’t such an unlikely friendship; we were both in over our heads and needed to lose weight. It felt great to have a friend and he was also in squad five with me. We would suffer together.
And suffer we did. Our first inspection was horrible.
Sgt. Dickens as well as all six squad advisors managed to find something wrong. And they found plenty. Our ties were the improper length. Our shoes were not shined to a high gloss. We had lint on our black pants. Several of the guys did not have a close enough shave because they shaved the night before to save time in the morning.
In all we were given eighty push-ups and six hill runs. The push-ups were done on the spot and the hill runs to be executed after class. I also found out why we practiced a duck stance earlier that morning. Sgt. Dickens placed one foot between my boots, put his face an inch from mine, and began the inspection from the top of my head down to my toes. I know my last ob-gyn appointment was not this thorough.
It was a relief to enter our classroom and begin learning.
The first two hours every Monday would be with Lt. Griffin for report writing. He talked and told stories more than he taught us report writing, but we enjoyed him tremendously.
Our binders were explained to us. A schedule was located in the front of the first binder and encompassed the entire eighteen weeks of the academy. All our lesson plans were outlined, which explained the four-inch thickness of the binders. We were told we would get a break every hour, but most importantly we were not to fall asleep in class. We could stand up in the back of the room, but there would be hell to pay if one of us was caught sleeping.
Our first lesson from our binders was on the history of policing. Robert Peel created the first organized police unit in England called “Bobbies” in 1829. He was our founding father and his ideas lived on in modern policing. And on it went. I found most of what I learned fascinating.
After a lunch break, it was back to the classroom. Sgt. Dickens stuck his head in and did some yelling on a regular basis but learning was the focus. We had different instructors for different lecture modules. My brain wanted to explode by the end of that first classroom session. I actually wish it had, because waiting for us were six hill runs we’d earned that morning during inspection.
The hill consisted of a quarter mile of switchbacks up a steep, rocky dirt path to a water tower. It looked like a nightmare. It was. Add in the 109 degrees outside and hell was preferable.
We had water bottles at the bottom and took drinks between runs. I was the second to last person to the top on the first run. We were all going at our own pace. One of my roommates slipped and fell. She twisted her knee and sat out the last few trips to the top.
We were all focused on the hill and didn’t notice when Sgt. Dickens showed up. I was taking my last trip upward.
“What the hell are you doing?” he yelled at the cadets waiting at the bottom for the stragglers to finish.
“Are you individuals or a team?” He demanded, “I want your punishment done as a unit. Start over and get it right this time.”
Higgins, Chavez, and I turned around and went back for our classmates. We formed two lines and ran six more hill runs together. We were then released for the day. I was too tired to eat and went back to my room. I ironed my shirt for the following day and tried to shine my shoes to a high gloss but failed. Sleep was all I could think about.
I passed out until 0430 hours the next day, woke up, and did it all again. We were given 110 push-ups at morning inspection and ten hill runs. I could barely move my arms during class, and taking notes was excruciating. I thought Friday would never arrive. I was gigged (gig is like a demerit) for my boots each morning. Our class could do nothing right.
My thinking began to change that week. I had always respected police officers but my admiration for them grew even more. We were constantly under stress. It was explained as being similar to what it’s like as an officer on a patrol shift. Being a police officer was stressful as well as deadly and if we couldn’t handle it we needed to go home. It was not shameful to decide policing was not for you. It was smart, or so they taunted us.
I struggled with my decision to become a police officer on what now I considered a whim. Did I have what it takes? Could I handle the stress?
Friday finally came and we were released at 1600 hours. I was too tired to make the drive home. I called my husband and begged his forgiveness. I spent the weekend working on my shoes, typing my notes, and organizing my binders.
Sunday evening at 2000 hours we had a study group in our classroom. All but two cadets attended. The two missing didn’t arrive for physical training on Monday morning. They decided a career in law enforcement was not right for them. My roommate with the hurt knee was one of the two who didn’t return. I was down to one bunkmate. The bathroom schedule became much easier.
Cadets Donna Higgins, Rocco Chavez, and I were a team. Higgins stuck by us because we accepted her. Rocco and I were the slowest, most un-police like cadets at the academy. We weren’t treated badly by the other cadets but we knew they didn’t think we would make it. Donna was faster than us and in good physical condition. She fit, though. Together we were stronger.
Our first classroom test was the next day. If we didn’t pass, the decision to stay would be out of our hands.