Back to Basics: A 17-year law enforcement veteran goes back to basic training
Feb. 18, 2022
This week was all about pushups and PowerPoints.
We spent most of our time in the classroom, learning ethics, the Code of Virginia, constitutional law and liability, and much more. And in between, we did 100-200 pushups every day, knocking them out in between our desks, 10-20 at a time.
We have our first test on Monday, which covers the first- and second-week’s courses. Everyone is a bit nervous – we can fail out of the academy if we don’t pass. So we’re doing everything we can to be successful. We’ve developed study guides and have the list of the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) objectives that we are responsible for knowing. It’s up to us to hunt down the course material and put it to memory. We even secured a room at the Sheriff’s Office at the Municipal Center to hold study groups on the weekends. It gives a whole new meaning to “Sunday Funday.” Wish us luck!
In addition to academics, our physical training (PT) has been ramping up this week, too. We are doing more sprinting drills and, if you’ve ever run line formation sprint drills in sports or other activities, you know how challenging it can be. It’s like a torturous game of leapfrog. If people fall behind and the line isn’t tight, those who aren’t as fast have a lot farther to run when it’s time for them to go from the back of the line to the front. So, this is another area where it’s important to work together. To be successful as a unit with varying levels of runners, we must stay in a tight line and not leave anyone behind.
We also have unscheduled “corrective PT” if anyone doesn’t meet the high standards set for us. If one person does something wrong, we all experience the same punishment. It may seem silly to get punished for having an extra pen in our vests or a radio holder unsnapped, but it teaches us attention to detail, which can be life or death in law enforcement. An unsnapped radio could be used as a weapon against us in a fight with an inmate. Having unnecessary keys on our belt could cause a delay in double locking an inmate’s handcuffs in a heated situation. Our punishment … I mean “corrective” PT … is handed out in the hallway after our uniform inspection in the form of pushups, high planks, wall squats and mountain climbers (to name a few).
Sometimes after class is done at the end of the day, we think we’re done, but then we get the news that we need to “discuss some things” outside. We make our way to the “field of dreams” (as our instructor calls it), which is located behind the academy, and prepare ourselves for the bear crawls, low crawls, burpee long jumps, and whatever other exercises the instructors feel will most effectively teach us the lesson they wish to impart. These drills are done in full uniform with heavy gear. It takes physical and mental toughness to crawl through the mud wearing tactical gear, a duty belt and boots (after having completed 100 or more pushups) while being yelled at to hurry up. But these drills are hard for a reason. They are designed to teach us to push through pain, to battle through exhaustion, and to develop the warrior mentality we need to be successful as sheriff’s deputies.
So far, 17 of us have made it through.
During one of our classes this week, Sgt. Mark Matheny spoke to us about the importance of working as a team. He explained how, when small groups get together for a limited time to meet a specific mission, they go through four phases: forming, storming, norming and performing. As I listened to him describe this process, it reminded me not only of the experiences I’ve had in this academy, but also in my previous academy 23 years ago. When I went through the Virginia Beach Police Department academy in 1999, my fellow recruits and I experienced these same stages before becoming a cohesive unit.
In this academy, we started with 22 recruits embarking on a 17-week mission to earn our DCJS certifications. In week one we experienced the “forming” stage. This is when everyone shows their best qualities at face value. We were nervous and cautious with one another. No one wanted to make waves. It’s like an extra-long blind date: awkward. Everyone is trying to figure out each other’s experience level and personality.
During week two we moved into the “storming” phase. Now we have an idea of what we’re dealing with. The “honeymoon phase” is over and now we see all of the things that get on our nerves. For example, classmates notice if someone fails uniform inspection, is unprepared, is falling behind in PT or has annoying habits. My pet peeve is knuckle-cracking. It’s like fingernails on a chalkboard to me. There are several knuckle-crackers in my class and, when the classroom is quiet during instruction, it takes all my strength to avoid saying something when the snap, crackle, pop sounds are all around me. But bad habits and all, this is a critical stage of group interaction as we figure out how to deal with each other. To my credit, I haven’t gotten on anyone’s case for knuckle-cracking, but I cannot wait for it to stop!
This phase is also when the leaders emerge, the people who intervene and quash issues. We will be selecting a class president next week and hopefully we will become even more cohesive under their leadership. This phase can last two to three weeks and can either make or break a team, so It’s important that we encourage each other during both the good times and the bad times.
Then we’ll move onto the third phase, “norming”, which is when the recruits begin to know what to expect, establish unsaid rules and figure out how to deal with problems. This is a more comfortable time than the first two stages, and it will take a good leader to move us to the final phase: “performing”.
During the performing stage, we will know exactly what to expect from each other and can use our strengths to lift each other up and reach our maximum potential. There is camaraderie during this period and we will band together and form lasting relationships. Some teams never make it to this stage due to poor leadership. Not us. Our team will succeed!
I will keep everyone updated on our progress and let you know when we reach the next phase. In the meantime, I’ve finally broken out the ibuprofen this week (doing 180 pushups on Monday left me just a little sore). Tank top season, here I come!
Photos by VBSO Public Information Officer Toni Guagenti