At state police academy, `rewiring' future troopers

Preview: In a new, one-week training session, cadets get a taste of life as a state trooper.

April 07, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Mark Marini celebrated his 19th birthday yesterday with Maryland state troopers yelling in his face.

"Pee Wee!," roared Tfc. Robert Mondor. "When was the last time you cleaned your ears? Did you use a Q-tip?"

Mondor yelled into Marini's right ear as the young man lined up with other cadets in a cafeteria at the Maryland State Police Academy in Pikesville. Marini stood at attention. "Sir! Yes, sir!" he responded before proceeding through the chow line in choreographed steps.

Marini is among 10 cadets who were integrated with 32 trooper candidates going through the first week of training at the academy. The class began Monday and it's the first time in academy history the two groups have been mixed.

"We're hoping that the time they spend as cadets here will expose them to what police work is like," said Capt. Carl S. Lee, commander of the state police education and training section. "This is about rewiring them."

The cadets are 18- and 19-year-old high school graduates, the most recent hires by the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement division of the state police. The cadets act as support staff for the troopers, helping with things such as traffic control.

They won't be eligible to enter the academy until they're 20.

In the past, cadets have received abbreviated training at the academy, but only with other cadets. Now, they are spending seven days there during the 26-week training period as a way of gauging their commitment to the state police.

The week-long session also gives them a sneak preview of the rigorous training they can expect if they become eligible for the academy.

Lt. Dean Richardson, a 32-year state police veteran who is supervising the cadets, said the reason for mixing them with trooper candidates was to improve cadet performance. He said that some cadets have not been mentally and physically prepared for the academy.

Trooper candidates in this class ranged in age from 20 to 51, but the 51-year-old dropped out after the first day because of the physical demands. The class was selected from a pool of 1,000 applicants; six of the 32 candidates are women.

Marini and the nine other cadets start the nearly 12-hour days at 5:45 a.m. with calisthenics, pull-ups and other circuit training. Classes in uniform regulations, geography, fitness and defense tactics come next. Then military formation drills.

Trooper candidates who spend 26 weeks there will end with 1,050 hours of academic study - equal to 43 college credits, said Sgt. John Wisniewski, a senior academy supervisor.

Marini, a home-schooled New Market teen-ager, took the verbal lashings with a stoic face. He said the one lesson he's learned is to "gain weight and exercise a lot."

"It's a real good wake up call for them before they get going on their cadet career, to know what to expect when they enter the police academy," said Maj. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman. "There will be instructors yelling at you. But when they're on the street, people are going to yell at them every day.

"We have to know that they can take it, that they'll react properly and keep their wits about them and act professionally."

Sean McCarty, 18, of Cumberland, is one of five cadets staying at the academy compound this week. The Fort Hill High School graduate hopes to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather, a state trooper.

The experience, he said, has been an eye-opener.

"For us, being here means being three steps above everybody else. We can see what they [the troopers] are saying, and see how other candidates are getting in trouble and how to avoid it," said McCarty.

Back inside the gym, 12 instructors paced up and down the rows of men and women dressed in black sweatshirts and pants, standing at attention. The cadets, wearing olive-green T-shirts, stood at the end of the rows.

Two or three troopers - some former Marine Corps drill instructors - frequently surrounded individual students and let loose.

"You are sticking your thumb out like a hitchhiker on I-95!" one trooper bellowed into the face of a student.

"Sir! Yes sir! There's no excuse sir!" he replied.

The group tried to follow orders, but troopers swooped in when they saw a mistake.

"Swing your arms like you're home on the block! Just walk!" said a trooper who took one student aside to teach him how to march.

Echoes of "Sir! Yes Sir!" reverberated throughout the gym and cafeteria as troopers fired off nicknames for the students: Barbie, Grandma, J. Lo, Tattoo and Birthday Boy.

"Tighten it up! Are you brain dead? Do not move at parade rest!" shouted a trooper pushing the squads to stand properly with their hands clasped behind their back.

"Everyone here - all of the troopers - have gone through this," said Capt. Lee. "This is not harassing them, but preparing them. It'll be the most stressful time of their lives, but it's conditioning them to be a team."

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