Bad Luck Cadet #11: The Red Shirts Bring Pain

Grit, creative doers

THE RED SHIRTS BRING PAIN is the 11th installment in my Bad Luck Cadet series that follows my adventures at the police academy amidst my mid-life crisis. 

I managed a quick trip to my chiropractor’s office over the weekend for a readjustment and a water additive to help replenish lost body fluids. But I was on pins and needles to see if Donna would return.blc-cover-green

I was able to have lunch with some friends including Veronica on Saturday. She was invested in my hell and completely understood why my head was shaved. My other friends were another matter. I don’t think they knew what to make of me. I was a more self assured Suzie with a toned and muscled body then they were used to. Veronica gave me a big hug when our lunch was over and told me how proud she was.

Donna arrived for the Sunday night study session. I was extremely relieved to lay eyes on her. She told me she was okay when we walked back to our dorm room together.

I felt overwhelming relief to still have my roommate and friend. Donna and Rocco were my rocks and I realized I was theirs as well. Stronger more “cop like” cadets had fallen, but we were still standing.

The start to week five was ominously easy. Sgt. Dickens failed to show for Monday morning inspection, so there were no push ups for improper hair, shoes, clothes, etc. Everyone passed the Monday morning class test. We even managed to skate through the day without a single punishment hill run.

Tuesday morning we were presented with our Guidon. This is a flag representing our academy and class. Sgt. Dickens made quite a production and we all took pride in the presentation. The flag was yellow with PAFRA and class number 95 in large black letters. A cadet was chosen to be our flag bearer and it was quite an honor. He would carry it at all times including PT and DT. Our flag was to be the symbol of our pride. Nothing was to happen to it or we would be punished like no punishment we had yet seen. We were told we needed a class slogan by the end of the week.

Our academy polo shirts and workout clothing had arrived and were passed out. We were told to wear them the following Monday morning. Class ninety six would be starting on Sunday. They would move into available dorms and be using the classroom beside ours. We were told to stay away from them. We had our new polo’s and the new cadets would be in white shirts and ties. For a change it was nice to be us.

The day wasn’t over. It was time for OC gas (o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile) training better known as tear gas. The “red shirts”, looking like SWAT commandos, came in directly after lunch. There were three of them. Their muscles were bulging beneath their red t-shirts and they acted like they had the best job in the world. They were deceptively cheerful. We learned to identify “red shirts” with pain beginning that day.

The training session started out as a lot of fun. The “red shirts” blew things up and taught us about making bombs. We were able to play with plastic explosive. One of the cadets made a penis and it became a contest to see who could make the best one (academy humor at it’s finest). We were also shown videos of crowd control and actual mob scenes with police intervention.

We were then marched outside and taken about a mile out into the desert. We were issued side-handle batons and learned “hands on” crowd control. We split into two groups with one side being the “out of control” crowd, and the other being the officers. It was a great learning experience, and the psychology behind crowd control is fascinating. We took turns pissing off the other side and then as officers getting the trouble makers under control.

The fun part was over. We were run in a slow jog for a mile to open our pores (this was to make the gas burn more on our bodies). We were then lined up in our squads, but instead of being spread out, we were told to stand shoulder to shoulder. It had been explained the cans of tear gas would reach over 1400 degrees in temperature and we were not to touch them. We were also told we had to keep formation until a whistle was blown or we would start over.

The cans were tossed around us. We tried holding our breath but it was impossible. Water was poring from our eyes, nose and mouth and breathing was unbearable. I felt someone at my feet and I grabbed his shoulders and held on for dear life. We were not going to break our formation and start over. It’s hard to explain the panic that sets in when you can’t breathe. There was fire in my chest. I didn’t think even getting out of the tear gas would enable me to breathe again. The burning in my eyes was so bad I couldn’t keep them open. I could hear my fellow cadets coughing and choking. I seriously thought we would all die before that whistle was finally blown.

The shrill noise sounded and we all ran away from the gas. Besides coughing and choking we were also throwing up. Everyone had tears, snot and saliva running down their faces. I’m still amazed at the amount of mucus we expelled. It was not a pretty site, but we had succeeded. And that is all that mattered.

Our skin was still on fire, but after about ten minutes our breathing returned to normal. We were marched back to the classroom.

Sgt. Dickens came in.

“I am so fucking proud of you! This is what I’ve been waiting for. You are a team. You are Class 95. You are my Class and you should be proud of yourselves.”

And we were. It was a great moment. We were all smiling and laughing and ready to take on the world. It didn’t matter that our lungs were scorched, our skin was still burning, and our eyes and noses hadn’t stopped running. On that day our Sergeant could have led us anywhere, and told us to do anything, and we would have followed.

This was how soldiers were made. I was forty years old but entirely susceptible to the phenomenon. We all wanted to go out and fight evil and we felt we had earned the right. After everyone showered, we gathered outside and talked and laughed until late in the evening. We didn’t want the day to end.

Throughout the rest of the week we spent every available minute trying to come up with a suitable class slogan. Our first slogan was rejected by the Sergeant Dickens as being inadequate. We worked late into the night on Thursday worried that our hard work would be rejected again and our positive week would be ruined.

Friday morning when called to attention for morning inspection, we belted out.

“Class ninety five is the best by far.

We smoke all the rest like a cheap cigar.


Sgt. Dickens liked it and gave his approval. The new class 95 slogan was officially added to our drills. We had succeeded.

I didn’t drive back to Small Town that weekend. My husband was away on a business trip and it was easier to stay on campus and relax.

I took a trip to the drugstore on Saturday to get some cream for my head. The stubble itched like crazy. I was getting used to seeing my shaved head in the mirror, but if I had scratched like this when I’d had hair everyone would have thought I had lice. I bought a couple of scarves as well and experimented with no luck. Even with the lotion on my head, my fingernails needed access to my scalp and I couldn’t scratch with the scarf on.

I ate dinner in the cafeteria Sunday evening with a few fellow cadets. We watched as Class 96 marched in with the same looks on their faces that we’d had on ours that first day.

It sucked to be them.


If you want to follow my adventures at the police academy from the beginning, start with  Bad Luck Cadet #1 – Accidents Happen.  It’s all about fun, laughter and pain.  To be honest, at the time, it was more about pain, pain and pain! — Suzie

My story continues with:  ~ Bad Luck Cadet #12: Small Acts of Defiance



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