The Most Popular Cadet is the eighteenth installment in my Bad Luck Cadet Series.
Graduation day was only five weeks away. I wish I could say the academy was easier at this point, but it was only getting harder. Sgt. Dickens never thought I would make it this far and now, concerned that I just might make it all the way through to the end, he was out to get me.
Police Chief Varnett and Sgt. Spears from Small Town PD attended an academy luncheon. The luncheon was an opportunity for individual police departments to speak with class Sergeant Dickens about their cadets. We cadets were not allowed anywhere near the event. Later that evening Sgt. Spears called and asked me to meet him outside my dorm. We then went for a long walk.
He began by congratulating me for making it as far as I had. He told me he was proud of my determination. He then dropped the bomb. He and my Chief had been told by Sgt. Dickens that I was not officer material. I was, according to Dickens, physically and mentally unfit to wear a badge. I was devastated.
Sgt. Spears told me Sgt. Dickens wanted me removed from the academy immediately. I held my breath as he continued to talk.
“Suzie, I didn’t have to send you to the academy. I questioned my decision repeatedly but I saw something in you. I see it now. I’ve discussed it with the Chief and he is deferring to my judgment. You’re staying. Be aware your class Sergeant has it in for you and he is not happy with our decision.”
I hugged Sgt. Spears. I could tell he was uncomfortable with my emotion, but he patted me on the back and returned the hug.
“I won’t let you down.” I promised.
We continued to walk, and he asked me questions about my experience. He told me a little about his journey through the same academy. He talked about sneaking out at night and drinking alcohol at the top of the water tower. Alcohol was banned on the college campus and he would have been kicked out of the academy if he’d been caught.
By the time I returned to my dorm, I felt I had a new friend In Sgt. Spears. I knew I was not Sgt. Dickens’ favorite cadet but I felt he had let up on me slightly. I had always thought of myself as a likable person but I realized Sgt. Dickens did not just dislike me, he wanted me out. This was a hard realization but at the same time it just added that extra spark to my determination. I had come too far to even consider quitting and I wanted to be a police officer like nothing I had ever before desired in my life.
During morning PT (physical training), we were now running six miles. Once a week we ran our “personal best.” This is when we would run on our own, not as a group and our times were recorded. My “personal best” time had gotten much better but I continued to finish well behind the rest of the class.
One morning, as I was running alone through our desert trail, I noticed a vehicle parked in the distance. I could see a man looking through binoculars and watching me run. It was Sgt. Dickens. I continued running and actually pushed myself harder. He would not catch me slacking.
I spoke to my squad advisor about the incident and he confided that Sgt. Dickens suspected I was walking when no one else was around during my personal best runs. It was not true and I was pissed off he would think so. It was just another sign of his dislike.
At the beginning of week fifteen, we were told to wear our department uniforms. It was exciting to actually put on my police uniform. None of us looked the same as we did when we started at the academy. We looked like real police officers and deputies, if you looked past the rubber guns in our belts. The “baby” class, class 96, was now allowed to wear their academy polo shirts and it was great to see them out of white shirts and ties.
The first day of week fifteen, Sgt. Dickens came to early morning PT and was waiting for cadets to finish our personal best runs. The entire class had finished but me and I was nowhere to be seen.
I was running focused on reaching the end, when suddenly the rest of the class appeared. I saw them coming and wondered if we were being made to run the course again. But they all turned around when they reached me and started running with me.
Rocco said, “Don’t ask!”
It was impossible for me to run and talk anyway so I continued over the finish line. I later learned that Sgt. Dickens had asked everyone where I was. When informed that I was still running, he started yelling.
“You call yourselves a team? Have I taught you nothing? You left a fellow cadet on her own. What if she’s injured, been bit by a rattle snake? You don’t know where she is or what she’s doing.”
Later at morning’s inspection, Sgt. Dickens told us to march back to our rooms and put on the white shirts and ties we wore when we first came to the academy. We did as told and returned to the inspection deck. We were then told we were not a team and we would walk everywhere through campus holding hands until we were a team. It was never explained what our infraction was and we didn’t ask. We had learned early on that a reason didn’t matter. It always seemed to depend on the Sergeant’s mood.
On lunch break we made our first walk to the cafeteria holding hands. All 26 of us. It was embarrassing but comical as well. I was the most popular person in the class. Every guy wanted to hold my hand. I switched places over the next two days during every formation march. The college students got a big kick out of us. We were kind of like the ROTC and it was fun to reticule us.
I was finally getting a true sense of how incredible my classmates were. It was fun to be fought over during our marches but I was also feeling they wanted me to make it to graduation. I’m not sure when the entire class transformation began but they let me know they were behind me. I might not have been the ideal cadet but I had become one of them and we took care of each other.
As the week progressed I began getting a bad head and chest cold. I was having trouble breathing during any physical activities we were assigned. I wasn’t the only cadet suffering but it was slowing me down physically, which I didn’t need.
Sgt. Dickens again showed up at morning PT and took over our training. He told us we were to run around the track and every cadet was to finish within two minutes or we would start again until we all accomplished the desired time.
I couldn’t do it. I tried. Every cadet would finish and then run back to where I was and cheer me on. My lungs were about to explode, I couldn’t catch my breath and I thought I would die if I did not get air. We ran three laps with me being the only one not to make it within the two minute time.
On the fourth lap something amazing happened. Two cadets ran beside me, lifted me under my arms and began carrying me. They ran about twenty yards and two more cadets took over, and on it went until I was around the track.
I don’t know if we made it in under the allotted time, but Sgt. Dickens told us to change back into our uniforms before inspection and he walked away. Our lesson was taught.
We were a team. And, while I hated being the “weak one,” I was a part of that team and now my academy class had proved it.
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 #19 – Pepper Spray Me, Shoot You