It was still quite warm for an early September morning as the sun finished rising over the desert horizon. I glanced around at the sea of white shirts and black ties, polished shoes, short hair cuts and the occasional bun style hairdo.
I felt more nervous than I had anticipated. What little breakfast I had before arrival, now felt knotted up somewhere between my throat and stomach.
Most everyone was quietly waiting but a few side conversations broke the silence with hushed words spoken slightly louder than a quiet whisper. I could hear birds singing in the distance and guessed they had a right to be care free; it wasn’t their first day at the police academy.
As the official starting time grew closer you could almost cut the cloud of anticipation with a knife. The side conversations ceased and everyone stood around waiting for what would happen next.
I glanced at my watch and saw that the start time had inched passed. As I looked downward I noticed a shimmer of light catch the corner of my eye. I looked up and saw that the light was the sun’s refection off a well polished badge.
The badge belonged to one of four menacing looking men walking into the parking lot. They were dressed in crisply pressed uniforms, highly polished shoes and the soon to be unforgettable campaign hats; a broad-brimmed felt hat with a high crown pinched at the four corners (like Smokey the Bear).
The large uniformed bodies walked purposefully toward the group with almost mechanical movement. They arrived uniformly, stopping at the end of the sidewalk, and one of them stepped forward and pointing at the ground.
“Line up facing east, shoulder to shoulder, starting right here.”
As if more motivation was needed, he yelled out, “MOVE!”
Like a stampede of wild animals, everyone scrabbled to find a spot in line.
“You call this a strait line?” yelled the voice behind the campaign hat.
First day stress was obvious as line mimicked the shape of a J. After several harsh words were uttered from under the campaign hat, and scrambled adjustments were made, the confusing wave of rushing recruits managed a satisfactory line.
Without a moment to bask in the enjoyment of our first completed group task, the next command echoed off the desert landscape, “Turn to your right and follow the recruit in front of you…..... move!”
We marched out of the parking lot and made our way through the labyrinth of what would soon to be our home; the academy campus.
At the far end of campus we made our way into a very plain looking class room. The front of the class room was covered wall to wall with a bare whiteboard. The two side walls were equally bare with an empty cork message board at the end of each one. At the front of the class hung two blue banners with yellow numbers, “391” and “393”.
The floor was crowded with long tables which had room for four chairs each. Stacked on the table in front of each chair were neatly assembled binders and folders with a large name tag set on top.
Fifty-two of us filed into the room and were promptly told to find our name tag. I quickly found mine in the back of the room where the names were conveniently placed in alphabetical order.
Once in the room, several of us began to sit in the chairs when a loud stern voice grunted from the back of the room, “No one told you to sit down!”
The screech of metal chairs running across tile floor filled the room as we reacquired our place behind our chairs. All four corners of the room were filled with the same stern looking officers wearing the same pressed uniforms and shined shoes.
After standing for an uncomfortable amount of time, the back door suddenly swung open. I saw a noticeably shorter uniformed officer, this time with three stripes lining the arm on each shoulder, walk into the room. I glanced back to see who it was when I saw him immediately step up into a recruit’s face. With the brim of the campaign hat pressing into the recruits forehead, I heard an accented voice say, “Are you eye-balling me recruit?”
A nervous “No Sir” rolled off the recruit’s tongue as his eyes darted for any location besides the two beady eyes under the campaign hat. I, almost in unison with the rest of the class, looked at the front white board in order to avoid any similar greeting.
The room, silent enough to hear a pin drop, now echoed with the sound of heavy boots pacing the floor. The Sergeant filled the sterile room with instructions on how to stand at attention.
He introduced himself as Sergeant Velasquez.
I can not recall the remainder of the instructions as the once piercing voice of Sergeant Velasquez began to sound similar to someone talking into a tin can. I could feel the sweat beading on my forehead as the room slowly started to spin. Before the voice completely disappeared and the room spun out of control, I turned to asked one of the menacing statures if I could sit down.
Almost before they could respond I pulled a seat out and sat down. I felt the blood rush back into my legs and head as the spinning room slowed to a gentle roll.
As my ashen face regained color, one of the Recruit Training Officers (RTO) reminded me to not lock my knees when standing at attention. I thought to myself that this information would have been useful from my new sergeant during the instruction phase.
I sat still and hoped to not be noticed as I sat in the back of the room. I could only imagine the angry harangue if the last recruit had only “eye-balled” the Sergeant.
I wanted to be invisible.
As soon as I regained composure I stood up, silently pushed my chair in, and stood at attention for the remainder of what seemed like eternity. (Knees slightly bent to avoid passing out).
When the sermon was done, we were ordered to sit down….