Friday, April 12, 2013

The Game Warden Files--The Academy Days

It was actually called the FOURTH BASIC SCHOOL FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION OFFICERS, but the common term is "going to the academy."   Strictly speaking, an academy is a building where training takes place.  DEC has held basic schools in many buildings over the years, but mine was truly at an academy--back to the New York State Police Academy, in Albany, where I had done my Basic School for municipal officers several years before.
At the time, DEC hired officers to fill openings as they came up.  They put a lot of folks into the field without having gone through a Basic School.  When they had enough people to train, they'd hold the school, usually adding a few more officers to start in the school to fill vacancies that they'd not yet filled.  I was one of those late hires.  I arrived on Sunday night, April 18, 1982 and was met by a squared away lieutenant who extended his hand, said "Hi, I'm Dave Wayman, and who might you be?"  I introduced myself and reminded him that we had met some years back over a cup of coffee.  He welcomed me and got me hustled off to my quarters.
The first 48 hours or so was pretty much a blur.  However, I well recall PT at 5:00 AM that first morning.  Never having been a runner, and having no time to get trained up to doing it, that was exceptionally tough on me.  The half-mile run that first morning almost killed me!  I did struggle with PT throughout the program and had to fight past a couple injuries, but by Memorial Day was able to run the three miles that was the morning requirement.  At the end of the program, part of the graduation requirement was a timed mile and a half run.  I finished it with a whopping 2 seconds to spare.  If memory serves correctly it was 12:13 and the requirement for my age was 12:15.  I'd love to say that I was able to become a runner and that all the good health training stayed with me through the years; but it would be a big lie.  I did, however gain a lot of strength and fitness, and took off a bunch of weight, though I'd fight, and continue yet to fight, a battle with my weight and the health issues it brings.
The school soon settled into a routine that was pretty livable. I was in a quad with three other guys.  We shared a bathroom with 1 shower, two sinks and one toilet--room for everyone, but any modesty one might have had was pretty much lost.
My roommate was, and still is, a unique character.  Even before we were given liberty (the opportunity to sign out, leave the campus and return before a set time), he'd sometimes disappear in the evening, coming home in the wee hours of the morning.  I don't know how he handled it, because I needed my sleep; but he managed to make it through.  After one of his first such excursions, he came quietly into the room, in the dark, tripped over the end of his bed and about landed across the foot of my bed.  After that, I left his desk light on so he'd come in safely.  It put a whole new spin on the commercial "We'll leave the light on for ya,." and became a running gag throughout our careers.  When he retired, I have him a pair of night-lights as a gift.  He knew what the gift would be before he even opened it.
As the program progressed I did well in everything but the PT.  I was good in law--frustrating some because I'd be done with the exams and gone in such a short time; did very well in firearms; was OK in the driving ; overall, I had a pretty easy and uneventful time.
When we did our EVOC, as we called the driver training portion of the program, we ran a well-designed track with an instructor in the car.  The training was very well done and it produced some good drives and taught a lot of techniques which have kept me from accidents at least a few times both on and off duty.  1982 was before the advent of seat belt laws.  Our instructors, however, insisted on our wearing them.  Some of us made known our regular lack of use and my instructor decided to teach me a lesson.  In a decreasing radius turn, he reached over and popped my belt latch.  I about flew into his lap, and momentarily lost control of the car.  That momentary loss of control cost me a few seconds of time on what was stacking up to be a near-perfect run on the track.  It taught me that I can drive  better when belted in and I've been a firm believer in seat belts ever since.  EVOC was also my first experience in high-speed driving under controlled circumstances.  I-88 had been completed from Schenectady to Oneonta, but was not yet open.  We used that for high-speed pursuit practice--We learned a lot out there, and had a lot of fun doing it.  We had great instructors.
Our law classes were interesting.  The basic legal issues I'd already had in my first basic school; but in this basic school we had to learn the Fish and Wildlife Law, and the rest of the Environmental Conservation Law.  That was pretty intense some times.  Fortunately, we had some great instructors for that, also.  One of them could come up with the most ridiculous scenarios and make us work through them with the law, coming to a proper conclusion.  It was a good lesson in logic as well as the law.
Most of the Fish and Wildlife was pretty good.  Some of the wildlife ID suffered from bad pictures and slides--I never did see the difference in the three fish in one picture that was used on the final--but most of it was pretty good.  We even took a trip to the NY State Museum and had the chance to handle hundreds, if not thousands of preserved hides of everything from ducks to exotic species.
The only event of note from the firing range was that the agency had just been equipped with model 681 Smith and Wesson revolvers which were billed as "the magnum of the 80's."  The production run of guns we had was so bad that we several S&W technicians on-site, along with our own armorers.  They were constantly working through problems on the guns.  Some guys would have three guns break down in a day of shooting.  We got through it, but it added to frustration and lessened the amount of shooting we got to do. That said, we turned out some excellent shooters.  DEC historically has turned out some of the best pistol shots in the state, and our class was no exception.  Several guys, and I think one of our gals, went on to do well in competitions.
By late summer, it was time to get break out of there.  Many of my classmates went on to higher ranks.  As of this writing, two of them have served as Division Director of the agency.  We graduation early in August and headed off to our assignments.  About a week after graduation, I assumed my duties as the Game Warden of Brooklyn!  Yet another adventure.

No comments:

Post a Comment