Tustin Explorers graduate from grueling five-day training academy

By Lou Ponsi

After completing an intense, activity-packed five-day training academy, five Tustin Police Explorers, along with dozens of Explorers from other agencies, were visibly more confident.

They stood tall, made eye contact, and employed an assertive tone with every word they uttered.

The title “sir” or “maam” was belted out before and after every phrase.

Tustin Police Explorer Ana Lopez marches in with her classmates at the start of the Winter 2019 Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Academy Graduation for Class of 88 at the OCSD Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Several hundred supporters turned out at the Orange County Sheriff’s Regional Training Center on Feb. 18 to celebrate the 158 Explorers who completed the academy.

“One of the most rewarding things is that you see these kids on the first day, they’re a mess,” said Det. David Nguyen, Explorer advisor for the Tustin Police Department Explorer Post 615. “They don’t know their right foot from their left foot. Then you see them after five days, and they are a cohesive team, a well-oiled machine that is able to operate under stress and under adverse conditions.”

The academy provided the Explorers a glimpse of the six-month academy endured by police recruits as they embark on their law enforcement careers.

Tustin Police Explorers Isaac Mora, Joshua Both, Ana Lopez, Eduardo Lopez and Daniel Garcia stand with Tustin Police Officers Robert Nelson, left, Capt. Robert Wright, Det. Dave Nguyen and Lt. Brian Greene, right, at the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Academy Class of 88 graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Police drill instructors, all former U.S. Marines, yelled in their faces every day. The Explorers ran, did endless numbers of pushups, and dragged a 165-pound dummy as party of their physical fitness regime.

They lived in barracks and were abruptly woken up in the middle of the night for outdoor exercise in bone chilling, rainy weather.

They were required to take copious notes in lengthy classroom sessions.

They even had pepper spray swabbed below their eyes and nose.

Tustin Police Explorers from the Class of 88 march up to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Regional Training Academy for inspection at the start of graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“To be honest, at the beginning, I was a bit scared with the techs coming in and screaming at us,” said Tustin Police Explorer Isaac Mora, who received the Top Overall Explorer award for excelling in the various disciplines in the academy. “After a while, you get used to it and we started motivating each other.”

Explorers also emerge from the academy with character traits that can help them whether they choose a career in law enforcement or not, Nguyen said.

Academy graduates have an elevated appreciation for teamwork, punctuality, accountability and can perform under stress.

Tustin Police Explorer Isaac Mora stands at attention in front of Tustin Police Officer Robert Nelson during inspection at the start of the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer graduation ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

“They are furthering their career potential,” Nguyen said. “They are hardworking and super motivated.”

Aside from getting hands-on training and exposure to all aspects of law enforcement, Explorers assist with crowd control at community events and participate in competitions against other Explorer posts.

The program is generally open to those ages 14 to 21.

“It was very stressful and hard, but also fun and a great experience overall,” said Tustin Police Explorer Ana Lopez, a 14-year-old freshman at Foothill High School. Lopez took fourth place in the notebook category for taking pristine notes during classroom instruction. “I’m very relieved and proud of myself and my whole post. All five of us who came here passed. I’m really glad we are going to continue to be Explorers.”

Tustin Police Explorer Daniel Garcia, left, stands for inspection as the rain starts to come down at the start of the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Class of 88 graduation ceremony.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Joshua Both stands at attention during inspection.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Ana Lopez, left, stands at attention in front of Tustin Police Officer Robert Nelson during inspection.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Orange County Law Enforcement Explorers from Class of 88 enter the academy ceremony at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department Regional Training Academy in Tustin.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Daniel Garcia, second from left, stands with his classmates during graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Isaac Mora, second from left, stands with his classmates as they graduate from the Law Enforcement Explorer Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Joshua Both, center, stands with his classmates during graduation from the Law Enforcement Explorer Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorer Eduardo Lopez, center, stands with his classmates at graduation.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge

Tustin Police Explorers, from left, Isaac Mora, Joshua Both, Ana Lopez, Eduardo Lopez and Daniel Garcia, after graduating with the Class of 88 from the Winter 2019 Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Academy.
Photo by Steven Georges/Behind the Badge