Six Tustin High students endure and graduate from Explorer boot camp


She taught herself to read lips, and she wears hearing aids. So the tactical officer screaming in her face wasn’t a problem.

Marleen Ramirez, a sophomore at Tustin High School, is one of six sisters and the most likely, her mother said, NOT to want to become a police officer. She was born with a genetic hearing disorder and missed two years of school because of problems with her ears.

But Ramirez wanted to prove something to herself and to her family.

“I wanted to raise my standards,” she said. “My dad told me I can do anything.”

Marleen Ramirez graduated Monday. Photo by Jasmine DeLeon

Marleen Ramirez graduated Monday. Photo by Jasmine DeLeon

Marleen Ramirez graduated Monday the Orange County Law Enforcement Explorer Advisors Association (OCLEEAA) Explorer Academy which was held at the Orange County Sheriff’s Academy with 148 classmates from all over Southern California after an intense five-day boot camp at Irvine Regional Park.

Six Explorers who graduated Monday were from Tustin High. Joining Ramirez were Jose Velazquez, a junior; Nolan Swoboda, a junior; Frank Macias, a junior; Jayson Verastegui, a sophomore; and Ricardo Lacunza, a junior.

At the academy, Explorers were subject to barracks-style living conditions, sleep deprivation and intense training. Drill instructors screamed at them for five days. They had long classroom sessions to learn about law enforcement. During one of the training exercises, they had pepper spray swabbed below their eyes. Part of the fitness training included a drill in which they had to drag a 165-pound dummy.

Several Explorer candidates “rang the bell” voluntarily leaving the program because it was too intense.

But none of the graduating Explorers from Tustin PD rang the bell.

“The academy taught me about my individual determination,” Jose Velazquez said. “It taught me how to go through pain and not give up. Everything is mental.”

Frank Macias said he learned a few lessons from the boot camp situation. Tustin Explorers had been training every Wednesday for six weeks.

“I learned more about integrity and how to work as a team,” Macias said.

Ricardo Lacunza said he was motivated by something different.

“I wanted to make my family proud,” he said.

Jayson Verastegui said he was driven by respect.

“These officers, I respect them a lot,” Verastegui said. “I want the citizens to respect me like I respect Tustin police officers.”

Nolan Swoboda said he plans to join the Marines when he gets out of high school. The academy is a step he hopes will lead to a police career.

“Law enforcement is really interesting to me,” he said.

Nolan Swoboda graduated Monday. Photo by Jasmine DeLeon

Nolan Swoboda graduated Monday. Photo by Jasmine DeLeon

Tustin Police Lt. Jeff Blair said the academy is vitally important.

“We view these kids as our future employees,” Blair said. “It’s like our farm system.”

When Marleen Ramirez finished the graduation ceremony, he mother Maria was near tears.

“She has so much confidence,’ Maria Ramirez said.

Last week, Maria sat her daughter down for a heart to heart talk.

“You don’t have to go through with this,” Maria said.

“But I want to,” Marleen said.

And now she’s in line – if she stays in the Explorer program – to have a chance at becoming a police officer.

“We’re very proud,” her mother said.