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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.”