Indiana Guard Soldiers Train for Double Duty
Only one percent of Americans choose a life in the military. There are only 1,300 Indiana State Police officers.
For three new trooper recruits, leading that double life puts them in a very elite club.
Dustin Zehnder, Walter Butt, and Tyson Waldron are all members of the Indiana National Guard who are attending the Indiana State Police Academy for a total of 24 weeks in order to become part of that elite group - Indiana State Police Troopers who also wear a military uniform. From Nov. 25 to 28, their class traveled to Muscatatuck Urban Training Center, near Butlerville, Ind., to take part in the Quickening, a 72-hour, field training exercise that serves as a capstone event for state police recruits.
"It puts all of their training into practical use in a field environment as if they were actually out working in a solo patrol aspect," said Indiana State Police Capt. Bob Burke, Area V commander. "They ride with a field training officer during this exercise, are evaluated on their performance and basically provided feedback on how they performed."
Burke is familiar with the feeling of leading the double life. He is also known as Col. Robert Burke, 76th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deputy commander. And it was Burke who planted the patrolman seed when he and Zehnder deployed with the 76th Brigade in 2008. They talked a lot then about the state police.
"He had nothing but great things to say about it, said it is a great organization and that it very closely resembled the military in rank structure," Zehnder said.
Zehnder, a staff sergeant with the 138th Regional Training Institute at Camp Atterbury, was also drawn in by the chance to work with the state police's specialty teams. He said the opportunities for advancement really appealed to him as well.
The reoccurring theme among all three recruits, however, was discipline. All attributed it to their military training and lifestyle. Butt, the oldest of the three at 38, called it one of the reasons he decided to become a state policeman.
"The discipline is the big thing. I like discipline and order," said Butt, a sergeant first class and platoon leader with the brigade's Company C, 1st Battalion 293rd Infantry Regiment in Fort Wayne, Ind. "When you look at a state trooper on the side of the road, his demeanor and the way he carries himself just exudes confidence and professionalism."
Burke agrees with the trooper recruits and said discipline is an important characteristic the state police look for in new troopers.
"The primary reason is that when they graduate and complete their 15-week field training program, they are going to be on solo patrol," Burke said. "This will be a huge adjustment for them after a lengthy academy and field training experience. Now they have to go out and perform on their own. Having a strong self-discipline will help them accomplish their day-to-day tasks and assignments with more ease than someone who is not disciplined."
Waldron, 29, will be a trooper in District 16, Peru, Ind., after he graduates from the academy. Being a trooper is something he's dreamed about for a long time.
"Ever since I saw him walk through that door when I was younger with his police uniform on, I said that's something I want to do," Waldron said. "I'm not trying to say I'm going above and beyond him, but I feel like I joined an elite group."
Waldron knows something about being part of an elite group. The Ohio native from Defiance became a sniper with the 293rd Infantry Regiment and has now become part of a very small number of people who wear both uniforms.
"The primary thing that a Soldier brings to ISP is experience," Burke said about Soldiers joining the state police ranks. "They bring discipline, maturity and an overall dedication to serving the public and citizens of this state."
During the Quickening, that maturity and discipline was put to the test. Trooper recruits were put to the test with a never-ending series of law enforcement events that ranged from a routine traffic stop to domestic calls to chasing suspects. Zehnder said breaks were few and far between.
"You might have a 2-hour break, tops, in between calls, if you're lucky," Zehnder explained. "It's a lot of doing reports and making sure your stuff's ready for the next call. It was fast-paced, good, scenario-based training."
Zehnder's fellow recruits agreed.
"The Quickening was an experience, a lot of tough, realistic training," said Butt. "It lets you know real quick what's out there and how easily you could screw up just by overlooking something small and minute that could get you killed."
Waldron credited his military training and experience with making it just a little easier than it otherwise might have been.
"There were certain scenarios when you walk in and you say 'I've handled this,'" Waldron said. "Maybe it's instilled in your brain, and I never really thought 'hey, I learned this in the military.' It just clicked in my head that I've done this before, I know what to do. It's like a natural instinct."
Burke said he is happy with what he sees in military veterans who become Indiana State Troopers. He believes service members have the necessary characteristics that they are looking for in ISP Troopers.
"Their prior military experience significantly helps them adjust to the rigorous requirements placed upon them in this type of career with our agency," Burke said. "All three of these guys have performed very well during their time in the academy and represent the Indiana National Guard extremely well."
Zehnder, Butt, and Waldron have four more weeks of training left before they become Indiana State Troopers, graduating on Dec. 21.
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