2017-11-16 / Front Page

A glimpse from within the CHP Academy

By GREG LITTLE Editor


Shown are California Highway Patrol cadets doing marching drills at the academy in West Sacramento. Marching drills are part of a complicated routine at the academy that includes everything from intense classroom work to intense physical requirements. 
Photo by Greg Little Shown are California Highway Patrol cadets doing marching drills at the academy in West Sacramento. Marching drills are part of a complicated routine at the academy that includes everything from intense classroom work to intense physical requirements. Photo by Greg Little Editor’s note: Greg Little, editor of the Mariposa Gazette, spent a day recently at the California Highway PatrolMedia Boot Camp” in West Sacramento. This is the first of a three-part series about his experience.


Greg Little, editor of the newspaper, is shown getting barked at by one of the CHP trainers during “Media Boot Camp.” 
Photo by Adrian Perez Greg Little, editor of the newspaper, is shown getting barked at by one of the CHP trainers during “Media Boot Camp.” Photo by Adrian Perez “Get your knees up, Little!”

It was just 7:30 a.m. when those words rang into my ears inside the gymnasium at the California Highway Patrol Academy in West Sacramento.

But because I had gotten up at 3 a.m. and rode to the place with CHP Public Information Officer Adrian Perez of the Mariposa office, at least I was already awake.

I was being screamed at by Sgt. Aus- tin Matulonis, an instructor for the CHP’s Physical Training Unit, as I was, poorly, attempting to do push ups. But heck, they had at least given me this cool T-shirt with “Little” on the back, so it wasn’t all bad. It was all part of the CHP Media Boot Camp.

As a 59-year-old, completely out of shape journalist, I think even those hard-nose instructors knew I was not only out of shape, but out of place.

That didn’t stop them from barking. As I looked around the room, most of the other journalists were, well, younger than me. Way younger.

I think it was Perez who called me the “old salt” of the bunch.

Whether that was a compliment or not I will leave up to the readers. I took it as one.

After doing exercises inside the gym, the Marine-type instructors took us out to the obstacle course. I knew it was going to be big trouble in River City.

We did about a half of a lap around the track and then I watched as the kid journalists took on the obstacle course. Mind you, it wasn’t anything that major. Jump a small wall, hurdle a couple of things, go through a maze and then — the monkey bars.

Above, drones were hovering over this entire fiasco.

“What are the drones doing?” I asked Matulonis.

“Just some videotaping,” he replied.

Great, not only was the old salt making a fool of himself, it was going to be in the permanent archives of the CHP.

I did mange to make it a little over half way down the monkey bars before my worn out arms could take no more.

“Run it out,” they shouted as I walked back to the track.

I did manage to trot with the group of youngsters the other half a lap in front of what seemed like a huge audience of CHP officers and others looking on.

When I got back, Matulonis thanked us all and we went over to our “groups,” where the real tour was to begin.

Now, when I got back over to my group and Perez was there, I noticed he was talking to a CHP medic. She was looking me up and down.

I will likely never know if he was just chatting with her or whether there was a target on my back and, at his request, she was sizing up the condition of the old salt.

A clue: “It was nice to meet you,” said the EMT to Perez as we departed for our first stop in what would be a long but fun and informative day at the academy.

A big deal

Getting selected to the CHP Media Boot Camp, I have learned, is a big deal.

It’s only held every two years and normally, the “big dogs” of journalism are chosen. You know, the ones with video cameras, trucks and satellite dishes. Heck, some even have helicopters.

Our truck is my Chevy Colorado, we do have a nice camera, though it is a still camera, and the only satellite dish we have is one on our house that says “DISH.”

However, we might be small, but we are determined. I actually have to give kudos to Perez and Lt. Becky Hagan, commander of the local CHP office.

I firmly believe they lobbied to get me selected to attend the boot camp.

Whatever happened, my alarm went off at 3 a.m. on Nov. 8, by 4 a.m. I was in a CHP vehicle with Perez and before I knew it, someone was screaming for me to get off my knees during a feeble attempt at push ups.

It’s one of those whirlwind experiences that all seems like a blur.

Except, of course, when Matulonis is screaming in your ear.

In reality, Matulonis was a great guy who leaned down at one point and told me to do what I could.

I realized it was somewhat of a show aimed at giving us insight into the life of a recruit at the CHP Academy, which was the entire point of the day. They need recruits and what better way to promote the place than to invite soft journalists looking for a good story.

Inside the academy

However, during the day, I realized the life of a CHP recruit is anything but pleasant.

Just the physical endurance they must have is incredible. At least three times a week they endure marching, exercise, running and much more.

Heck, even when they are going between classes or moving around the 450-plus acre campus, they run.

Always running.

And always, when they meet someone, saying, “Good morning, sir” or “Good afternoon, sir.”

I learned this is instilled into the recruits as a way to teach them to respect everyone in which they come into contact.

CHP officers are constantly in contact with the public, much of the time in an unpleasant way for the public.

By teaching them respect from minute one, they hope that carries on throughout the careers of the recruits — and makes them topnotch CHP officers.

“It is a difficult lifestyle,” said Officer Michael Maher, who gave us a tour of the dormitories and other living areas of the recruits.

It’s certainly not the local Hilton.

There are three bunks per room and that’s pretty much it.

Beds have to be made a certain way and there are “dust tests” constantly. No food or beverages are allowed in the rooms.

One thing that was pretty obvious from the outset was the male-dominated makeup of the academy.

“We are trying to get more females,” said Maher.

He said typically, about 10 percent of the recruits are female.

The current “senior” class at the academy is about 100 recruits. The “junior” class has about 150 cadets.

The ratio of females is about 10 percent.

“We make every effort to get the best quality candidates,” said Maher.

Cadets must endure 28 weeks of training before they graduate and are able to spend a year with training officers in the field.

Though the physical demands are rigorous, the mental side of the academy is almost certainly even more demanding.

During a tour of a classroom, our little group was able to look through a small slit window at a class in session.

“Here are the cadets in their natural habitat,” joked Maher.

Cadets attend classes daily, generally from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. They have to learn everything from DUI laws to traffic codes — and just about anything else you can imagine.

Some also have to overcome fears. Inside one building is a swimming pool. Beside it is a platform about 15 feet in the air.

Every cadet has to jump off the platform into the water. Some are afraid of heights, others afraid of water.

“They all have to do it,” said Maher. “Or they don’t make it through the academy.”

Next week: DUI training, mental health awareness and more.

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