CHP Academy intense enough for this reporter

By: Brad Alexander, Press-Tribune reporter
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It's been a long time since I was at work before sunrise. It is actually something I make a point of avoiding. In print media, reporters often make their own hours and work their own schedules, in between editorial meetings. But life at the California Highway Patrol Academy couldn't be farther from that life I have become accustomed to. Last Wednesday the CHP invited media from all over the state to an appropriately titled, "Media Boot Camp." Print, radio and television - we were all there. I rolled into the parking lot at the West Sacramento academy just before 6:30 a.m. A few television vans and one other car were the only signs of life I witnessed. It was so early, even the CHP wasn't open yet, but I was told cadets are typically up around 4:30 a.m. Not too long after my arrival about 200 cadets marched out to a parking lot where the media had been corralled. With military precision, the bald-headed CHP trainees displayed dedication as they stood at attention with a blank stare. I didn't expect the CHP to so closely resemble my years growing up on military bases. Even the distant gunfire at the firing range later in the day brought back a flood of memories. As we began our boot camp a certain local television personality, who will remain nameless, was a bit over dramatic about the entire process and found it impossible to contain her giggling. Once the marching was over, the media gawkfest stopped as well. Pens, pads, cameras, recorders and the rest of our equipment had to be ditched, as we were filed into neat and tidy lines. Our trainers could be identified by their Smokey Bear hats and belt buckles that would rival national rodeo champions. I hadn't been yelled at like this since my senior year in high school during "two-a-day" football practice (the kind where the training is so intense that you puke at least once). Although it wasn't apparent during this session, it turned out each of the drill instructors were soft-spoken gentlemen and women in their everyday life. In the information packet that was distributed days before boot camp, it warned of an hour and a half-long physical training session, including a mile run. Being a fairly healthy and athletic guy, I thought: no sweat. Well, there was sweat and plenty of it. The head physical training instructor looked like he wrestled saltwater crocodiles for laughs. I soon discovered my athletic background to be of help when I had to push through the pain of flipping from push-ups to sit-ups ad nauseam, not to mention the awkward double count jumping jacks. I remained strong though, while others fell to their mats. My oblique and serratus muscles were screaming the next day, however. More physical activity followed. What was called a mile run, turned into about a half-mile march. Even the instructor realized how slow we were going as he chimed in with: "If this were any slower, we'd be at a walk!" in between screeching cadences at all of us media "cadets." It also become blatantly apparent most reporters aren't handy on their toes, as our group couldn't keep their feet from clanging together for the life of us. But something about the singsong cadences was really enjoyable. After the physical training we were allowed time to change back into our day clothes and report for a short address from the CHP Commissioner Mike Brown, who admitted being "shameless" in his recruiting strategy. Several reporters, if not all, were given a recruitment packet just in case the media thing doesn't work out. Our schedule slowed down after this debriefing from the commissioner. Some reporters viewed the CHP museum to see the history of the organization and others were taken to the Force Options Training Simulator to practice shooting techniques. Reporters were given a holster and a gun (bad idea right?). The gun had electronic sensors to display accuracy on a projection screen when you shot at it. I was shown a scenario where a crazy man with a machete ran towards me. I filled him full of digital lead. Since I'm a person who typically has five to six meals a day, I was happy to rush into the next part of our training - lunch! A cut of roast beef and green beans was on the menu that made me salivate with joy. It was also the first time I'd eaten in a Rice Krispies treat since grade school. Immediately following our midday meal we were bused out to the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center or in other words: the racecourse. A pack of driving instructors displayed their skills behind the wheel of the standard issue 2002 Camaro used to hound speeders. I could merely drool while the instructors pulled hairpins at 60 mph and hit the straights around 135 mph. Somehow another television reporter, different from the giggler earlier in the day, sweet-talked her way into a car for a spin while the rest of us looked on...disgruntled. In all, I was glad to experience the hands-on approach at the CHP. The day was long, but only a mere taste of what the cadets see every day for 27 weeks. Perhaps I should break out the clippers and give the CHP a buzz.