CLARION – Troop C of the Pennsylvania State Police staged its annual, week-long Camp Cadet at Clarion University from July 28 to Aug. 2. Open to any youth between the ages of 12-14 living in the Troop C service area, Camp Cadet engaged participants in an immersive experience designed to expose them to the inner workings of law enforcement.
According to Trooper Bruce Morris, Community Services officer for Troop C, Camp Cadet functions in a two-fold manner.
“Our focus with the Pennsylvania State Police and the entire plan for Camp Cadet was to provide kids with a chance to see what law enforcement does, interact with troopers, interact with other law enforcement officers — kind of see it from a different perspective,” said Morris, now in his 18th year with the program. “We also incorporated with it a sense of teamwork, a little bit of structure and discipline.”
Beginning the moment they set foot on campus, the 83 participating youth assumed the role of academy cadets. From reveille at 6 a.m. to lights out at 11 p.m., the cadets moved through days crammed with physical training, close order drills, and hands-on learning experiences.
“It’s non-stop, It’s go, go, go,” noted Morris when describing the camp’s daily routine.
Over the course of the week, cadets received instruction from, and participated in, activities staged by PSP specialty units, including Patrol Services, the Forensic Service Unit, Liquor Control Enforcement, Collision Analysis and Reconstruction, and a K-9 unit. Presentations from outside agencies, such as the U.S. Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Pennsylvania Game Commission were also provided.
“It’s not like any other camp. It’s so diversified that there’s something for every kid,” Morris said. “That’s the advantage the kids get out of it because they are exposed to a broad spectrum of subjects on law enforcement, military-related.
“Our collision reconstruction unit will be in. To me that’s the most boring thing in the world — collision reconstruction. It’s all math, you know, and that’s just not my game. But to some of these kids, that’s spot on. That’s what they’re looking for and that’s what they get. Then there’s others that may be interested in the canine unit. There’s something for everybody here.”
Adding to the appeal is the interactive nature of the provided programming. Among other things, cadets learn to operate a radar detector, participate in a mock crime scene investigation leading to a trial, take polygraph examinations, and function like a Secret Service detail charged with protecting dignitaries.
“It’s hands on from start to finish. It’s all hands on, everybody’s going to be involved doing something,” Morris said.
Senior Drill Instructor Trooper Russell Stewart and his cadre of assistants were tasked with keeping the cadets on schedule, moving from one activity to the next, be it rain or shine. Stewart, a deputy Fire Marshall with the state police and who is in his 12th year of volunteering with the program, also helped set the overall tone for cadet expectations.
“I’m always on time so I expect them (the cadets) to be on time. Respect, discipline, do everything we do quickly and willingly. And we basically do a lot of team building skills, teach them there’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’. Also to get them from the daily routines of home, sitting with the Xbox — no cell phone, no TV, stuff like that,” Stewart said.
Discussing the camp’s atmosphere, Morris said, “It has a boot camp-type of structure because we follow a military discipline, military drill. If you see the kids moving on campus, they’re marching wherever they’re going to. The way we address each other, would be ‘yes sir,’ ‘no sir,’ or by title ‘sergeant,’ ‘trooper,’ ‘cadet,’ whatever it is.
“It’s kind of rough on them (the cadets) the first couple of days. They kind of lose their minds because they don’t know what’s going on; they have drill instructors shouting out orders and instructions. Pretty much by the end of the week they’ll actually feel like they’ve accomplished something because they have. We get to the end of the week, most of these kids want to stay because they enjoy what’s going on.”
Though based on a military-style boot camp, Camp Cadet is not a disciplinary program for problem youth. More than anything, its atmosphere is designed to instill respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership while simultaneously giving the cadets insight into life as a police officer or member of the military. For some, this can be life changing and help set their future course.
Alex Verne is an example of the influence Camp Cadet can have. A native of Brockway who attended Camp Cadet in 2012, Verne is now a military police officer with the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Drum, N.Y.
“It (Camp Cadet) is what influenced me,” he said. “My dad was a cop. And when I came to camp, I thought, ‘Hey, maybe I do want to be a cop.’ And then I was exposed to the military side. When I eventually talked to recruiters and found out they had their own police force, military police corps, I thought it was the best of both worlds. So I signed up and for the past three years I’ve just been doing law enforcement for the military. So it absolutely influenced my career decision.”
So profound was Camp Cadet’s impact that Verne took two weeks leave this year to volunteer as an assistant drill instructor. “The program did a lot for me. So if I can come back and do something for the program and maybe influence one of these kids, you know, I think it’s well worth it. Well worth my time.”