Trooper Training

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More than 500 men and women serve in the Wisconsin State Patrol, keeping the state's roads and highways safe.

Now, 42 recruits from all over the state, and several from here in Western Wisconsin, are training to join the ranks.

Before they can get out on the roads, the troopers are required to complete a grueling 21-week training program.

Noise, precision and live rounds: it's an intense test to become a trooper and not every one will pass.

It's week three at the State Patrol Academy in Fort McCoy.

Thirty-nine men and two women: this is the Wisconsin State Patrol's 55th recruit class.

"I have a true passion for this field," said Sean Haskamp, a recruit from Menomonie.

Some are fresh out of college. Others have been enforcing the law for years.

No matter what drives them...

"Getting out there and serving my community and making a difference one person at a time," Haskamp said.

The recruits seem to have one thing in common: They've got the patrol on a pedestal.

"The State Patrol is very well-known, well-respected and I want to be part of that team," said Aaron Prohovnik, a recruit from Rice Lake.

These cadets are learning how to use a 40-Caliber pistol, the weapon they'll wear on their hip for the rest of their lives.

It's not just firing the gun. It's learning how to use it, how to get the best grip and get a grip on their surroundings.

"It's very intense, both physically and mentally," said Robert Unruh, a recruit from Black River Falls.

"We normally have physical training: Push-ups, sit-ups, run several miles everyday. But during these two weeks we don't do that because they're under a lot of stress with the weapon itself," said Sergeant Darrell Hill of the Wisconsin State Patrol.

This is called "DAT" - defense and arrest tactics. If a traffic stop or arrest goes bad, Aaron Prohovnik, a trooper hopeful from Rice Lake will know how to defend himself.

"The physical training is more than I expected," Prohovnik said. "But in the long run it's going to give us better training to do our jobs in the case of that high-risk traffic stop."

"The more pressure, the more intensity we can provide them in training, he easier it's gonna be when they get out on the road," Sgt. Hill said. "Well not easy, but at least they will know what's happening and be able to handle any situation out on the highway."

But the hands-on training is only part of the experience.

Living at Fort McCoy is a lesson in itself.

"A definite adjustment from my normal way of life," Haskamp said.

Sean Haskamp, a fresh UW-Stout grad is dealing with the dorms - reminiscent of college living with high school rules - lights out at 10:00 p.m.

"We do have a mandatory schedule we have to stick to," Haskamp said.

And to say cleaning your room isn't an option is an understatement.

The desks must be mirror images of each other.

Sheets need to be folded at a 45-degree angle.

All clothes in the closet must be fully buttoned and facing the same direction. The only privacy? One padlocked drawer.

"The analogy they use is our rooms is going to be our squad car when we graduate," Haskamp said.

Training includes even learning how to park your car. Recruits learn to park their cars facing forwards, similar to a state trooper cruiser, enabling them to leave quickly in an emergency.

"We are like a quasi-military if you will," Sgt. Hill said.

The cadets march to and from the cafeteria.

Caffeine and dessert are privileges.

But to get into the academy, nothing was privileged information.

"We did background investigations on them, we had them do a physical, we had psychological evaluations," Sgt. Hill said.

After more than 800 hours of training, the recruits are ready to hit the road, if they got it into gear.

"There are very few classes that begin with a certain number and end with that same number as well," Sgt. Hill said.

Sergeant Hill says the drop-out rate for some classes is 50 percent.

Curt Tomkowiak, a St. Croix County state trooper, is back for a refresher course.

"It was intimidating," Tomkowiak said. "Getting up every morning, it was awakening to a different world. Coming here it's completely different from the real world."

But this surreal situation could save their lives.

"But getting out there every time I'm on a traffic stop or at a crash, it all comes back to you and you realize what they did, why they did it and you're thankful for it," Tomkowiak said.

Black River Falls native Robert Unruh is grateful for this experience.

He's wanted this for five years.

"My goal here is to push myself both personally and professionally to gain as much knowledge as I can to do my job the best I can," Unruh said.

And the best is what the Wisconsin State Patrol expects out of Class Number 55.

The recruits who successfully complete the 21-week program will graduate on June 15. From there they'll get their assignments which will scatter them across the state, perhaps even here at the Eau Claire Post.

Later, they'll learn how to operate the cruiser in a high-speed chase and how to use radar.

They'll also learn constitutional law, interview and interrogation techniques.