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New Class of Michigan Conservation Cadets Face Long and Rigorous Course

This week in Dimondale, 21 young adults began the grueling transition to become the newest Conservation Officers for Michigan's Department of Natural Resources. We were there as the cadets checked in on Sunday, July 16. 

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, seven women and 14 men crossed the parking lot of the Michigan State Police training facility in Dimondale. All wearing suits and holding one duffle bag of clothes, they lined up outside what will become their home for the next 23 weeks. 

Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media
WKAR Public Media
A new class of Michigan Conservation Officer cadets walk through the parking lot of the Michigan State Police Training Facility on July 16, 2017.

From the start, discipline is enforced. The cadets only answer to their superiors by shouting "yessir" or "no sir."

We didn't get to interview any of the recruits on this day. The person doing most of the talking on day one was Sgt. Jason Wicklund. 

“I expect all of you to be here but I don’t expect all of you to pass," said Sgt. Wicklund. 

2017 DNR Conservation Officer Cadets: 14 from Lower Peninsula, 4 from Upper Peninsula, 3 from outside Michigan

For the next ten months, the sergeant will be the cadets' teacher and trainer and he's tough.

“I will tax you mentally," said Sgt. Wicklund. "I will tax you physically. I will wake you up all hours of the night. I don’t want excuses.”

Michigan Conservation Officers stress they are not park rangers. They are peace officers, stationed in every county. One minute, they are dealing with poachers or looking for an escaped prisoner in the most remote areas of the state. The next, they are trying to rescue lost hikers in a weather emergency.

First Lt. Steven Burton said that's why the training is serious and rigorous.

"It’s a true police officer job with a flavor of the outdoors," said First Lt. Burton. "We specialize in outdoor crimes and recreation safety."

Individualism is not an asset. 

"They may have been popular in school, they may have been captain of the football team, we don’t care about that right now," said First Lt. Burton. "We really want them to come together as a team. And it’s a concept that the Army and the Marines have used for 200 years."

First Lt. Bruton said training the new cadets will help secure the legacy of Michigan's Conservation Officers for the next 30 years.

This year's class includes 14 from the Lower Peninsula and four from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Three members are from out-of-state. There are 216 sworn Conservation Officers in the state.

First Lt. Burton said this may be the one of the largest number of female cadets in one class in several years. He attributed more women signing up to outreach via Facebook.

"The mentorship and the coaching that we give young men and women today and over the next 23 weeks is really going to shape how the department is viewed by the public... whether there is a public trust with the communities they serve," said First Lt. Burton. 

Credit Reginald Hardwick / WKAR Public Media
WKAR Public Media
Michigan Conservation Officers lined up, preparing to enter their home for 23 weeks - Michigan State Police training facility.

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