54th OHP Academy

Two women will graduate with 51 fellow cadets as members of the 54th Oklahoma Highway Patrol Academy. One of the women is the second oldest cadet in the academy, a former Marine who is a wife and the mother of two teen-aged children.

"Most of the cadets in this academy are in their early 20s," said 2Lt. Craig Medcalf, assistant commandant. "Cadet Gina Gillis is 36 years old and had no problem keeping up with the younger cadets. She was very focused and very determined to complete the academy. She knew what her goals were, and she accomplished them. As did Cadet Sussanna Farley who is 34. They are both among the oldest four in this year's academy."

"I don't feel old. I'm not old. I feel good," said Gillis. She said some of the cadets were almost young enough to be her children.

Although Gillis and Farley began the academy with the largest number of female cadets ever with a total of six. They will be the only two to graduate.

"Unfortunately, the most females we've ever graduated at one time has been two," said Medcalf. There have only been three other academies that have done so in the past.

"It was hard being away from my family," said Gillis. "When I served in the Marines, I was 17 at the time with no children, so things were very different this time. But my kids think it's great I'm going to be a trooper. I don't know what I would have done without the backing of my family as well as the support of having another female with me. It was a tremendous help to walk in the room that first day and see another female there."

Farley said she was also glad to have another female throughout the experience.

"I thank God for Gina because I couldn't imagine going through this without her," said Farley. "She is someone who understands and knows what I'm going through while giving me support. It would have really been hard."

Farley said some portions of the academy were more difficult than others.

"I would like to have gone through when I was 22 years old," said Farley. "Although the physical portion would probably have been easier, the mental portion seemed more of a challenge for the younger cadets. It has been a great experience."

Cadet Jeff Hemphill, 38, is the oldest cadet in this, the first academy to recruit extended age limitations under new qualification requirements.

"A new law went into effect this year expanding the qualifications for the academy to include a 38-year-old age limit, which is up from 36," said Medcalf. "We felt we were missing a lot of qualified people who were in the military and in good shape. It has paid off because four of our top cadets are 34 and older which makes this academy unique from the others."

Hemphill has been in the U.S. Marines for over 20 years and is currently in the National Guard.

"They tell me I'm the oldest cadet to ever graduate from a highway patrol academy," said Hemphill. "I spent 20 years in the Marine Corps and am currently in the Reserves. This is the perfect job to transition to from the military. I consider the Marines to be the elite branch in the military and feel the same way about the Oklahoma Highway Patrol."

The cadets will graduate in ceremonies tomorrow at the True Vine Baptist Church, NE 36th Street and Spencer Road, in Spencer at 1 p.m. Media are invited to attend for subsequent interviews.