State patrol celebrates 30 years of student academy

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Cadet Lawman Academy, a training camp for qualified high school juniors who take on the role of trooper cadet for one week.

"This program is unparalleled throughout the nation," said First Lieutenant Stewart Meyer, commandant of the academy. "Not only are these students trained by troopers who are expert in their specialized fields, but valuable life lessons and mutual respect inevitably surface throughout the week."

The first year of the academy, 39 male students attended. In 1976, the first three females joined 44 males to participate in the annual event. Through word of mouth, the program became increasingly popular and by 1997, a total of 142 cadets graduated from the 24th academy, the largest academy to date.

"Each morning the cadets begin their day at 6:45 a.m. as they fall into formation," said Meyer. "You would think that having to get up so early would result in a decrease of applications for the academy but as we learn year after year, based on their evaluations, the cadets love the discipline."

The cadets are divided into six platoons and during morning formation, each platoon is responsible for flag detail, learning flag courtesy and customs. They are required to prepare their rooms and common areas for inspection. Then their day begins as they learn firearms safety, participate in driver training using patrol cars, air-to-ground traffic patrol while riding in OHP aircraft, tour a state prison and the Altus Air Force Base, and they learn water patrol with the Lake Patrol division.

"The week is overflowing with activities. We work them pretty hard during the day so they are ready to participate in competitive athletics in the evenings," said Meyer. "The cadets play other platoons in volleyball and softball and competition gets pretty fierce."

At week's end, on Saturday, the cadets welcome their friends and family members to the graduation ceremony where they will show off various marching regiments they learned during the week and some will receive special recognition awards.

"This has always been a very rewarding yet emotional time for the cadets because they have formed special relationships with each other and dread parting ways," said Meyer. "This year will be especially memorable as we anticipate welcoming three times as many audience members, most of whom are former cadets of the academies."

Meyer and his staff sent out hundreds of invitations to former cadets inviting them to attend the graduation ceremony for the 30th anniversary.

"Five from the very first academy will be here; we are very excited about that," said Meyer. "One of the first five cadets is currently a trooper with the highway patrol, Kevin Wiginton, and he will serve on the academy's staff this year."

The former cadets were asked to specify their current occupations. The field was extensive with an obvious emphasis in law enforcement and criminal justice professions. The range also included members of the military, doctors, nurses, culinary assistants, judges, housewives, truck drivers, bank tellers, school principals, teachers and hair dressers.

"As these former cadets have infiltrated a huge field of varied occupations, along with them goes their experience with the Cadet Lawman Academy and their mutual respect of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol and law enforcement," said Meyer. "Now their children are attending the academies."

The academy has been funded by the Elks Major Projects and the Oklahoma State Troopers Association for almost 30 years.

"Without the generosity of these two organizations, there would be no academy," said Meyer. "We are also very thankful this year to the surrounding communities of Elk City and Clinton for their cooperation and especially to the Burns Flat community who has annually provided a huge amount of support for the program. We are very grateful to them all."

Graduation ceremonies will begin at 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 7 and will be held at the Clinton Gymnasium. Keynote speaker will be Commissioner of Public Safety Bob A. Ricks.