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SPOTLIGHT
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Students from across Kansas attend patrol academy

Published on -6/13/2012, 1:22 PM

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By ERIN MATHEWS

The Salina Journal

SALINA -- The morning starts with push-ups, sit-ups and laps around the gym.

"It's better than coffee," said Haden Finley, of Wakeeney.

"If you say so. I have to have coffee to wake myself up afterward," replied Daniel Frazier, of El Dorado.

After the morning exercises, breakfast and flag ceremony, the real fun begins for Finley, Frazier and 33 other participants in the Kansas Highway Patrol's Cadet Law Academy. They shoot rifles, pistols and shotguns. They drive fast, and Tuesday morning they were flying over Saline County in KHP airplanes.

High school students from all over the state are in Salina this week to participate in the annual academy, a nationally sanctioned program sponsored by the American Legion and Legion Auxiliary.

Cadets get "a condensed version of Kansas Highway Patrol training," said Elgin Wahlborg, of Arkansas City, the American Legion's Cadet Law Academy committee chairman.

All of the students will start their senior year in high school this fall, and most of them are considering a post-graduation career in law enforcement.

Frazier said he already has a uniform and badge as a master explorer with the El Dorado Police Department and hopes soon to be on the department's payroll. Finley said he plans to enter the U.S. Army and possibly follow his military experience with a law enforcement career.

The academy, which has been held in Kansas since 1969, allows cadets to experience some of the more adrenaline-pumping aspects of a law enforcement job.

Traffic stops, pursuit driving and firearms and defense training are all part of the academy experience. Finley said he felt gravitational forces as the patrol car he was riding in turned a corner at about 80 mph on the KHP training course.

"I know how to go in reverse like a pro now," said cadet Victoria Davis of Gardner, who said she aspires to earn a master's degree in psychology from the University of Kansas and become a Federal Bureau of Investigation profiler.

Kitsy Denney, of Ellsworth, said she hopes the academy will help her follow her dad's footsteps into the Kansas Highway Patrol.

Shea Laska, a Salina Central High student, said she's already been sworn in to the U.S. Air Force and will enter service after her graduation. She said she heard about the academy during her American Justice Class and decided to apply.

She said Monday her squad was practicing handcuffing each other during their first day of defense training. KHP Lt. Joe Vajgrt is "faster than lightning" with the cuffs, she said.

Vajgrt said the young women are part of the largest group of female cadets to participate in the academy. About a third of the current group is female, he said.

Since checking in to the dorms at the KHP Training Center Sunday, the cadets have also been learning how to make a bed military-style and other techniques to avoid being told to do push-ups. Cadets are expected to keep their rooms tidy

Katie Carter of Kansas City, Kan., said platoon leaders are "strict one minute, and you'll be laughing with them the next."

Among identified push-up triggers are stepping on the KHP emblem in the floor at the training center, not knowing the name of the U.S. Attorney General and being too loud in the morning.

"I think I've done the most push-ups," said Dalton Custenborder, of Natoma. "The first day, I kept leaving my light on."

Tuesday morning, the cadets were taking turns flying in one of three KHP airplanes.

"Did anyone not have a good time?" pilot and KHP Technical Trooper Joe Ziegler asked the students after they'd all had their turns looking down on the cut wheat fields of Saline County. His question was met by silence.

"Did anyone feel sick at all?" Ziegler asked. When the students were quiet after that question, he said. "Oh, we've got to go do it again."

For some -- like Ashleigh Oropeza, of Wellsville, -- it had been their first time in an airplane.

Oropeza said at one point she "felt like I was coming out of my seat" in the small Cessna.

Chase Kirby, of Clearwater, said the KHP plane ride was also his first experience in the air.

"Flying was awesome," he said. "It's been well worth coming here. I've never flown. I've never shot a gun. I've never done a lot of these things."

Davis said looking out the plane's windows at the fields, river and towns below made her think of an "I Spy" book. She could imagine hunting for something down there.

That's often what Ziegler said he is doing when he's flying the KHP plane, which is stationed in Salina. From the air, Ziegler has a bird's eye view to find a missing person or fleeing suspect or spot a marijuana field or an overturned boat.

Ziegler said he completed 178 missions last year, flying between 300 and 400 hours. His territory includes the area between Manhattan and Russell from Nebraska to Oklahoma.

The four-seat plane Ziegler flies and small planes from Topeka and Hays that were in Salina Tuesday to fly academy students were purchased with the proceeds of illegal drug busts, he said.

Ziegler said the planes have been invaluable for transporting blood to blood banks and trained dogs to manhunts, monitoring traffic during car chases and finding people who need help and people who need to be arrested. He said last year, 40 fields of marijuana were destroyed after being spotted from the air in Kansas.

Ziegler said the missions he is proudest of are when he is successful in finding a lost child.

"To me, I've maybe saved a little kid's life," he said. "It's fun finding marijuana and finding bad guys, but finding kids means the most."

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Information from: The Salina Journal, http://www.salina.com

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