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Five police officers assigned to Naval Support Activity South Potomac (NSASP) graduated the Law Enforcement Basic course from the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy at a Jan. 26 ceremony at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. The 10-month long course was conducted on nights and weekends and provides a level of training identical to classes taught during regular hours. The class afforded the officers a chance to improve their professional skills while meeting their full-time duties at Dahlgren.

Capt. Brian Flanagan, Cpl. Bryan Mason, Sgt. Stephen Mullen, Cpl. Cecil Richards and Cpl. Joseph Walton each received a certificate recognizing them for the achievement at the ceremony.

Robert Brooks, chief of the NSASP Police Department, was chosen by the 23 members of Class 123 to be the guest speaker at the graduation ceremony. Brooks was a familiar face to all of the students during the course, guiding the officers through several courses of instruction. His message expounded on one of the themes from the movie “Warhorse.” In the movie, the starring horse was valuable because it was capable of accomplishing many different kinds of tasks, from the glorious to the mundane. Likewise, Brooks warned the graduating officers against becoming a “thoroughbred,” competent in only one aspect of law enforcement work. Instead, they should be warhorses. always training and always improving so that they are capable of meeting any law enforcement challenge.

Brooks emphasized all aspects of what it means to be a law enforcement officer: training, fitness, measured aggressiveness, and above all, honor. All of those “pillars” were instilled in the police during the training class. “Realistic training is going to keep you guys alive,” Brooks told the graduates.

The specifics of the training in the Law Enforcement Basic course reflected the broad swath of skills police officers will need during their careers. Students passed written tests and practical examinations on a variety of subjects, such as constitutional law, how to handle non-compliant subjects and how to safely operate police vehicles.

In the case of the NSASP police officers, the training enhanced the skills they already put to use in their day-to-day duties serving Naval Support Facilities (NSFs) Dahlgren and Indian Head. Moreover, the officers chose to make time for the training despite their extensive professional and personal responsibilities.

Mullen, a single father of two teenage girls, described the level of commitment necessary for squeezing the training into his already busy life. “It was a sacrifice. a lot of missing things with your children. A lot of times trying to prepare dinner at 2:30 in the afternoon so the kids had something to eat when I left at 4:30. Coming home at 10:30 or 11 at night and getting up again at 5 a.m. and starting the day again. It was a heck of a commitment. Would I do it again? Yes.”

Though the training certainly complicated Mullen's schedule, he used his perfect attendance record throughout the course to illustrate an important lesson to his daughters. “There were a few times when my children didn't understand, but I wanted to persevere,” he said. “I wanted to show them that when you make a commitment, you keep your commitment.”

Mullen, a 10-year veteran at the NSASP Police Department, summed up the level of training he received from the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy. “The training was above and beyond what we're able to do [in Dahlgren],” he said. “It was very intense. everything was real world. There was no downtime.”

It was not the physical aspect of the training that Mullen found most difficult, however. It was the mental challenge of keeping up with the fast-paced lessons about complicated matter of law and order. The many written tests forced Mullen to re-establish the academic mindset he last used as a student many years ago. “Trying to study and take notes, it was a heck of a learning curve,” he noted with a laugh.

Despite those challenges, the NSASP police officers were of a single mind when it comes to the motivation to constantly improve their skills. “This is a new world,” said Mullen. “The level of commitment to not just ourselves, but to the base and the department is a lot greater than it used to be. It's a new world and we're preparing for the challenges of the future.”

One police officer from NSASP was singled out for his particularly outstanding performance throughout the course. Cpl. Bryan Mason was recognized with the Charles Murray Jr. Top Performance Award for Achievement. Only one of those prestigious awards is presented per class.