Col. Bryan Barlow said of ALET Session #21-02: “This class of 25 graduates may have had the most challenging Academy experience of any that I can remember.” The entire session quarantined for a week during an outbreak of COVID-19. (AST image capture)

The Alaska Public Safety Academy in Sitka graduated another class over the weekend. The 17-week training program involved the usual courses in driving, shooting, physical fitness, and defensive tactics — and one extra class that’s not found in the course catalog: quarantining together.

The instruction at the Alaska Public Safety Academy in Sitka is 100-percent about policing, but the institution’s ceremonial style is paramilitary. And that involves some marching.

The 22 men and three women officers will take assignments in police departments ranging from Unalaska to Ketchikan, as well as serve as village public safety officers, park rangers, and of course, Alaska State Troopers.

The socially-distanced ceremony was held in Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall on Saturday, November 20. Commencement remarks were delivered by Colonel Bryan Barlow, the director of the Alaska State Troopers, who walked across this same stage himself 22 years ago. Barlow said that there had never been a class (ALET Session #21-02) quite like this one.

“This class of 25 graduates may have had the most challenging Academy experience of any that I can remember,” said Barlow. “It was over a month ago when I received the word that COVID-19 had crept its way into the academy and had infected a significant number of our recruits, despite our best efforts to keep it away. We cannot remember ever pausing academy training for over a week in the past, but it was a necessary step for this unique academy. It is noteworthy to recognize that all of the staff and recruits handled this unprecedented challenge in stride and without complaint. A job in law enforcement will put each and every one of you up against countless challenges during your career. Challenges you must overcome just as you did throughout this academy. It may not be COVID-19, early morning workouts, or testing. However, over my two-decade career in law enforcement, I’ve lost count of the number of physical and mental challenges that I’ve had to personally overcome. And my career has not been unique by any stretch.”

Barlow urged the graduates to maintain their commitment to physical fitness, and to find friendships outside of law enforcement, in order to keep things in perspective. He said resiliency was an important part of having a successful career — especially lately.

“It is an interesting time in law enforcement throughout the nation,” said Barlow. “I know many of you come from the Lower 48, also known as America up here in Alaska, and may be expecting a community that does not support you and the job that you have chosen. That is not the case in our state. In Alaska, our community, elected leaders, and many Alaskans overwhelmingly support the critical job of ensuring public safety in every corner of our great state.” 

Another former graduate — Department of Public Safety Commissioner James Cockrell — did not appear in person, but sent encouraging words. Cockrell graduated from the academy 38 years ago. He wrote: “Providing quality public safety in a state like Alaska is no easy task, but I know that these graduates have the heart and tenacity to accomplish this critical mission.”

Following the remarks, the candidates received what they spent the last 17 weeks working toward: Their law enforcement certificates and their badges. For most, that would mean an end to the marching.

For the 11 trooper recruits, however, not quite and end. Troopers spend an additional two weeks of advanced training, depending on their posting. It could mean advanced training in fish and wildlife investigations, boating safety, survival, commercial fisheries enforcement, search and rescue, and critical stress management.

After that, trooper recruits spend 12 weeks in a Field Training and Assessment program in Fairbanks, Soldotna, or the Mat-Su, before being promoted to full trooper.