Six Oro Valley police recruits stepped off the stage of the Holiday Inn's Holidome Dec. 21, shiny badges in hand, the singular symbol of their achievement in making it through 16 weeks and 718 hours of torturous training for the privilege of putting their lives on the line.
The six newly sworn in officers were members of the largest class of recruits Oro Valley has ever sent to the Tucson Public Safety Academy at the Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Training Center, and arguably one one of the best.
Oro Valley's recruit class was among the few from law enforcement agencies throughout Southern Arizona to complete the academy training without a single dropout, aided to a great degree by the week all six spent just training for what they'd be facing at the academy.
"They show great promise," said Deputy Les Anderson, one of the five class training officers whose screams haunted the recruits every hour of their waking day at the academy and for many, hours thereafter. "They've shown they're eager to learn, to absorb and to progress."
To the stage they came, one after another, before a crowd of more than 1,000 people, comprised of their parents, husbands and wives and friends who stood beside them during a brutal 16 weeks of training that included nine different exams and more than 1,500 questions ranging from law to public safety, hours and hours of firearms and driver training and physical activities.
First came Kristine Filippelli, 24, who proved heart means more than heft when it comes to fulfilling a lifelong dream. It wasn't just being 5 feet, 4 inches tall and weighing 107 pounds that some saw as obstacles to her becoming a cop.
Though her father-in law is a homicide detective with the Tucson Police Department, Filippelli herself had no law enforcement experience. She was a massage therapist, worked in accounting and received an associate's degree in tourism from Pima Community College, career paths far from anything like law enforcement.
Filippelli married just four months before entering the academy. A week before entering, she and her husband, Jim, sold their home and moved in with parents, then moved again into their new home while meeting the challenges each day that the academy presented.
"It strengthened our marriage," Jim said, looking back on those difficult times. "It's given us the confidence to know we'll be able to deal with the tough days that lie ahead. You never know, when everything is going good, how you'll do until you're faced with times of challenge. It builds confidence in your ability to face the future when you do."
As a firefighter, Jim knew what his wife was going through because he completed similar academy training, so while Kristine was battling her demons, Jim was running errands, doing whatever it took to make her day easier.
"Life was a constant roller coaster," he said. Monday nights provided their own anxieties because that was often exam day for the recruits and Jim would worry about how Kristine did.
When Kristine got down or frustrated because the day hadn't gone particularly well, "I just told her what she was experiencing was normal, that what it all boiled down to was just four months and after all, how bad can four months be. But when you get through it, you'll walk a little taller because of the great sense of pride you'll have in what you've accomplished."
Following Filippelli in the awarding of badges was Heidi Hardman, 25, a Utah native who just nine months before entering the academy went through a similar process over 14 weeks to become a corrections officer with the Salt Lake City Sheriff's Office.
Before being accepted as an Oro Valley police candidate she had applied with four different agencies. She turned down an offer from the Arizona Department of Corrections and was in the final stage of being hired as a corrections officer with the Pima County Sheriff's Department before finally choosing to pursue a police career with Oro Valley.
Next in line was Leigh Horetski, who became the third Oro Valley police officer in the family, following in the footsteps of two brothers. Horetski had been a records clerk in the Oro Valley Police Department for three and a half years and had the idea of becoming a police officer in the back of her mind from the time she started.
After Horetski came Chris Palic, 22, a former University of Arizona punter on the football team, then Garrett Ryan, 24, a UA Regents Scholar who also was named the winner of the class academic achievement award.
Ryan attributed his success in the academy, as well as the success of the rest of his class, to simply "staying focused all the way through, never straying from the goal."
Because of experiences shared day to day with classmates, "I think I've found 46 friends for life," he said. He summed up his feelings about graduation in a single word: "Great."
The last new member of the Oro Valley force to receive his badge was Jeffrey Wadleigh, 24, another UA grad who served an internship with Oro Valley police detectives. Getting through the academy and becoming a cop, Wadleigh said upon entering the academy, "will be, in my estimation, the greatest accomplishment of my life."
There was nothing to dissuade Wadleigh from that feeling as he walked off the stage badge in hand.
In visits to the academy during training, the times were rare when you'd see the recruits smile. On graduation day there was nothing but smiles as they shared in the plaudits from loved ones.
Those loved ones had plaudits coming their way as well as outgoing Academy Commander Capt. Tom McNally thanked them for doing the "most important work" of instilling the values and molding the character of the recruits. "If you had not been successful, we would not be here today," he told them just as the recruiting class entered the room in formation.
"There are three things that are critical to your success as a police officer," Oro Valley Police Chief Danny Sharp told the recruits. "They are dedication, commitment and courage.
"Dedication you have already demonstrated by your willingness to invest in a career that is as demanding as it is rewarding. You have shown that you are willing to pay a price for success. You have prepared today for tomorrow's achievements. Your dedication has gotten you to this significant milestone.
"Next is commitment. If you want to be the best in your chosen field, you must be committed. Time, practice and sacrifice are the measures of commitment. You must commit yourself to staying up to date in a profession that is constantly changing. Case law, technology, equipment and the like require this. Commitment to your family and friends is essential to be successful.
"You must manage your time well, so you are able to attend to the important things in your life. And of course you have to be committed to yourself. Your diet and exercise … appropriate use of leisure time all are essential.
"And the third thing is courage. I think each of you has courage or you wouldn't be here this morning. But I want you to think about courage beyond the willingness to walk down some dark alley. I'm talking about the courage to take risks, to think outside the box. Ask why. Or better yet, ask why not. Dare to dream.
"Also I want you to think of courage as it relates to your own integrity. Andrew Jackson said, 'One man with courage is a majority.' We want you to have the courage to make ethical decisions, decisions that may be difficult but you know are right because the highest courage is to dare to be yourself in the face of adversity.
"Choosing right over wrong, ethics over convenience, and truth over popularity. These are the choices that measure your life. Travel the path of integrity without looking back, for there is never a wrong time to do the right thing."
The Oro Valley recruits were a confident group and none of its members expressed any real surprise at their accomplishment. They worked and studied as a team from the start as they were admonished to do.
After relaxing for a few days, the new officers will spend a week in classroom training and nine weeks under the supervision of senior officers before beginning patrol on their own.