In a three-day law enforcement competition from June 21-23 at Old Tucson, 10 members of Explorer Post 11, sponsored by the Oro Valley Police Department, took on 30 Explorer posts sponsored by some of the largest law enforcement agencies in the West and nearly walked away with all the marbles.
Exploring is a career education program for the young with a variety of fields under its umbrella, including medical, health, communications, engineering, fire and police.
The Oro Valley Explorer post focuses on law enforcement and is supported by the town and fund-raising activities. Two of the department's current officers are former Explorers. Another former Post 11 Explorer is serving with the Tucson Police Department and still another with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
John Dennis, a current Explorer who will be a freshman at Arizona State University this fall, has been accepted into the Explorer FBI Academy at Quantico, Va. for a two-week program this summer.
The tactical exercises at Old Tucson tested the Oro Valley Police Department Explorers' skills in tactical exercises ranging from responding to bomb threats and marijuana field raids to high risk traffic stops, DUI investigations, assisting a downed officer and searches of buildings harboring unknown suspects.
The competition was judged by members of the Tucson and South Tucson police departments, the Arizona Department of Public Safety and the U.S. Border Patrol.
Explorer Post 11, with its 10 participants hopeful of careers in law enforcement, ended up with first-place trophies in DUI investigations and marijuana field raids and a second-place trophy for its showing in making high-risk stops.
In the overall competition, only the Devonshire division of the Los Angeles Police Department did better.
Officer Jodi Brackett, an Oro Valley Police Department school resource officer at Ironwood Ridge High School, said the local Explorer post has been participating in similar events for the past six years, but mostly in competitions sponsored by the California Highway Patrol in Needles, Calif. When the highway patrol canceled events scheduled to be held in April, Post 11 Explorers entered the competition sponsored by the U.S. Border Patrol at Old Tucson
Other advisers are the post leader Sgt. Tom Buvik and Officer Mike Bott.
In the marijuana field raid competition, a scenario was staged in which Explorers ages 14 to 20 in five-member teams and dressed in camouflage gear were supposed to capture three suspects holed up in a house laden with bales of marijuana as well as evade snipers outside.
The team members had to work their way across a desert area teeming with booby traps and trip wires without setting them off. The explosives were merely simulators and their guns were plastic, but neither took away from the realism of the scene, a realism matched equally in the staging of each of the other half dozen law enforcement challenges.
"I think the reason for our success is that the training was so hard," said Jonathan Haywood, 20, a University of Arizona junior majoring in criminal justice and a seven-year veteran of the Explorer program. "We trained so hard that by the time of the competition it was all so much easier," said Haywood, an Explorer captain whose father is a commander with the UA Police Department.
Adam Kidd, 17, a student at Pima Community College whose father is a captain with the Tucson Police Department, said the best performances Explorer Post 11 had ever turned in previously were third place finishes in dealing with bomb threats and the marijuana raid.
"We were determined to come back with something even better this year," said Kidd, who plans to attend Northern Arizona University and major in criminal justice before applying for a job with a larger police department than Oro Valley's.
In the four years he's been with the Explorers, Kidd said he's matured a great deal and learned to lead by example, a trait he believes will carry over in future pursuits.
Explorer training, said Errick Owens, 20, who plans to apply to the Oro Valley Police Department after Southern Arizona Law Enforcement Academy training, "will give me an advantage over anyone else they're planning to hire because of the information and knowledge I've been given about how cops work and why they do the things they do."
Owens, an Explorer lieutenant and the other seven-year Explorer in Post 11, said he was trained by the "best of the best,” including Oro Valley Police Department's SWAT team members, for whom the Explorers often acted as decoys in their exercises, as well as their DUI and traffic investigation experts and members of the motor unit.
"The most difficult part of the training was the repetitiveness, doing the same things over and over, but the results made us realize what training can do," said Owens, a PCC student majoring in criminal justice whose aunt and uncle have served with DPS.
Brackett said the Explorers had been planning to attend the Old Tucson competition for months and trained every week up to four hours at a time. Last month, participants were broken down into teams to focus on particular events, she said.
"I think the time they spent with our SWAT team helped a whole lot by acting as decoys involved in hostage situations and being bad guys and hiding in buildings," Brackett said. "In the competition, the roles were reversed. It was all a part of seeing something actually done, training to do it and then showing your proficiency in front of judges from other agencies,"Brackett said.
Other agencies may have greater resources," Haywood said, "but no one will underestimate us the next time around."