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The Huntsville Police Department’s new Academy class is underway, with the 18-week process ending in July. We’ll regularly follow four members as they share their stories of the Academy.

Today: Crystal Vanaria, 26, from Orlando, a graduate of the University of Central Florida with a double major in criminal justice and studio art, who also serves in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Story prepared by Mark McCarter.

For the past week and into this next week, we’re learning SSGT, which is defensive tactics. It stands for Strategic Self-Defense and Grappling Tactics. It really gets your adrenaline going.

The first day we began with something called the Red Man. You put a red suit on and you are blindfolded and taken into a room where four large men tackle you and take you down. You have to fight your way out of it. This was before we learned any of the tactics. It was quite scary. And for four minutes you feel suffocated and you have to fight your way out but it’s to teach you not to quit, to keep fighting until the end.

We’ve spent much of Friday learning how to use one of our instruments, how to do proper handcuffing. We’ve been learning tactics from take-downs, mounts, drill rolls, escapes and such. I’m doing well but I wish I was more limber. It’s actually very physically demanding but this is something that could save your life.

I’m not as big as most of the others in the Academy class. We’ve been paired up with people similar in weight for a lot of drills, but sometimes we’re paired up with bigger people to make it more realistic. I’ve been thrown around a little but I learned it’s more about skill than size. As long as you have the right skill and perform the right tactics you can handle somebody of a bigger size.

At the beginning, you were stepping into the unknown. You didn’t know what to expect. Now I feel like we’re actually turning into police officers.”

I had learned some of those tactics in military police school, and there was a women’s self-defense class in my internship, but nothing like this.

Including the three weeks of orientation prior to the start of the Academy, it’s been a total of nine weeks now. We still have to take it day-by-day, week-by-week because there’s so much information. It’s like drinking from a fire hose.

At the beginning, you were stepping into the unknown. You didn’t know what to expect. Now I feel like we’re actually turning into police officers. We’re getting into that right mindset, getting more acquainted with learning reaction times, being more aware of your surroundings. Everything you do has repercussions and now we’re more mindful of that it’s getting to be more do-able.

Thinking about Easter weekend, I haven’t really celebrated one holiday this year. I just had my birthday the Sunday before Easter, and I didn’t have time to celebrate. Maintaining an outside lifestyle has been difficult. You get home at night and you’re polishing your boots and getting ready for the next day. And I’ve had drills with the military on two weekends, going to Anniston for Army Reserves, which means I’ve had some seven-day weeks of drilling. But there will be time to celebrate later.


Part 1: Journey begins for cadets in 56th Police Academy

Part 2: Becoming an officer: One step at a time

Part 3: Sweating the small stuff