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Explorers Logan Gooch, at left, and Joe White present Hubbard County Sheriff Cory Aukes an award they won at a recent state conference. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Two Explorers program grads are headed to police academies

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A local post of a program for high school students interested in law enforcement careers will send at least two graduates to police academies next fall.

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The Hubbard County Explorers program, led by Dep. Jeff Stacey, has been up and running for the past five years.

Two Nevis seniors, Logan Gooch and Joe White, appeared before the Hubbard County Board last week to express gratitude for the public and county support for the program.

Gooch and White presented Sheriff Cory Aukes with a traveling award and explained how much they've benefited from the program, which Stacey resumed after a long hiatus. Stacey also enlisted Dep. Joe Rittgers as a co-advisor to the group.

Recently seven local members attended the four-day Minnesota Law Enforcement Explorer Association State Conference in Rochester that is attended by 800 students.

The Hubbard County Post brought home a top award. Gooch, the post captain, was awarded the Shawn Silvera Memorial Award. This award, which includes a $500 scholarship, is named for Lino Lakes Police Officer Shawn Silvera who was killed in the line of duty in 2005.

The award is presented annually to an Explorer member in Minnesota who exemplifies the integrity, devotion, compassion and strength of character that Silvera brought to the profession. Presented by Silvera's family, the award honors his service as a Coon Rapids Police Explorer from 1990-1994.

"I am honored to be selected for the Shawn Silvera Award," said Gooch. "Without the teamwork of my entire Post and the mentorship of many current and former officers, I would not have the deep appreciation and understanding of the profession that helped me earn this honor.

"It is humbling to be given this recognition, knowing that it only comes from the supreme sacrifice that Officer Silvera gave as a peace officer, losing his life in the line of duty. To be handed this award by his family was a powerful feeling of responsibility and trust."

Gooch was also given the special award that he and White shared with Aukes, since the department sponsors the post.

The Explorers program is specifically designed to incorporate career opportunities, life skills, service learning, character education, and leadership experience.

Students between the ages of 14 and 20 learn first-hand the duties and responsibilities of police officers. Explorers are able to apply the information and tactics they learn in mock situations at the annual conference, where they get to meet with peers and be exposed to law enforcement agencies at state and federal levels. Exploring is focused on teaching youth about career fields that might interest them and encouraging students to prepare for the future.

"They give professional seminars all over the country to law enforcement agencies on mental and physical wellness," White said. "They have a lot of humor in their talks, but gave us a lot of really serious stuff to think about and remember as we grow into the profession too. Above all, their message "never give up, to keep fighting to win" will stick with me and inspires me to work harder."

The group participated in mock drills simulating scenarios law officers experience daily including accidents, interviewing crime victims and learning about substance abuse and societal problems.

All seven Hubbard County members competed in academic sessions, practical exercises, and pistol shooting competitions.

Scores improved in every area over past conferences, showing dramatic improvement for the entire post. Competition team A included White, Gooch and Austin Rittgers. Competition team B was made up of brothers Tyler and Dalton Plautz, Daniel Stacey and Spencer Stack. "I was so impressed with the huge improvement I saw from team A in the Witness Interview scenario over last year," said Stacey. "Their growth in knowledge and skills was evident right from the start, needing no assistance and working their way through the layers of questioning to help put the pieces together about the crime to discover the answers necessary to make a determination that could lead to a valid arrest. They were phenomenal!"

"We have learned to look for details out of the ordinary, and that really helped us succeed and score very high in the practical exercises this year," said White. "The younger team did very good too, and they will do even better next year because of more training and having had the competition experience under their belt this year."

"Explorers has solidified my career choice to enter law enforcement, and what I have learned will really help me when I attend Alexandria Technical College next fall to earn my Associates degree," said White. "I think I will really be one step ahead because of Explorers."

Gooch will attend Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa, this fall seeking a bachelor's degree in law enforcement.

White will attend the two-year program at Alexandria Technical College.

"I commend you," commissioner Kathy Grell told the Explorers. "It's quite an accomplishment."

The program, open to all boys and girls ages 14 to 20, is sponsored by the Hubbard County Sheriff's Office, but does not receive any financial support from the county budget. Both Stacey and Rittgers volunteer their time as advisors.

Numerous donors have assisted the program, which hovers between 10 and 12 members.

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