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What The Heck Now, Recruit!?

What’s an Awakening?

If you’re a recruit you probably don’t remember the 1990 movie Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert DeNiro. For some of us, twenty one years ago isn’t a life time.

The movie was loosely based on the true story of a British neurologist who discovered that the then new drug, L-Dopa, could “awaken” patients left catatonic by an outbreak of encephalitis lethargica. Williams played the doctor and DeNiro portrayed one of the patients, Leonard Lowe, who is awakened after decades of existing nearly comatose and must deal with a new life in a new world and time.

Tragically, the awakening doesn’t last and Leonard and the other patients gradually begin a torturous return to their catatonic state – no adjustment of the drug can save them.

Have you ever had days like that at the Academy, as an FTO, or even a supervisor? A recruit or officer seems catatonic in response to a new scenario or call and then you guide them to an awakening, only to be left wondering if their enlightened state will last?

I have. I’d like to share one. Let’s approach it like a movie. 

The scene and characters.

I’m an adjunct instructor at the Alaska DPS Academy. Accessible only by water or air, the Academy is on an island in Sitka. Recruits live there in dormitory housing. Family and friends can’t visit until the end of week seven. The recruits’ day begins at 0500 and they can be seen at 2100 cleaning the building so it’s inspection ready. It’s an intensive training environment.

I began instructing at the Academy around 1987 -- before many of the recruits who now attend were born. I was a prosecutor back then and, along with other Alaskan prosecutors, would instruct on the legal topics as my trial schedule allowed. When I changed careers to train full time, the Academy contracted with me to teach during every DPS Academy. I’ve been doing that for over a decade now.

I bunk in the VIP quarters in the same building that houses the recruits so I’m familiar with Academy life outside the classroom. The place is like a home-away-from-home to me. Over the years, “my kids” at the Academy have gone on to become Commanders, Deputy Commanders, and Corporals.

I am sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Everything” by Academy staff and recruits. I may have initially encouraged this but it’s taken on a life of its own – one I cultivate. A recent Academy class got a mug for me with a picture of an ornate crown above the phrase “Queen of Everything,” with a strand of faux pearls circling the base. That was good sucking up to the Queen.

Last week I flew to the Academy on a Sunday to train for the week. A TAC officer whom I’d instructed as a recruit picked me up at the airport and carried my bags into the VIP quarters. After I’d settled in, I grabbed keys to a vehicle that’s put at my disposal to go grocery shopping.  I walked through the common area of the building on my way out, passing by the TAC officer and a recruit.


I nod, smile and say, “Hello.” The recruit replies,

“Good afternoon, Ma’am. May I please see some identification?”

My jaw drops. “WHAT?! Do you know who I am?!”

“No ma’am. That’s why I need to see some ID.”


As I imagine the Corporals doing inchworms across the tarmac the next day for allowing a situation to arise in which the recruits don’t know who I am, the TAC Officer’s eyes go wide as he waits for lightning to strike the recruit.

“That may be, Ma’am, but I still need to see your ID.”

With the telltale vein at my temple throbbing, I produce my Alaska driver’s license. The recruit glances at it and thanks me. I walk away fuming. I feel like the General in full uniform who’s been asked by private security to show his ID at the entrance to his own base.

The teachable moment.

Then, it hits me – this is a “teachable moment.” I walk back to the recruit.

“What’s your name?” I ask imperiously.

“Recruit Hayes, ma’am.”

 “Let’s do this over, Recruit Hayes. Ask me for my ID again.”

Hayes does.

“I’d rather not. It’s not a very flattering picture.”                                            

“Well, Ma’am. I still need to see your ID.”

“And I’m still not going to show it to you. I think I’ll have a look around.” I walk away, towards the VIP quarters, where even the recruits are not allowed to enter without permission.

“This looks interesting. VIP quarters. Think I’ll have a look.”

Recruit Hayes follows me, stuttering that he needs to see my ID while I have my run of the place.

I yell, “What are you going to do, Hayes? Let me have the run of the whole building? What are you going to do when someone else decides not to show you their ID? Have you even thought about what you’re going to do when someone doesn’t comply with your request?”

By now, a group of recruits have gathered and they’re standing wooden and mute, like DeNiro’s hospital mates before the miracle.

“What about the rest of you? Hayes asked me for ID and I didn’t give it to him. What are you going to do?”

I walk away again. Another recruit comes after me repeating the request for ID. I still refuse and nobody restrains me.

“People, you better start thinking!  What are you going to do -- here at the Academy and out on the streets. You better start thinking about what you’re going to do in every situation, when somebody doesn’t do what you tell them to do.”

I walk away and tell them I’ll see them in class tomorrow at 0800. They stand there like empty, unplugged refrigerators – doors open but no lights on.

More action.

I ask Corporal Spitzer to help me provide the recruits with a winning solution the next morning. Corporal Spitzer is big, broad, strong and has the command presence of a Marine (which he formerly was) DI.

I’m 5’1” and my I wouldn’t call myself broad or particularly strong (that’s why I’m nearly always packing). I’m also a female in my 50s. I understand the social and cultural impediments to a male recruit laying hands on me. I also know a dame can kill a cop in the amount of time it takes to complete a Mozambique. The recruits need to understand this.

Corporal Spitzer and I enact the same scenario I’d put the recruit through. Only Corporal Spitzer, in full Alaska State Trooper uniform, takes my left arm when I start to walk away from him. I begin screaming like a banshee in an insane asylum, fall to the ground and start rolling around like I’m being attacked by a swarm of killer bees.

Corporal Spitzer maintains his grip on my arm, “helps” me to my feet, and begins “escorting me out of the building” while telling me in short declarative sentences what he’s doing and why.  I try to wrench free several times and yell “colorful” obscenities while the Corporal remains in complete control. The scenario ends as the Corporal walks me to the door.

“What are you going to do, people? You’ve been here five weeks. Start thinking, in every encounter, what you’re going to do if it doesn’t go down as planned.”

“Visualize it. Replace yesterday’s scenario with the one you’ve just seen. Play it out in your mind with you as the officer. Great athletes don’t replay the missed foul shot that lost the game. They go back to the line, shoot a hundred sinkers and go to sleep visualizing the bend of their knees, the graceful pump of their arms, the perfect arc, the sweet sounding swish.”

In every scenario, in every situation, in every incident, answering every call – think about what might happen and what you’re prepared to do about it.”

I look into the recruits’ eyes and see flickering awakenings.


I develop some nice bruising from my fun time with Corporal Spitzer. I show it to him. He begins apologizing then breaks off to say,

“This is another chance for the recruits to learn.” I take the suggestion he gives me back into the classroom.

The next day I bare my arm and display my vivid bruises to the recruits.

“You saw what happened with Corporal Spitzer. Prepare for that to happen to you. Prepare for the woman to go to your supervisor and cry police brutality. Did Corporal Spitzer give me those bruises?"

Beautiful awakenings start happening amongst the recruits. “No, ma’am.” “You did it to yourself, ma’am.” “You caused your bruises.”

Awakenings – the sequel.

Coming soon – to a community near me – will be these recruits. May their Academy and FTO awakenings be lasting. May those of us who train them keep finding teachable moments.


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About The Author:

Described by Calibre Press as "the indisputable master of enter-train-ment," Val Van Brocklin is an internationally sought speaker, trainer and noted author. She combines a dynamic presentation style with over 10 years experience as a prosecutor where her trial work received national media attention on ABC's Primetime Live, the Discovery Channel's Justice Files, in USA Today, The National Enquirer and REDBOOK. In addition to her personal appearances, she appears on television, radio, and webcasts, in newspapers, journal articles and books. Visit her website: