Four new wildlife officers in Southeast Arkansas are among 12 who recently graduated from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s training program, according to the Arkansas Game & Fish Commission.

Assignment of the 12 new officers will fill several vacancies in the AGFC enforcement ranks. The 2020 graduates and their county assignments are:

Stephanie Carter – Ashley County
Eric Rawls – Cleveland County
Nate Baker – Drew County
David Foret – Lincoln County
Renner Smith – Calhoun County
Clint Park – Ouachita County
Caleb McClanahan – Madison County
Kent Slape – Newton County
Tyler Staggs – Johnson County
Jake Standford – Sevier County
Cody Stone – Nevada County
Michael Dollard – Phillips County

The graduation ceremony took place July 31 at the H.C. “Red” Morris Enforcement Training Center off Arkansas Highway 89 with social-distancing protocols in place.

“I regret that these officers did not get to enjoy some of the celebration as previous classes, but they are sure to make their own marks on their communities, as many officers before them have done,” said Pat Fitts, director of the AGFC. “These men and women do not sign up for this job to be recognized, they do it because protecting the outdoors and serving the people in their communities is a calling they’ve felt compelled to answer.”

Because of restrictions to large gatherings, the graduation ceremony was kept small, with only members of the graduates’ families and a few key AGFC personnel invited. Families were allowed to sit together, but each group was screened before entry and separated from other family groups in attendance.

Despite the changes required by COVID-19, this class of cadets did not get slighted when it came to the training needed to become an AGFC wildlife officer. The class began March 8, and had three weeks of in-person training before the center had to be closed because of social distancing protocols.

“They were introduced to what would be expected of them during that time and we had online training through Google Meets during the time when the center was temporarily closed,” said Lt. Tracey Blake, assistant training administrator for the AGFC. “They also came back for a week of in-person instruction once some of the COVID-related restrictions were loosened. You just can’t teach some things, like shooting, self-defense and accident investigation techniques online.”

Blake says cadets had to maintain the same physical training regiment on their own while the center was shut down, and they were paired with veteran wildlife officers along the way to make sure they received all the resources they needed to get the job done.

“They will go out in the field in their assigned counties and have an eight week field training period before hunting seasons begin, then we’ll likely have them come back to the training center for three or four more weeks of training,” Blake said. “A lot of people think the first training is all a wildlife officer sees, but there’s a lot of in-service training required of every wildlife officer throughout their career. It’s not a one and done sort of deal.”

Capt. Sydney Carman also directs the cadet-training program with Lt. Tracey Blake. Many AGFC enforcement officers serve as instructors, and many AGFC biologists and experts from other agencies are brought in to teach specialized topics.