The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission welcomed five new faces to the ranks of wildlife officers during a commencement ceremony at the AGFC Little Rock Headquarters.
Wildlife Officer Cadet Class E-1-21 graduates are:
Matthew Epperson from Little Rock, assigned to Bradley County
Austin Powell from Star City, assigned to Drew County
Jennifer Ghormley from Emmet, assigned to Nevada County
Drake Cooper from Conway, assigned to Phillips County
Tyler Asher from Knoxville, Tennessee, assigned to Calhoun County
The training began on March 22 when 10 cadets reported to the H.C. “Red” Morris Enforcement Training Center in Mayflower. The process to become a wildlife officer actually began months before, when hundreds of applicants sent in their resumes to be considered. Out of more than 700 applications, qualified applicants were screened, given extensive background checks and reported for physical fitness testing to ensure the physical training to come would not be a health risk.
Capt. Sydney Carman, who oversees the training of new officers, says the size of the class was smaller than usual due to COVID-19 housing requirements.
“This year we were able to resume in-person training with cadets remaining onsite around the clock, but we had to keep the class small for the health of our officers,” Carman said.
Judge Joe Volpe swore in the five new wildlife officers. Carman and fellow instructor Lt. Tracey Blake oversee training, but many officers and other staff members of the AGFC work with cadets to teach them the many disciplines a wildlife officer must master to enforce hunting and fishing regulations.
Carman, who worked for Sherwood Police Department before becoming a wildlife officer, says much of the training is very similar to other police departments, but the job also calls for some specialized instruction to better serve the natural resources of Arkansas.
“By the time they graduate, cadets will participate in and be tested on standard law enforcement principals like defensive driving, firearms training, self defense and forensics,” Carman said. “But they’ll also learn wildlife identification and physiology, swift-water rescue, outdoor survival and other skills they need to adapt to the conditions we see in the outdoors.”
Carman says the size of the class had no effect on the caliber of the cadets.
“This is probably the smallest group of wildlife officers we’ve had graduate since I’ve been with the AGFC, but they were high-quality cadets,” Carman said. “They will be fine wildlife officers for the people of Arkansas and are sure to be valuable members of the communities where they’re assigned.”