Saturday, March 15, 2014

Pennsylvania Game Commission Enrolls 30th Class Of WCO Cadets

Thirty-one begin their training at Ross Leffler School of Conservation.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission’s 30th Class of Wildlife Conservation Officer (WCO) Cadets recently took up residence at the agency’s Ross Leffler School of Conservation, which adjoins the headquarters building along Elmerton Avenue in Harrisburg.

The class, comprising 29 men and two women, will undergo 50 weeks of exhaustive training, including field duty with veteran officers, before graduation in March 2015.

Game Commission Executive Director R. Matthew Hough, who graduated with the 18th Class of the Ross Leffler School of Conservation and served for years as a WCO, said the cadets who successfully complete their training will join a proud team of Wildlife Conservation Officers that’s been entrusted by the public to protect and conserve Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources and habitats and enforce the state’s hunting and trapping laws.

It’s an intensive training program and many challenges lie ahead for the cadets, he said. The training covers a wide range of topics that will test the cadets both physically and mentally.

“In addition to learning the curriculum, they will spend many months away from their families during this nearly yearlong training, which shows the commitment they are making to protecting and managing Pennsylvania’s wildlife resources,” Hough said. “But the rewards of the profession last a lifetime, and after 33 years with the Game Commission, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

Hough noted that the individuals who comprise the 30th Class were chosen from a field of 622 applications, and were selected through a series of written and oral tests, interview boards and physical examinations.

Cadet training includes subjects such as: wildlife management; physical fitness; firearms proficiency; unarmed self-defense; law enforcement; legal procedures; conservation education; land-management practices; computer skills; and public relations. Cadets are evaluated regularly and required to meet stringent standards to continue.

Upon graduation, each cadet will be commissioned as a Wildlife Conservation Officer and given an assignment within the Commonwealth.  Following a probationary period of at least one year, the WCO’s performance will be evaluated and, if acceptable, he or she will be granted permanent status. Continued training will be required on a regular basis for certain skills, such as firearms proficiency and legal updates.  Other advanced skills training may be offered on a voluntary basis.

Of the 31 individuals enrolled in this class, 26 have college degrees or professional certifications; four have served as Deputy WCOs for the Game Commission; and two are Game Commission employees in other capacities. Seventeen are veterans, five were in the Army, three in the Marine Corps, two in the Air Force, two in the Navy, and five in the National Guard.
Other previous careers include police officer, corrections officer, probation/parole officer, dispatcher, teacher, physical therapist, nurse’s aide, bartender and biologist aide.
The minimum age for enrollment is 21 years, the maximum is 48 years and the average age is 30 years.
Cadets and their hometowns are: Blake Barth, Lock Haven, Clinton County; Jeremy Brunst, Richeyville, Washington County; Steven Brussese, Newport, Perry County; Richard Buha II, Harmony, Butler County;  
Michael College, Altoona, Blair County; Zachary Edwards, Nanty Glo, Cambria County; Jeremy Febinger, Kittanning, Armstrong County; Joel Gibble, Lebanon, Lebanon County; Skyler Gibble, Coudersport, Potter County; Michael Goodenow Jr., Athens, Bradford County; Ryan Guth, Mohnton, Berks County; Andrew Harvey, Friedens, Somerset County; Ellyn Lindenmuth, Emmaus, Lehigh County; Matthew Johnson, Lansdale, Montgomery County; Eric Kelly, Clifton Township, Lackawanna County; Thomas Kline, Reading, Berks County; William Kreider, Stroudsburg, Monroe County; Charles Macunas, Auburn, Schuylkill County; Eric McBride, Clearfield, Clearfield County; Jonathan Mummert, Spring Grove, York County; Jeffrey Orwig, Felton, York County; Brandon Pfister, Duncansville, Blair County; Amanda Powell, Huntingdon, Huntingdon County; Benjamin Rebuck, Sunbury, Northumberland County; Justin Ritter, Boiling Springs, Cumberland County; Matthew Savinda, Tarentum, Allegheny County; Michael Stutts Jr., Meadville, Crawford County; Jared Turner, Bristol, Bucks County; Jason Wagner, Elizabethtown, Lancaster County; Matthew Ward, Pleasant Gap, Centre County.

The Game Commission has budgeted nearly $2 million to train these 31 individuals, who will fill vacant districts throughout the state. The agency anticipates that all vacant districts will be filled when this class graduates in March 2015.

The 30th WCO class follows the 29th class, which graduated in March 2013. For years, the Game Commission has been one of the top ranking agencies in terms of employee longevity, but an increasing number of employees reaching retirement in recent years, especially within the ranks of our WCOs, has made it necessary for more frequent classes with even more cadets.

While the training represents a sacrifice for the cadets, it’s one Hough said is well worth it.

“Upon completion of the training, they will be among the most-qualified, best-trained officers in wildlife management,” he said.

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