It's 5 a.m. and Lt. Eric Hall is driving around the wooded grounds of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission training center at the Florida Public Safety Institute, just outside of Tallahassee. He's checking to make sure the running trail is in good condition.
As he approaches the flagpole in front of his office, he sees the group of FWC recruits lined up in formation. Though the sun has yet to rise, it's already steamy and their matching gray T-shirts stick to their backs.
He parks his truck and gets out, calls "Right face" and takes off at a trot. The recruits fall in behind the ex-Navy SEAL for their morning run, the sound of their shoes and their musical cadence calls the only sounds echoing through the campus.
After the 4-mile jaunt, they quickly shower and head to the chow hall for breakfast. The rest of the day is spent in the classroom going over boating laws and boat maintenance, but later in the week they will board a bus and head to the coast for some hands-on practice behind the wheel of one of their vessels.
Since FWC officers are responsible for patrolling all of Florida's woods, including public and private lands, as well as its waters, they must be well-versed on a wide variety of information. Protecting our valuable natural resources calls for a broad knowledge of Florida's fish and wildlife and a mastery of a variety of technical skills - both physical and mental.
Also, due to their jurisdiction and specialized equipment, FWC officers are often the first to be able to respond to boating accidents, missing boaters and lost campers, hikers and hunters. Each year, they save around 1,000 people during search-and-rescue missions.
To prepare for all of that, after obtaining their law enforcement certification in Florida through a 19-week basic law enforcement curriculum, FWC officers have seven weeks of specific training. For officers who have already received their law enforcement credentials elsewhere, the FWC periodically conducts academies consisting only of the FWC-specific portion.
They train with firearms, logging hours on the range both day and night; meet some fish and wildlife species face to face, including alligators and snakes, and learn how to handle them. They practice loading and unloading boats with a trailer and operating boats in different weather conditions.
Training includes learning tactics for operating all-terrain vehicles and practicing with them in the woods of the academy campus. They also engage in specialized defensive tactic training drills to keep themselves and others safe.
They practice detecting when people are boating and driving under the influence and learn how to follow a track left by someone in the woods.
The classroom time includes a focus on state and federal wildlife, fisheries and environmental laws and learning fish and wildlife identification.
FWC officers are some of the most highly trained law enforcement professionals in the country. During their time at the academy, they eat, sleep, work out and study onsite, soaking up as much information as they can.
To make it through this rigorous training takes a highly motivated, hard-working individual who is passionate about protecting Florida's outdoor paradise and the people in it.
Before being selected to attend the academy, applicants complete a state of Florida application and supplemental FWC application, attend a physical fitness assessment session, must pass a background check and psychological evaluation and complete an interview.
It takes a special kind of person to be a law enforcement officer, and it takes a special kind of law enforcement officer to be an FWC officer.
The FWC is always looking for enthusiastic new members, especially in south Florida. There are recruiters across the state to help you through the process.
To learn more, visit MyFWC.com/Get-Involved and click on "Law Enforcement Officer."