Sweat gathered on the brow of 30-year-old Leah Mixon as she pushed through the pain, doing as many sit-ups she could in 60 seconds.
Washington State Patrol troopers looked on as the clock ran down. Mixon was among five applicants hoping to become cadets for the State Patrol’s next academy class. The five participated in a practice physical test at 24 Hour Fitness on Olympia’s west side Saturday.
The bank customer-service representative from Tacoma never thought she would find herself wanting to become a state trooper.
Mixon skipped the college track and went straight to work, finding herself young and married to a soldier.
“We married too young,” she said.
The couple divorced, and Mixon continued working, bringing in a comfortable living.
She wasn’t happy with the status quo.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do,” Mixon said. “It’s hard to admit that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.”
Mixon decided to shake things up. With physical activities as her passion, Mixon became interested in working as a police officer after seeing an advertisement for the Lakewood Police Department.
She went on a ride-along and decided to push herself further and apply with the State Patrol.
Her prospects looked good based on her accomplishments during Saturday’s training: Mixon met or beat the minimum requirements on all three tests: push-ups, sit-ups and a 1.5-mile run.
The physical test is where most recruits fail, said trooper Guy Gill.
“We want our applicants to succeed,” Gill said. “We want them to become troopers. Doing these practice PT tests will help them achieve that.”
Mixon and the others who came Saturday will be doing their Phase One testing Feb. 9 at the General Administration Building on the Capitol Campus.
The State Patrol is looking to hire 67 cadets for its 26th Arming Class that starts in July. Those who pass the arming class will become part of the 102nd Basic Trooper Academy class in September.
Gill said the State Patrol likely will be hiring at a steady rate over the next four years due to a high volume of retirements. Troopers are eligible to retire after 25 years of service.
There are 82 troopers who could retire by the end of 2012. That number will climb to 216 by the end of 2015 and 321 by the end of 2017. The new hires will fill vacant spots to maintain current staffing levels.
The agency annually held multiple training academies 25 years ago, which is why there are so many troopers eligible for retirement.
The State Patrol has put new emphasis on its hiring efforts to attract the best candidates, starting with implementing a decentralized recruiter plan in November 2012.
The plan puts a recruiter in each of the State Patrol’s eight districts. Gill is the recruiter for District 1, covering Thurston and Pierce counties.
Gill has chosen to focus on the biggest obstacle for most applicants.
“I see a lot of applicants not pass because they can’t get past the physical fitness standards,” Gill said. “I want them to pass and be successful.”
Gill spearheaded the push to advertise in local gyms and often speaks at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, providing a window into career opportunities for soldiers transitioning back to civilian life.
“We want applicants, but we don’t just let anyone in this agency,” Gill said. “The standards are very high, and not everyone can do what we do.”
Those standards mirror the noncommissioned positions also open with the State Patrol.
There are 13 such jobs available in Thurston and Pierce counties, ranging from automotive and accounting to communications and computer systems.
“Even those positions require strict background checks and minimum qualifications,” Gill said. “We only want the best of the best working for this agency.”Chelsea Krotzer: 360-754-5476 email@example.com theolympian.com/thisjustin @chelseakrotzer