Standing tall with their chests puffed out, each officer waited as his father, mother, wife or sibling pinned on a shiny new badge.
Applause burst out and was followed by hugs, handshakes and pats on the back. There were even a few brief tears, swiftly erased with quick hand swipes across the eyes. Wednesday was graduation day for the police academy.
"I welcome each of you to a great profession," said the keynote speaker, Chief Mitch Jones of Medical College of Georgia Police Bureau. "Live life to the fullest. Remember, you work as a cop. It's not who you are. You must learn to achieve an emotional balance between work and who you are as a person."
And then, he urged the class to "be careful out there."
The 22 men and women in Class 154 of the Central Savannah River Area Law Enforcement Training Center are now certified officers in Georgia. Thirteen graduates represent four local agencies:
Richmond County Sheriff's Department: Sgt. Dorothy Dunbar and Deputies Gabriel Garner, George Miller Jr., Charles Norton, David Willis and David Young, winner of the Highest Academics award.
Burke County Sheriff's Office Reserve: James Flakes, William Kervin, Kerry Mallard and James White.
Columbia County Sheriff's Office: Class leader Robert Holland and Roxanne Lewis.
Medical College of Georgia Public Safety: Gregory Lemons.
Nine graduates paid $2,500 to put themselves through the academy: Justin Bass; David Hinson; Milo Perry; John Perry III; Matthew Raulerson; Melanie Sapp; Michael Tilley; Dwayne Carpenter Jr., who won the Most Improved award; and Michael Miller, who won the Top Gun award for best in handgun marksmanship.
All but one have a job with a law enforcement agency, said Col. Thomas Nash, academy director.
"It's a very emotional time," said Milo Perry, who now works with Jenkins County Sheriff's Department. Cheers filled the auditorium as he received the Best Attitude award. "I just tried to get along with everybody, no matter what happened -- through all the ups and downs."
The academy is said to be one of the toughest police academies in Georgia because it incorporates real-life situations into the training curriculum. After 10 weeks of lessons on Georgia and constitutional law, how to drive a police car, fire a Glock handgun, arrest offenders and investigate crime, the adventure is over.
Or has it just begun? The deputies from Richmond County Sheriff's Department start another two-week training course today and then undergo field training, when they ride with a road patrol officer. But some counties don't require further training for new officers. Instead, they'll hit the streets immediately.
"They're as ready as any 10-week basic level training course can prepare them for those events," Col. Nash said. "They came together in record time as a team. Individuals don't survive in this program. Teams do."
Reach Jessica Rinck can be reached at (706) 823-3225.