By Randi Weiner, The Journal News (New York)
RAMAPO, N.Y. - In a dozen different uniforms but with the same determined look on their faces, 21 new police and public safety officers marched into the auditorium of the Rockland County Police and Public Safety Academy yesterday to the sound of bagpipes and drums.
Nearly 200 family members, friends and well-wishers were on hand to see the region's newest uniformed officers, deputies and investigators receive graduation certificates, many from the hands of relatives already in the profession.
"You are the last of the American warrior class, willing to step out in front as human shields," said Rockland County Sheriff James F. Kralik, who gave the graduation address. "You are now part of that great, wonderful shield that protects the people. We stand together. We will be one force for good. We will be one force to succeed."
Dustin J. Palen, class representative and new Orange County Sheriff's deputy, thanked attendees, the school staff and the graduates' families for their patience during the 20 weeks of training. He recalled the jokes, hats frozen in the freezer, students' first time driving with sirens and lights flashing and wished his colleagues well.
"I'm proud to have been a part of this class and wish everyone luck in their careers," Palen said. "Be safe in what you do, and get home safe every night."
Maggie Novello, 30, of Wurtsboro, N.Y., and Tom Sullivan, 27, of Congers, were among those who filled the auditorium. Novello had grown up with new Orange County Sheriff's Deputy Brandon T. Raab, and Sullivan had attended Middletown High School with him.
"I think it takes a lot of courage," said Novello as she watched Raab in his uniform speaking to friends across the room.
"I think Orange County will be a safer place because of it," added Sullivan.
Diane Coleman traveled from her home in Sarasota, Fla., to be in the audience when Andres Sanchez received his certificate in the uniform of the Village of Tuxedo Park Police. She has known Sanchez since he was a small child, who even then wanted to be a police officer.
"He's a beautiful boy. I'm really very proud of him. He told me many, many years ago he would be a police officer," she said, grabbing Sanchez and hugging him as he walked over to her.
"I love serving my community," said Sanchez, 25, of Sloatsburg.
David Nieves, 40, of Reading, Pa., said he wouldn't miss watching new Investigator Alfred Genao's graduation and welcome into the Kings County District Attorney's Office. He's watched over Genao for years, since the younger man's mother died, and thinks of himself as Genao's big brother, he said.
"I'm proud of him, very proud of him," Nieves said. "I wouldn't have missed this."