CLAREMONT, NH—Brent Wilmot was nearing the end of the infamous 6.1-mile Yellow Brick Road obstacle course.
Along a hilly, wooded trail built by the Marines, he had already climbed over walls, run through creeks, jumped through simulated windows, scaled rock faces with ropes, crawled under barbed wire in muddy water, and maneuvered across a cargo net.
“I run every day at home and work out religiously,” said Wilmot, a captain in the Claremont Police Department, which he joined in 2005. “So although it was a tough course to tackle, it was also fun.”
When he crossed the finish line, he was assured of taking home the prize — a yellow brick. Wilmot proudly displays that brick in his office, but its meaning extends far beyond the object. “The brick really symbolizes the Academy and represents what I accomplished with my classmates.”
The Yellow Brick Road is clearly not your typical obstacle course. It’s the final test of the fitness challenge and a key part of Wilmot’s completion of the 275th session of the FBI National Academy.
The FBINA is a professional course of study for U.S. and international law enforcement managers nominated by their agency heads because of demonstrated leadership qualities. The program serves to improve the administration of justice in police departments and agencies at home and abroad, and to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge and cooperation worldwide.
Wilmot was one of 251 law enforcement officers: men and women from 47 U.S. States and the District of Columbia, 26 foreign countries, five military organizations and five federal civilian agencies.
“Attending the Academy has been one of my long-term goals,” said Wilmot. “I first applied three years ago and was put on a waiting list. Since then I’ve participated in other FBI training events and have collaborated with them on a case.”
When word came through that he was accepted for the session, he packed his bags and traveled to Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, 38 miles south of Washington, DC. The FBI has a large complex at the base.
The 10-week session ran from January 7 to March 15. Being away from his family for so long was difficult, Wilmot noted. But he was kept more than busy with tightly scheduled days filled with classes that he had chosen beforehand. “I studied the curriculum and enrolled in the classes that would best serve Claremont.”
The Academy offers courses in intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, management science, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication and forensic science. Wilmot’s most challenging course was Behavioral Analysis as Decision-Support: Theory and Application in Law Enforcement Investigations. “That sounds very abstract,” he said, “but we did a lot of ‘meat and potatoes’ work on the core concept, profiling the criminal mind.”
His “aha!” moment came during the course on Managing the Law Enforcement Image. “We’ve been used to having an adversarial relationship with the media, almost like an inquisition or deposition.” The class focused on messaging strategy, including writing press releases. Doing taped and live interviews “helped us reach the point where there was nothing to be nervous about. We learned that the media can aid us in reaching our goals. Now we can be in the driver’s seat instead of being unwitting passengers.”
Wilmot, who has a Master’s of Science in Criminal Justice Administration from Plymouth State University, earned 17 graduate credits from the University of Virginia, which accredited the FBINA courses.
Two men literally close to Wilmot were his role models. His father, Bill Wilmot, who retired in 2005 as deputy chief, and Mark Chase, Claremont’s current chief of police, are FBINA graduates. Both traveled to the graduation ceremony on March 15, as did Wilmot’s wife and family.
The personal relationships that Wilmot forged are among “the best things about FBINA. There were students from Iraq, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Mexico. They were truly amazing human beings, and now I’m very good friends with many of them.” He found that “the Academy makes you shrink the world. We’re not that different, we’re not far apart.” The challenges that face U.S. law enforcement officers, he said, are the same around the world. “We discussed drugs, recruitment and retention, pay and budgeting issues. I can’t say enough about my classmates. We all face the same problems and work toward solutions.”
The topic that particularly struck Wilmot was officer health and wellness, which he wants to pursue in Claremont. The average life span of a police officer is under 60 years, “which is pretty dismal. It’s a national, industry-wide problem.”
He elaborated upon the concept of five pillars of wellness: physical, spiritual, emotional, social and occupational.
To encourage occupational wellness, for example, Wilmot aims to “help our people thrive as officers and individuals. We want them to be happy, well-led and supported on the job, believe in our mission and values, and expect honest feedback as professionals.” Social and emotional wellness, meanwhile, derives from “a robust social life outside the department. Seeing everything through the lens of law enforcement, spending time only with your colleagues, is too narrow a perspective.”
In sum, Wilmot is quick to point out, “the Academy training is not about me, but about other officers and our community. The State of New Hampshire requires eight hours a year of continuing education and development. Claremont sets a higher standard. We’re always finding opportunities to challenge ourselves professionally and intellectually.”
(Story and photo by Eric Zengota).