Gary Brown Jr. and Stephen Phillips say they have always wanted to be Texas Department of Public Safety troopers.
Brown got his wish more quickly than Phillips.
Brown, 28, of Denton, is one of 29 troopers recently graduated from a new eight-week program focused on attracting people with law enforcement experience.
Phillips, 45, of Fort Worth, graduated from his 28-week academy class this spring.
"I always had an interest in law enforcement as a young child," Phillips said. "It just took me 25 years to get it done."
DPS officials are in the midst of a recruiting drive, sparked by a funding infusion that Texas lawmakers approved in 2007 to boost pay and help fill hundreds of trooper vacancies.
There is no age limit on who can become a trooper, a move by DPS to expand the recruiting pool from which they could draw. As long as applicants can complete the physical and academic requirements, they can become troopers, said Tela Mange, a DPS spokeswoman.
"We've had someone in their early 50s complete the academy," Mange said. "We've been looking at a number of things for the past couple of years to increase our recruiting. We are drawing from the same pool that other agencies are pulling from, and there are a lot of other agencies hiring."
The eight-week course for officers with law enforcement experience also seeks to expand the recruiting pool. The agency has been at a disadvantage in hiring because troopers aren't paid as well as police officers in some Texas cities.
Brown worked at the Gainesville Police Department for seven years before applying for a DPS job. He reported to his DPS post in Denton on Aug. 30. An opportunity for rapid advancement is one of the things that attracted him to the DPS, Brown said. At a small department, another seven years might have passed before he had a chance for promotion, Brown said.
The eight-week academy was also an attraction for Brown, who said it is a good idea because it keeps officers from having to repeat things they have already learned. However, applicants should be prepared for the physical demands.
"It was a tough program," he said. "I was doing the P90X workout to get ready. I knew it wasn't going to break me. But still, I lost another 18 pounds during school."
Phillips said he had a similar experience with the academy's physical requirements.
"It was a challenge to keep up with the younger guys sometimes," he said. "But for me, not making it was not an option. From Day One, I knew the only way I would not make it was if they carried me away."
Phillips applied for a trooper position after 20 years in the Navy and one year working as a correctional officer with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Phillips said he feels fortunate that the state has given him the opportunity to pursue his dream of becoming a trooper and believes that the agency wants people who want a career, not just a job.
"My wife and I have been married for 21 years," he said. "She knew I wasn't just going to come home and work at Walmart or something. I've had too much responsibility."
Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752