FORT MCCOY Wis. — The Wisconsin National Guard Counterdrug program recently offered support to the Wisconsin American Legion Law Enforcement Career Academy (WALLECA) as part of a new partnership.
WALLECA, a program where 15 young men and women who recently completed their junior or senior year in high school attend classes intended to familiarize them with careers in law enforcement, hosted its annual camp at Fort McCoy, Aug. 1-5.
“The focus is to get the youth that are interested in being in the uniformed services and serving their communities whether it is as a police officer, Guardsman or another type of service,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Ruland, a member of the Wisconsin National Guard Counterdrug Program. “We want them to be exposed to culture and community within the uniformed services.”
During their time at the camp the teens attended classes on various topics including physical readiness training, tactical responses, professional communication skills, ethics, defensive arrest tactics, de-escalation strategies, crime scene investigations and legal processes.
Olivia Manriquez, a camp attendee and recent graduate of Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wisconsin, said her experience made her change her mind about the kind of law enforcement career she might pursue.
“I realized that crime investigation might not be for me,” said Manriquez. “Being a parole officer might actually be more aligned with my interests.”
This was the fourth iteration of WALLECA, which has expanded with partnering agencies over the years. The Wisconsin National Guard Counterdrug Program was a natural fit.
“The courses give kids a good idea of whether or not they want to be in law enforcement,” said Sheriff James Johnson of Ozaukee County who has been a member of the American Legion and a camp supporter since its first iteration. “But we were missing one component. We needed a confidence component.”
As he spoke, program participants cheered each other on as four people scaled the rock wall that the Wisconsin National Guard set up at WALLECA.
“Bringing the rock wall up here will give them a positive experience to associate with the National Guard,” said Ruland. “It also gives us a chance to teach them confidence and life skills.
“It is stuff like this that helps build the future of our communities,” he added.
The Guard’s Counterdrug Program actively works to build partnerships with law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin and it’s part of law enforcement coalitions statewide aimed at reducing illicit drugs and drug violence.
Twice annually, for example, the Guard’s Counterdrug Program assists law enforcement agencies across Wisconsin in drug takeback initiatives. This spring, the team supported the Wisconsin Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Agency’s takeback program and helped collect and consolidate more than 60,000 pounds of unused medications.
In October 2020, Wisconsin set a national record with nearly 90,000 pounds of unused medications collected and incinerated.
“We have great success in Wisconsin because of the cooperation between law enforcement, us, and then the community-based coalitions, which do a fantastic job of getting the message out and running a lot of the drug takeback points,” Ruland said during the takeback event in the spring. “And there’s a lot of coalitions that have permanent drop boxes, so people at any time – not just every six months, but any time – can drop off the unused prescription drugs.”
Those drugs can be misused, stolen, find their way into illicit use, or taint water supplies without these partnerships and coalitions.
“It’s critically important because when you look at every single one of these drugs that comes by here, and you’re seeing them nonstop,” Ruland said. “Anyone of those boxes might contain that opioid pill that began a kid or an adult – their path to opioid addiction.”
Senior Master Sgt. Linda Koenen, a drug demand reduction officer for the Counterdrug Program, said that the program’s main interest in being involved with WALLECA is to help find ways to reduce the risk of substance abuse in Wisconsin communities and to focus on prevention.
“That’s why we work with the coalitions,” said Koenen. “By inserting ourselves in different youth camps we have an opportunity to engage with a large group of youth that we can impart our wisdom on so it’s not just a recruiting opportunity. It shows a different side of the Guard and models a life path that is available if they chose to remain drug-free.”
Koenen added that they are working with the state to develop more camps for all youth, not just the ones interested in law enforcement.
“We want to target as many youth as we can and to build up their confidence so that they have a strengthened sense of self and can say no when faced with the choice to do drugs,” said Koenen.
The Wisconsin National Guard Counterdrug Program is a full-time, year-round program.
“It’s a program where we get to affect the lives of our people in our state,” Lt. Col. Paul Felician, the program’s director, said. “Drugs are a scourge on this country, and it is a problem in the State of Wisconsin. To be able to directly contribute to abating that problem is a great mission, and it’s a great feeling.”
The program seeks to build partnerships with community narcotics coalitions and supplies intelligence analysts to narcotics task forces throughout Wisconsin who are engaged in taking down drug trafficking organizations.