DU has wanted to be a game warden since before I met him. He wanted to help people enjoy his most treasured pastime, and at the same time, help preserve it from those who take advantage of all that mother nature has to offer. Hearing that the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission was recruiting, DU applied. Not realizing that I was applying for the same position as he was, I blindly followed weeks later. I had completely forgotten about the application until I received a letter 19 days ago, informing me that my POPAT, Police Officer Physical Assessment Test, was scheduled for September 28th. I was in the proximity of being excited until I read what was required of me. I began to cry, a disgruntled DU looking on, and realized there was no way I could complete the course in 8 minutes, 26 seconds. My domestic partner, always one to encourage me at any turn, informed me that he would be jumping for joy if he received such a letter so I should man up, take the thing and do my best. It took me twenty minutes of feeling sorry for myself that I saw the situation through his eyes. He would have loved to have a shot at this job, even just to try out, and there I was, a crying three year old whose beloved Barbie's head was just shoved into a radiator and partially melted. I gathered the pieces my self-loathing person scattered around the room like confetti, told myself I could do it, and started my work.
The POPAT is the assessment that is given to see if a person can do a series of tasks that normal officers would have to do everyday. The modified test that was laid out before me in black and white did not resemble the one I stumbled upon online, the test I had been recreating in my yard thrice weekly. I changed up my game plan, tapped into my inner juice head who had begun another round of roids, then started getting ready. I did Yoga as much as possible, stretching myself into poses that would make a contortionist proud. When I hunted, I was the only one allowed to drag deer, decoy sleds, or anything remotely burdensome. I kicked my way through Kenpo, pushed the world down as I rose myself up, and ran, a lot.
However, nothing truly compared to what I experienced yesterday, test day. I had risen at 4, mere hours after my eyes finally closed through a cloud of nervous energy, to make the trek to Salemburg, NC. The hamlet is positioned just outside of the strip club capital and home to Fort Bragg, Fayettville. The drive was ensconced by darkness, much to my joy during my retreat when the neon-lighted, scantily clad edifices rose seemingly out of no where. When I finally dropped anchor at my destination, I was overcome with the humidity, a dank pother whose presence I haven't encountered in months. I arrived at the auditorium a half hour before the test time of 8:00 was to begin. Seventy eyes stared back at me as I cascaded down the isle. We were registered, taken to the test site, shown what would be required, then all but twenty-five of us returned to wait our turn. While we waited, more of our number decreased when the officers began divulging aspects of the job.
ASPECTS OF A NORTH CAROLINA WILDLIFE OFFICER'S JOB:
(as told to me by a very stately looking NC representative. Please note: If you want to take this test or go for one of these positions, please find out as much information as you can PRIOR to going to the test site. I learned many things that would eliminate a vast majority of people, DU included, even before testing began which is why I am telling y'all this now.)
- You will have to work holidays, weekends, nights, days, whenever but you will get extra days off for your efforts.
- You will be on-call 24/7, if they need you, you go, no matter what.
- It is impossible for you to work for the county in which you dwell right out of officer school. That transfer can only happen after three years of toil, so get ready to move.
- Officer school spans 19 weeks at the training facilities. You must live there.
- If you have been convicted of a crime that forced you to go to jail, you cannot be hired by the state.
- You will be issued a truck, boat, and four wheeler once you complete your training. These belong to the state so they pay all the expenses, gas included.
- If you can't swim, either learn how to or do not apply, they will not teach you how.
- If you have tattoos on your upper arms that reach more than three quarters to your elbow, be ready to remove them. NC does not allow tattoos showing in a demi-sleeved (more than short-sleeved) shirt. If you do have such a body marking, you can test but you must consider taking an eraser to the art. (This rule, which forced many of my testing compatriots to vacate the premises, would have forced DU out of his chair as well.)
- If you cannot read nor communicate the English language in a 10th grade reading level, do not apply. You will not pass the English equivalency test.
- The wildlife officer is primarily focused on hunting, trapping, boating, and fishing violations. If you want to bust drug dealers, apply somewhere else.
- Besides some of the more negative aspects of the job, the officers stated they loved their jobs, even after working for more than half their lives.
FUN, LEGAL STUFF CONCERNING THE POPAT:
- The state does not have any insurance covering you or what you do while on their land. Hence, if you hurt yourself, you cannot sue them.
- If you feel that you cannot complete the test, do not do the test.
- You have 8 minutes, 26 seconds to complete the test, if you do not complete the course in that time, you fail.
- There are no considerations made for sex, age, race, or ethnicity; the test is the same for everyone, regardless of those characteristics previously listed.
- Someone broke their leg yesterday and five people have been sent to the hospital in three days. Again, if you feel you cannot complete the test, do not do the test.
After that bout of information followed by a show of hands from those who were taking another crack at the POPAT, (about 20 hands arose from what I could tell, a group of big, burly men who looked as if they would complete the course simply by looking at it, which boosted my confidence to no end.) we were left to our own devices until our group was called. My number was 56, a set of integers that I somehow figured adumbrated good luck, so I waited about an hour before being called to the course.
My group waited on the sidelines as the remaining individuals from the last group took their turn around the course. One man, one of those who looked so much like Arnold Swarchenegger I had to do a double-take, was attempting, and failing, to complete his second round of sit-ups. He was supine on the mat, sweat dripped from his red face as he struggled to effectuate the remaining exercise. An officer stood over him, telling him his time until 8:26 passed, the numbers acting as a crushing blow to the man's ego. He stood and began walking away. An officer followed him, spoke some words, and allowed him to go on. I stared, balked at the man's size, then seriously considered giving up at that precise moment. But, my number was called before I could flee.
My POPAT began with my small self being offered a seat on a picnic table surrounded by uniformed men. One of the officers, a nice portly man with a bald head and square face, told me to memorize the two street names he circled on my test sheet. I repeated the names as many times as I could, out loud, before the officer told me to prepare to run to the cone 200 yards away.
His thumb hovered over the stopwatch, engendering my time as I propelled myself to the cone.
Not too quickly but not too slowly, I made my way back to the table where I was told to fold my arms around "Survivor", a 150-pound dummy filled with sand, and drag him 50 feet.
He looked a lot lighter than he weighed.
I dragged his sandy, lifeless body the required distance with a lot of help from the officers whose encouraging directions propelled my feet the inches they did not want to travel.
"Survivor" was then dropped to the surface which mimicked his innards while I tackled the stairs.
Okay, I didn't tackle them, exactly, but I did run up, then down them three times, always exiting to the left.
I pushed through a weighed door, completed seventeen sit-ups, seventeen push-ups, a crawl through a culvert, and another seventeen sit-ups, seventeen push-ups.
I then ran. Again. Another 200 yards.
Without even realizing it, I came to the end of the line, the last required task which of course, was the one my legs and arms were the most hesitant at completing.
"Survivor", the immobile jerk, needed to moved, again, to exactly where I had put him before.
Before attempting this feat which amounted to running up Kilimanjaro in ten minutes flat, I took a deep breath, focused on how badly I wanted the job and grasped "Survivor's" midsection.
One foot turned into two, two turned to twelve, twelve to forty, and with just three more feet to go, my grasp slipped; my mind reeled, my feet had had enough.
But then I heard, "three more feet, just three more feet" from somewhere above.
My strength came from nowhere and when the officer asked what were the two road names I asked you at the beginning?, I answered without even thinking.
I completed the test in 6:59, crushing the allotted time of 8:26.
Many who have taken the test may have done it quicker than I, they may see the test as simply that, a test to be considered for a game warden position.
However, I didn't believe I could do it. In my heart of hearts, I was in a low place. I couldn't find a job, I had no idea how I was going to afford presents this Christmas, I felt useless, and above all, I doubted myself to the fullest degree.
I arrived at the test believing that if I just finished the course, I'd be happy, even if it was past the 8:26 mark.
I arrived believing that I was not good enough or strong enough to do what was required of me.
I arrived believing that I couldn't do it, and I did.
Once the testing was over, those who passed took the English Equivalency exam. I, of course, got the highest score out of my group, this being the part of the day I was the least stressed. We then reconvened once more. This phase was just the beginning, as we now wait for letters. Letters that will contain our sentence, either come back for an interview or stay home to resume the job hunt.
In my exuberance and new lease on life, I believe I will get a letter beckoning me into a new career, a new chapter; and when I do, y'all will be the first to know.