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Tom Erickson of Woodbury is congratulated by his father after receiving his State Patrol badge Friday. Erickson's father served in the State Patrol. Photo by Scott Wente

Woodbury man among new troopers who bring different experiences

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BROOKLYN CENTER, Minn. - Erick Sjodin is among a new breed of Minnesota State Patrol troopers.

The married father of three spent years in other professions before he decided to apply skills he had learned to law enforcement.

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Sjodin, a Wrenshall native and Duluth resident, had trained as an airplane pilot and mechanic, but his college education included a law enforcement degree from University of Wisconsin-Superior.

"I wanted to do something that makes a difference," Sjodin said Friday after he and 71 other State Patrol cadets became troopers at a graduation ceremony near Minneapolis.

The class is the largest in the patrol's history, and it includes 31 members who, like Sjodin, turned to law enforcement after working in other career fields. They applied to the State Patrol through a new program that targets people without prior law enforcement experience.

"We're looking for people that have life experience to draw from," said State Patrol Lt. Jean Cemensky, "and to diversity the agency."

The trooper class includes a former baseball player, a stay-at-home father, a financial planner and former soldiers who served in the Iraq war.

Those who were accepted had to complete accelerated law enforcement training exercises before joining fellow cadets who had prior experience as a police officer or sheriff's deputy. All of the cadets went through more than three months of training before graduating Friday.

Troopers in the new program have a variety of skills that are important in law enforcement, said Tom Erickson of Woodbury, an incoming trooper who applied to the State Patrol through the new program after serving in the military.

It is the most diverse class of troopers, so also is the strongest in the patrol's history, Erickson said.

"It is guaranteed that we forever will change the agency," added trooper Azzahy Williams, who will patrol the Twin Cities area.

The patrol will conduct a similar trooper academy that includes cadets without prior law enforcement experience in 2011.

"It's going to be a model, I think, in the years to come for law enforcement here in Minnesota," Public Safety Commissioner Michael Campion said.

Troopers with law enforcement experience said they welcome colleagues who never wore a badge before joining the patrol.

"They have different experiences," said Nicholas Tabbert of Parkers Prairie, a 27-year-old former Watonwan County sheriff's deputy who will patrol highways in Cass and Hubbard counties for the State Patrol.

Tabbert and Benjamin Schlag of Park Rapids, a friend and fellow trooper, said they and other cadets with law enforcement experience were able to share lessons they have learned with cadets new to the field.

Prior law enforcement experience did come in handy, however, during the State Patrol training at Camp Ripley in Little Falls, troopers said. The grueling training is compared to a military boot camp. That style of training prepares troopers to handle difficult situations, Schlag said.

"It's a stress academy," he said. "It's controlled chaos, lots of yelling ... but it's all for a purpose."

Schlag, an Iraq war veteran, said he is looking forward to completing a final three-week training program before beginning to patrol highways with experienced troopers.

"Today is a really big step," Schlag said as he awaited the graduation ceremony. "There's some celebration, but this is the most difficult thing I've done in my life."

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The new troopers are assigned to certain regions of the state.

Sjodin was relieved when he secured an assignment in the patrol's Cloquet office, just south of his home in Duluth. He had been assigned to work in Montevideo, in western Minnesota, but swapped assignments with a fellow trooper.

"It's the situation I wanted more than any other," he said of working in northeastern Minnesota.

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