Each year, around this time, the Atlantic County K9 Academy graduates its newest teams, which after months of training are ready to hit the streets. One officers received special accolades Friday, after going through the program for the second time in just a year.
They've put in months of intense training to make it to this point, and Friday a dozen officers and their four-legged partners graduated from the John "Sonny" Burke K9 academy. "We're the largest academy in New Jersey and probably the country," said Head Trainer, Joe Rodriguez. And well respected, thanks to the intense and thorough training the officers go through for 16 weeks.
For some, it's not the first time going through the academy, and even though they've done it before, they say it doesn't get any easier. "It's back to square one, you have to learn the dog all over again." For Millville Police Officer Michael Calchi, it was especially hard, after he lost his last partner, K9 Treu just a month after graduating last year. "Extremely emotional," said Calchi about having to work with a new dog, "you try not to compare, but it's almost impossible."
He says it took time to not only get over the loss of his first four-legged partner, but also to bond with his new one, K9 chase. "As time went on, time heals," said Calchi, "and things have gotten better and Chase and I began to work a lot better together as a team rather than you know, me as a handler, him as a dog."
While completing the program is rewarding for the officers, Calchi received an even bigger honor - the John "Sonny" Burk Award, which goes to the handler who demonstrates the highest level of performance and dedication – something chosen by the recruits. "It's such a great feeling to know you've accomplished something," he said, "such a great achievement to be selected by your peers, not by administrators or trainers, it really means a lot."
"Mike just preservers and he does all the things he's supposed to do," said Rodriguez, "he's a great guy and he deserves that prestigious award."
It was a proud day, not just for Calchi, but for all the K9 handlers, knowing they've made it through the program and are ready to hit the streets in their communities in the hopes of making them safer.
K9 Patrol Class #39
Chad Bittle and K9 Jax – Gloucester County Sheriff's Department
Michael Calchi and K9 Chase – Millville Police Department
Justin Graff and K9 Brody- Evesham Township Police Department
Kris S. Hice and K9 Lync – Washington Township Police Department
Emmett Idzahl and K9 Daza – Wall Township Police Department
Andrew Jaques and K9 Murphy – Atlantic City Police Department
Mark Millard and K9 Brisco – Pleasantville Police Department
Marinela Pali and K9 Roxy – Atlantic City Police Department
Salvatore J. Rando and K9 Duke – Atlantic City Police Department
Brandon Stocks and K9 Ciko – Pleasantville Police Department
Micah K. Warren and K9 Titan – Salem County Sheriff's Office
Sterling Wheaten and K9 Hagan – Atlantic City Police Department