Eighteen-year-old Emily Rader remembers the first time she fired a handgun.
It was earlier this year right after the Wyandotte teen had gotten her wisdom teeth pulled. She was still in some pain, but said that wasn’t going to stop her.
“I was really excited about the chance to do the firearms training and I knew I wasn’t going to let anything get in the way,” she said.
And on that first day, she shot with 100 percent accuracy.
“I was surprised and really proud of myself,” she said. “I’ve shot up north with hunting rifles, BB guns, pellet guns, but I had never shot a handgun before.”
The 2012 graduate is a first-year member of , spearheaded by Wyandotte police Detective Scott Galeski.
The program, formerly called the Wyandotte Explorers, is the largest Police Youth Cadet Program in the country, according to its Facebook page.
Instructors from local, county, state and federal agencies volunteer their time to teach students about all aspects of law enforcement, including patrol, arrest techniques, firearms, forensics, traffic accident investigations, self defense, physical fitness and courtroom procedures. After completing the required training, the student can accompany officers on patrol.
Through her involvement with the cadets, Rader was one of five Downriver students chosen to attend this year’s Michigan State Police Youth Academy, held in Lansing last month. In total, 53 students from across the state attended.
During the six-day course, students learned about many aspects of law enforcement, including narcotics, defensive tactics, military-style formations, first aid and officer safety.
They also competed in a number of contests, including firearms.
Somewhat nervous about attending her first statewide conference, Rader said, she wasn’t shooting as well as she normally does.
“A couple days before we left, we got to go onto the range and practice,” she said. “I wasn’t shooting like I normally do and I wasn’t sure what to think about it."
However, something clicked.
When it was time to step up and compete in the contest, the Wyandotte teen once again showed off her quick draw and good aim. She shot another perfect 100 percent and was named the academy’s firearms champion.
“I didn’t think I was going to get first place,” she said. “I thought that I’d do well. … And then when I started off and was shooting really well, I just took it and focused and ran with it.”
Rader said she feels extremely lucky to have been chosen to attend the academy.
“It’s definitely a life changing opportunity,” she said. “It was a great experience. To explain the experience, you kind of have to go and see it for yourself. … If anyone gets the chance to go, they should.”
The teen, who is set to attend in the fall, said she intends to stay involved with the Downriver Detroit Cadets. The program allows cadets to stay on until they turn 21.
Rader is majoring in history, on track for pre-law.
“(I) have hopes and dreams of going to law school,” she said. “But if I don’t go to law school, I’d like to pursue FBI or some sort of career with the government.”
Rader has high praise for Galeski, saying if it wasn’t for his insistence that she check out the cadet program, she wouldn’t have even known about it.
“I went into because I had something going on and talked with Scott about it,” she said. “He took an interest in my tenacity and told me about the program, gave me an application and encouraged me to apply. I didn’t know a program like it existed.”
“It’s changed my life in a lot of different ways,” she said. “Before the program, I’d be walking down the street in my own little world, not thinking of anything. Once you learn to be aware of your surroundings and what’s around you, you become more safe.”
In addition to Rader, the other Downriver cadets who attended this year’s police academy are Tyler Bielecki of Brownstown, Hayden Daviskiba of Lincoln Park, Sean Konopka of Newport and Sarah Wasilewski of Riverview.
It costs $390 for each student to attend the academy. Their trips were funded through donations from BASF Corp., Riverview Kiwanis, Wyandotte Kiwanis No. 1000 and .
The Downriver cadet program has been sending students to the state police academy since 2009. During that time, Downriver students have earned several top ranks, including three valedictorians, two academy commanders, two firearms champions, 17 classroom leaders and two color guards.
The Downriver cadets began in 2008 and have seen 63 cadets complete the program. Of those, three have gone onto careers in law enforcement.
Nathan Mochinski works for the Southgate Police Department, works for federal corrections and Alex Dzagulones is currently undergoing Michigan State Police Trooper Academy.