Only one person with the Ellis County Sheriff’s office had trained at the FBI National Academy up until a year ago – sheriff Chuck Edge. Two administrators now hold that distinction in Edge and Capt. Chris Hamilton.
The FBI National Academy is a 10-week course hosted at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, VA. The program is designed to provide specialized training to law enforcement personnel who seek to enhance their skills in the field. The coursework ranges from law, behavioral and forensic science, communication, the terrorist’s mindset and leadership development.
Hamilton was nominated by Edge for the Academy last year and was accepted into the program in July. Edge explained that he nominated Hamilton for his skills, potential to excel in law enforcement and previous experience working with the Dallas Police Department.
“Less than one-tenth of one percent of law enforcement gets invited into the national academy,” Edge stated. “We were fortunate that he was selected by the FBI to attend.”
Hamilton explained that there were three pillars to the FBI National Academy, the first of which was education. Before Hamilton even arrived at Quantico, he was required to sign up for 17 course credit hours through the University of Virginia.
“The training that you get is amazing,” Edge remarked. “Everybody has to take certain courses. You select the ones you want to take based upon the needs of your agency or your career progression.”
The second pillar, Hamilton explained, was physical fitness, where students’ limits were tested through an extensive training regiment. Hamilton recalled that he was challenged the very first day he started the physical fitness pillar.
“That first physical training day, you start by doing a timed event to see where you are,” Hamilton recalled. “A mile run. Then you go through a physical fitness regiment that culminates into the yellow brick road.”
The yellow brick road, he explained, was a 6.2-mile obstacle course that serves as the most challenging feat for the physical fitness pillar. Those who attempt the course are required to scale over walls, run through creeks, crawl under barbed wire and rope-climb rock edges.
For the select few students that manage to conquer the course, they are awarded a yellow brick to recognize their achievement. Hamilton keeps his yellow brick on the shelf right behind his desk at the Sheriff’s office.
“It’s kind of like your class ring,” Hamilton expressed. “You went to A&M, you got your ring. You went to the FBI National Academy, you’ve got your yellow brick.”
“Those bricks are listed in people’s wills,” Edge added.
The third pillar, Hamilton stated, was perhaps his most valued — networking. With individuals from 26 different countries participating in the Academy, Hamilton stated many of them went through the same stresses and experiences as he did.
“If we’re dealing with policies or dealing with certain issues, well guess what? We’re not the first ones to face that issue,” Hamilton expressed. “You have a network to see what other agencies have done, how they got past a problem or just a different perspective on what you’re dealing with.
One of the most prevalent issues that his session confronted was suicide. According to a Blue HELP report, 159 police officers took their own lives across the nation in 2018. That was an increase from 2016’s casualties, where the nonprofit tracked 140 officers who committed suicide.
By comparison, 145 officers were killed in the line of duty in the same year. According to the report, 2018 was the third year in a row where police officer suicides exceeded all combined causes of line-of-duty deaths.
“Suicide among law enforcement officers is, nationally, an epidemic,” Hamilton expressed. “It affects you. It builds up on people.”
Hamilton knows firsthand the pressures that some law enforcement officers face daily. In July 2016, he was caught in the Dallas shootings where a 25-year-old Army veteran opened fire on a group of police officers during a protest against police brutality. Five officers were killed as a result of the attack.
Hamilton didn’t hesitate to call the terroristic act the worst day of his life.
“There are 12 kids who don’t have a dad anymore,” Hamilton expressed. “None of us come to work and expect to lose our lives. And to be targeted like that for wearing a uniform and representing what we hold true as a society? It’s sickening.”
Though having to bury five police brothers was heartbreaking, Hamilton said having to go back to work the day after the shootings was brutal emotionally.
“After you went through all of that, you know what you were told?” he asked. “‘Alright, get back out there.’ I was there the next day, and the next day. That builds up on you. That’s not right.”
Having that support network at the FBI National Academy has been helpful in putting things into perspective for Hamilton. Now he realizes he’s not alone in his struggles and that there are others in his field that he could turn to.
And likewise, he’s there for his new friends if they need him as well.
“When you’re sitting there, everybody can talk about it and realize you’re not the Lone Ranger,” Edge stated. “It’s not happening just in Texas. Everybody else is facing the same issues.”
Hamilton said graduating from the Academy has given him renewed vigor in his career in law enforcement. He’s said he's proud of the hard work he’s done at the FBI National Academy – and the yellow brick sitting behind his desk serves as a reminder of that.
“For our community, we’re the first line of defense,” he stated. “We walk out there every day and tell everybody who we are by what we wear on our chest and the patches on our shoulders.”