By Tim Eberly
Don Brostrom stayed in a three-story dorm with a roommate. He took 15 credits, and all of his two-hour classes were equipped with mid-term and final examinations. He lived on a steady diet of dining hall food.
No, the 39-year-old Hill County undersheriff is not a college student, but the experience gave him a sample of university living.
Brostrom recently attended the prestigious FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., where he bunked with a police lieutenant from Springfield, Ill., for 10 weeks and was one of only two law enforcement officers from Montana in his graduating class.
"This is my first hands-on college experience," joked Brostrom. "It's very similar to going to college. When you get accepted, they send you a syllabus."
Brostrom graduated on March 22 along with 257 other law enforcement officers from 49 states and 30 countries. FBI Director Robert Mueller was the commencement speaker.
"I would say the whole experience is the best thing I've done in my entire life," said Brostrom, a 1980 graduate of Havre High School. "There was nothing there that wasn't top quality. The instructors were amazing."
Since 1935, the academy has offered advanced investigative, management and fitness training courses for selected officers with stellar resumes. The participants boast an average of 19 years of law enforcement experience.
Of the 35,288 graduates, about 21,258 are still in law enforcement.
Brostrom, a sheriff's deputy for 11 years, is the first employee of the Hill County Sheriff's Office to attend the elite academy. Former Sheriff Tim Solomon was accepted to the program but never attended. Havre Police Chief Kevin Olson and police Capt. Mike Barthel are alumni of the program.
"That indicates to me quite a bit of dedication on his part to increase his training," Hill County Sheriff Greg Szudera said of Brostrom, the undersheriff since 1997. "And I'll be calling upon him in great depth to assist in the operations of the Hill County Sheriff's Office in some of the areas he's received training from the FBI."
With assistance from Olson and Barthel, Brostrom applied for the academy, which has a long waiting list, in 1997. The only other Montana law enforcement officer at his session was a Montana Highway Patrol officer from Helena.
"You really develop a kinship with the people down there," Brostrom said. "I've got guys that I met back there who I will be friends with for the rest of my career."
The class of 257 officers was divided into five sections of roughly 50 students apiece. Each participant took six academic courses, most of which are accredited by the University of Virginia. Brostrom's course work included classes in writing, forensic science, legal issues, fitness, management and behavioral science.
In his favorite course, forensic science, Brostrom's instructors blew up a frozen chicken to demonstrate the power of a specific explosive.
"There was nothing left of it," he said. "You couldn't find enough for chicken nuggets."
Brostrom also participated in an optional Yellow Brick Road running program. Officers ran a 1.8-mile race in the second week, and the races became longer each week. In the ninth week, Brostrom finished a 6.1-mile race and obstacle course.
Since he has worked for the sheriff's office, Brostrom has attended at least 20 law enforcement training programs most of them in Montana. None of his previous training equaled the detailed courses offered by the FBI, he said.
On weekends, Brostrom, who had never been to the East Coast, took trips to various spots on the Eastern Seaboard. He visited the rubbled remains of the World Trade Center, as well as Atlantic City and Philadelphia.
Eventually, Brostrom and Szudera want their chief deputies to attend the program as well. Brostrom will have to warn them about his biggest challenge: doing laundry. Living in a dorm with 300 officers and only a handful of washers and dryers, Brostrom had to be crafty.
"That was probably the biggest challenge out there," he said. "There were times when I would wake up at 4 in the morning to wash clothes."