Youth Academy campers have a guided tour of Linden Airport

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LINDEN, NJ — When the Linden Police Department’s Youth Academy visited the Linden Airport on Thursday, July 21, participants had a behind-the-scenes experience that few people get to have.

“This is our way of helping this whole police department youth camp out, because it gives them a chance to get into places like the Linden Airport that they would never get into otherwise. We give them a tour of the airport, a tour of all the airplanes and the hangars and helicopters. We take them into the news helicopters and show them around,” said Paul Dudley, Linden Airport Management Corp. owner and airport director, in an interview with Union County LocalSource on Monday, July 25.

“We did the tour last year with a group of about 40 or so young adults,” Dudley continued. “My understanding of the program is it’s sponsored by the police department, and the police department gets companies such as the airport to donate money for the uniforms, backpacks, water bottles and bus transportation. This way, there is no cost for the kids.”

Linden Police Sgt. Christian Ramirez confirmed this in an interview with LocalSource on Tuesday, July 26.

“This program started back in 2018,” said Ramirez. “We’ve done sessions in four of the last five years, but not 2020. Essentially, it’s a program that meets every day for one week, from July 18 to July 22, consisting of hands-on classroom situations concerning day-to-day police operations.”

“We put out a flier on Instagram and Facebook and on the city of Linden website, and we take whatever applicants we get,” he continued. “We usually put out the notification every April. We try to customize their uniforms with their names on it. We had 29 people this year. The adult volunteers are people from the police department, along with family members and people who were former youth camp members. But most of the help comes from the police department.”

Ramirez said that, throughout the week, they do physical training every morning.

“We had the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the U.S. National Guard all help with the physical training of the recruits,” he said. “We give them exposure in the hopes that we can recruit them for the police academy one day or that they will do something else.”

“The first day, we discussed going on patrols, police department structure and mock motor vehicle stops,” continued Ramirez. “We have outside agencies give classes: the Union County Sheriff’s Department Crime Scene Unit, the New Jersey Transit Police, Union County SWAT, Linden Fire Department, U.S. Customs, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office homicide unit, the Union County bomb squad. We go over a lot of things. We go over narcotics investigation, firearms safety.”

The program is completely free for the children, explained Ramirez, thanks to donations from businesses. Columbia Bank, ShopRite and Chick-fil-A helped out this year. They pay for all the lunches, he said, adding that Dudley made sure all the students were given lunch at the airport. Of course, the airport meal came only after the children had gotten to see things most people see only on television or in movies.

“The airport provides access to a world that they would never see,” said Dudley. “We bring them onto the secure side of the airport and take them around the otherwise-restricted areas and introduce them to how an airport works, how the airplanes are operated, how they are stored, how the fuel works. We give them a tour and show them everything about the airport. We also take them over to the news helicopter area and see how that works with the onboard camera facilities,” said Dudley. “We take them into the hangars so they can see how maintenance is done and how critical it is to the passengers. Then the airport provides them with lunch and sends them on their way. This group was 10 or 11 to 14 or 15 years old, so they asked intelligent questions. Follow-up questions are also much more succinct.”

“The goal of this is to expose these kids to a great world,” he continued. “They’re getting two: the world of law enforcement, how most in law enforcement are caring (people) looking to better their community; and then they come to the airport and they see a whole new world, people working on planes, pilots, maintenance. They get to see an entirely different field. If you help one kid find direction, it’s worth doing.”

The day wouldn’t have been complete without an opportunity for the youths to check out a police helicopter. In an example of interforce camaraderie, the Newark Police Department provided the helicopter.

“We also had the Newark Police Department bring their helicopter to Paul Dudley’s airport,” said Ramirez. “One of our detectives, Detective J. Velarde, had a connection with the pilot and was able to reach out to them. The Newark Police Department brought their helicopter in. It’s primarily used as a chase helicopter.”

Dudley said it’s moments such as this that make his work all worthwhile.

“All of this there, all of the officers, all the help, we’re all parents,” said Dudley. “We get it. We realize how important it is to get them on good track at an early age.

“I’m thrilled to have the kids participating in the event,” he added. “If it takes them away from an iPod for a day, it’s worth it.”

Photos Courtesy of Paul Dudley