Graham graduates FBI Academy

PARKERSBURG – The third deputy in the history of the Wood County Sheriff Office returns home as an Federal Bureau of Investigations Academy graduate, officials said.

Chief Deputy Shawn Graham was one of only two officers from West Virginia accepted to the Academy’s 256th session, which began in late January.

Graham graduated on March 28.

“It was an honor even to be accepted into the program,” Graham said.

Graham is only the third deputy in the history of the Wood County Sheriff’s Office to complete training at the Academy in Quantico, Va. Graham said he is the first deputy to attend the FBI Academy in 19 years.

Cap. Mark King and Rick Woodyard, a former captain now in charge of the 911 center, also graduated from the FBI Academy, Graham said.

Graham was among 221 students in the class, which included students from 47 states and 23 countries. There were five military organizations and two federal and civil organizations represented among his classmates, he said.

While at the academy, Graham said he took classes in law enforcement leadership, officer-involved shootings, forensic science, police and media relations, drug enforcement strategies, and did well in the fitness portion of the program.

Graham made friends from around the world and boasted of friends in Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Lithuania, all of whom he met at the FBI Academy.

“I was surprised to learn how things are so similar, yet so different, in other parts of the world,” Graham said.

The fitness portion of the academy had a Wizard of Oz theme, Graham said. Fresh recruits were told in late January that a mere 10 weeks later, they would be completing a 6.1-mile-long Marine Corps obstacle course dubbed the Yellow Brick Road, Graham said.

“We worked up to it, with each new week providing a progressively more difficult fitness obstacle for us to complete,” Graham said.

Although the training became more intense with each passing week, not everyone was able to take the Yellow Brick Road challenge, Graham said. Each candidate had to prove themselves capable of making the attempt, he said.

Five classmates were hospitalized during the challenge, Graham said. Injuries included broken arms, a broken shoulder, and a broken ankle, he said.

No one died during Graham’s class, but the course has claimed two lives over the years, Graham said. It is not a challenge that is lightly undertaken, he said.

The course is split into two sections, Graham said.

The first was a 3.1-mile-long obstacle course and run through the woods, he said. This portion of the Yellow Road included numerous challenges and mud where participants sank into with every step, Graham said.

When participants emerged from the woods, they had a 3-mile run to complete before they could say they had finished, Graham said.

Although times are not officially kept, Graham finished the course in one hour and 39 minutes.

“Ten weeks ago, I couldn’t have done that course,” Graham said. “I had to improve myself to be able to do that,” he said.

Graham has wanted to attend the FBI Academy since he began his career as a corrections officer at the Wood County Jail in 1989, he said. However, he never got around to applying and the years passed, he said.

Last fall, Graham met FBI agent Chris Courtright, who recommended he apply for the program.

“I was honored that he even suggested I attend,” Graham said.

Graham spent the next couple of months preparing the necessary paperwork and was surprised when he was accepted, he said.

“Attending was a sacrifice for my family, but they all supported me,” Graham said.

Gracie Graham, his 11-year-old daughter, took her father’s absence hard, Graham said. They used the FaceTime app on their phones to communicate by video every night to try to make the separation less difficult, Graham said.

Graham’s older children, Gage, 16, and Shawn, 18, took their father’s absence more easily, Shawn Graham said.

All three of Shawn Graham’s children, along with his wife, Angi, went to Quantico for graduation. They toured the base and nearby Washington, D.C., taking in many museums and national landmarks, Graham said.

While attending the Academy, Graham said he had the opportunity to meet three people he admired: James Comey, head of the FBI; Michael Durant, one of the helicopter pilots shot down and taken prisoner during the Battle of Mogadishu, made famous in the movie “Black Hawk Down”; and Kirk Lippold, the commander of the USS Cole when it was attacked in the port of Aden in Yemen in October 2000.

“It was amazing to meet each of them,” Graham said. “They taught me a lot about leadership,” he said.

But Graham’s biggest honor came during his class visit to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial in Washington. This memorial lists the names of every police officer killed in the line of duty in America, Graham said.

“We had 221 students there, and nobody wanted to sing the national anthem for our ceremony,” Graham said. “When the instructors determined that we would just say the pledge of allegiance instead, I volunteered to sing.”

Graham said singing the national anthem in front of his classmates at the memorial was a great honor and a memory he will never forget.