The odor of gunpowder was thick as shell casings bounced off the concrete with a barrage of metallic clinks.
The targets were paper, and the shooters were students at the Columbia County Law Enforcement Academy.
The academy, organized and taught by the Columbia County Sheriff's Office Community Services Division, offered students in the eight-week course a night at a practice-shooting range to use what they had learned in their firearms class.
"Some of them, its the first time they have ever shot a gun," said Maj. John Wheeler, of the Detention and Court Services Division. "It is interesting. The feedback is almost always positive."
The night of practice shooting with a sheriff's office employee with each student usually is the most popular night of the course, said Capt. Jim March, formerly of the Community Services Division. "They get a lot of hands-on," he said.
Capt. Dan Barnett watches while student Kim McGahee fires on the sheriff's department range. The sheriff's office routinely holds a police academy for Columbia County residents.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
The free course, offered three times a year, is Thursdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the sheriff's office Training Center on Columbia Road.
A group of 33 students from all over the CSRA graduated from the class during a formal ceremony Thursday. They invited their families to watch as each earned a certificate and heard from Columbia County Sheriff Clay Whittle.
The Top Gun award was awarded to Jack Jordon, who led the class in shooting ability on range night.
During the course, sheriff's office employees led specific discussions and orientations, including tours of the 911 and detention centers. There also were profiles of the special operations, criminal investigations, community services and patrol divisions, and demonstrations on firearms, the canine unit and self-defense tactics.
"The main thing is we just want to let citizens know how the Columbia County Sheriff's Office operates, what we are doing for them and how we go about doing our business," March said.
The sheriff's office accepts applications for the course on a first-come, first-served basis, March said. Only 30 people are allowed in each class, and others are placed on the waiting list for the next class.
"I had fun every night," said Holly Joiner, a student in the course. "It is a learning experience. I thought I knew a lot more than I do."
The next class will be in the spring, but no specific date has been set.
For more information, call the sheriff's office Community Services information line at 541-2856.
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