The final three months of 2019 included a high-level challenge for Lt. Tim Thornton, one of the North Augusta Department of Public Safety's longest-serving employees, as he underwent some of his career's most rigorous training.

The FBI National Academy holds four sessions per year, all at a massive Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, and Thornton was on board from Oct. 7 through Dec. 20 as part of a class that included 260 students – a group that encompassed 35 participants representing such countries as Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Hungary, Australia, Kenya and Austria.

"I found myself rejuvenated," Thornton recalled. "This gave me an opportunity to rejuvenate my enthusiasm for what I do and the work that still needs to be done in North Augusta. I couldn't wait to get back home and rekindle my passion for what I do in the community."

Thornton, who has been in his department's investigations division for most of his career so far, has joined an academy alumni list that also includes Capt. Billy Luckey, Capt. Charles Williams, Lt. Verne Sadler, Lt. Clay Swann, Capt. Joe Count and Chief John Thomas. Several other graduates are nearby, as the Aiken County Sheriff's Office has six among its employees, and the Aiken Department of Public Safety has four. 

Instruction, in a college-style setting, came by way of two two-hour blocks of classroom each weekday, as well as three weekly sessions focusing on physical fitness. One specific challenge, near the end of the three-month experience, is for participants to deal successfully with the Yellow Brick Road – an obstacle course covering 6.5 miles.

Thornton's focus was largely on public relations – dealing with the press and "breaking down barriers," he recalled.

Thornton, on board with NADPS since 1985, said he approached the experience with several goals in mind. One was to be more interactive and outgoing than he would normally be inclined to be. He succeeded in that goal, and the outcome included making "new friends from all over the world."

Another focal point was "physical fitness, diet, nutrition and overall health that I could control," he said.

"Most importantly, I wanted to just open my mind to all kinds of innovative ideas that other students were bringing from their departments," he said. "I just wanted to drink from the firehose of information that was just circulating around that entire campus."

He expressed gratitude in several directions, describing himself as "thankful to Chief Thomas and the leadership in our department for the confidence in sending me," and grateful to the North Augusta City Council for approving the budget to make the training possible.

"An absolute bonus," he said, was the fact that his family was able to attend the graduation ceremony, considering the fact that the feat involved a nine- or 10-hour trip to suburban Washington, D.C.

He added, "I'm grateful to those that stepped up to cover my responsibilities during my absence. I was able to completely disconnect from this place for 11 weeks and focus on what I was doing there, because I knew ... all of my responsibilities were being handled as good or better than I would have handled them. They had to ... make sacrifices to cover during my absence, so I'm grateful for that, too, so I could focus on the task at hand at Quantico." 

The academy "is a professional course of study for U.S. and international law enforcement managers nominated by their agency heads because of demonstrated leadership qualities," according to its website.

The 10-week program – which provides coursework in intelligence theory, terrorism and terrorist mindsets, management science, law, behavioral science, law enforcement communication and forensic science – serves to improve the administration of justice in police departments and agencies at home and abroad and to raise law enforcement standards, knowledge and cooperation worldwide."

Thornton noted that his South Carolina classmates included one neighbor from Surfside and another from Sumter. The state, in the course of a year, normally has 12-15 academy participants.

"It's hard to get into, and I've been on the waiting list for over five years. I was extremely honored for the opportunity to go and participate at this training level."