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The North Carolina State Highway Patrol gave area students an inside look at what it takes to be a trooper, hoping to encourage students to join the patrol in the coming years.
Newton-Conover Middle School students arrived at NCSHP's Troop F headquarters on Smyre Farm Road in Newton to hear a presentation about the patrol and tour its facilities.
"We need troopers, and we're going to need troopers in the next 10 years," said Highway Patrol Capt. Paul Phillips. "... Our mission is to protect the people of North Carolina."
But students quickly learned that working with the Highway Patrol doesn't always mean strapping on a firearm and patrolling county streets and highways. The patrol needs dozens of other workers, such as mechanics, communications operators and radio repair technicians, to help troopers accomplish their ultimate goal: to keep western North Carolina safe.
The North Carolina Highway Patrol has 2,340 employees, including telecommunications, radio engineers and other civilian staff members.
Troop F in Newton serves 10 counties, including Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Wilkes, Watauga, Iredell and Lincoln counties. Troopers issue citations and tickets, investigate crashes and inform the community about safety measures.
"You have to serve people, and you have to have a heart to serve people," Phillips told students.
Students received a tour of the patrol's garage and service areas, where troopers bring in their patrol cars for scheduled maintenance or emergency fixes.
Mechanics are trained for all models of cars used by the Highway Patrol.
"They do the same work here that they do at any dealership," said Trooper R.E. Sales, Troop F traffic safety information officer. "... Without them, our cars wouldn't go."
The troop's mechanics also install many of the vehicles' "extras," such as decals and other gadgets that don't come standard on a vehicle. Troop F has about 200 vehicles to maintain, and the troop's three mechanics replace about 1,800 tires a year.
Students Thalia Melecio and Austin Flynn said they enjoyed seeing all the different pieces of technology, like laptop computers, that are installed in a trooper's vehicle.
Students toured the patrol's communications center, where service calls are dispatched from the troop's 10-county coverage area.
The communications center receives about 100 service calls on a normal day, but adverse weather, like ice or snow accumulation, can skyrocket requests for service to more than 1,000.
"I was really surprised to learn how many calls a day they have," said Jalen Connor, a NCMS student.