A rag-tag bunch of middle-schoolers kept an easy pace as they marched through the summer sun at Carroll County Farm Museum, but there was an audible snap when the drillmaster called them to attention.
At Camp COPS (Courage to be Outstanding with Pride and Self-Esteem), more than 45 11- to 13-year-olds from Carroll were introduced to police work and training to develop leadership and discipline, and to forge bonds between law enforcement and youths.
Maryland State Police and the Carroll County Sheriff's Office held the free, five-day camp, sponsored by Westminster Optimist Club. The camp was open to anyone interested and was advertised locally.
State troopers and other police officers acted as counselors of the day camp, which ends its second season today.
The campers played sports, learned military drilling and obstacle course maneuvers and viewed demonstrations by law enforcement agencies during the weeklong event.
"A lot of kids have an interest in law enforcement, a curiosity," said Tfc. Wendy Bernhardt, an Anne Arundel trooper who helped start Carroll's program after observing a camp in Calvert County last year.
At the Carroll camp, counselors led drills, obstacle-course runs and sports in the morning, emphasizing teamwork and leadership skills.
The camp "helps them get an understanding of what we do," Bernhardt said.
"They begin to learn that everyone has a purpose," Bernhardt said. "Together you all have something to contribute."
The drills reinforced respect for authority.
"It's a lot of self-discipline," said Sgt. Paul Nolte of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, as he led kids through drill and ceremony marches.
When the campers made a mistake, they did five push-ups for the team. Counselors said this was a consistent way to teach the kids what was expected of them.
"They know I'm not going to say, 'That wasn't very nice,' and I'm not going to give them a gazillion push-ups," Bernhardt said.
Maryland State Police dog handlers, scuba and SWAT teams, and the Maryland Army National Guard gave demonstrations in the afternoons.
The kids watched the SWAT team rappel and fire marshals operate a bomb-seeking robot. Kids also got the chance to maneuver the robot.
Some learned that police work isn't like what is shown on television.
"Usually when they arrest someone, they don't try to fight them, just block their punches and kicks," said Kevin Sherfey, 11, of Westminster.
In addition, the kids gained experience in setting - and achieving - personal goals.
Many of them spent free time working to improve physical skills, particularly running the obstacle course.
"I didn't know I could actually do this in 52 seconds," said Alisha George, 12, of Westminster.
She shaved 21 seconds off her time after three days at the camp.
The kids also realized police officers can be their friends.
Montgomery County state police trooper and camp counselor Anthony Landry often had kids hanging off his muscular body, patting his bald head, trying to fit their hands around his 23-inch biceps. They traded lunches with him.
"They see another side to us," said Yolanda Stockton, a trooper in the Field Operations Bureau and camp counselor.
"We can establish a rapport with the kids and police," Stockton said. "They don't see the uniform."
As adults, "we all lose sight of their perspective," said Jeff Eichorn, a state trooper from the Westminster barracks. "We're not the enemy. They can come talk to us."