WAIPIO, Hawaii -- A new chapter opened between the 8th Military Police Brigade and Hawaii's Sheriff Division as a military policeman from the 728th MP Battalion, 8th MP Bde. graduated with 17 new sheriff's deputies from the Sheriff's Recruit Academy at the Okinawa Center, here, Aug. 24.

Staff Sgt. Stefeni Rowland, 558th MP Company, 728th MP Bn., 8th MP Bde., 8th Theater Sustainment Command, became part of a story that began 21 years ago when current State Sheriff Shawn Tsuha graduated from the academy with an Airmen and a Marine, forming a civilian-military bond.

The six-month academy tested, pushed and battered recruits as instructors taught everything from first aid, constitutional law and forensics to evasive driving, hand-to-hand tactics and tactical police procedures. These are skills that are necessary for the nimble 300-man force designed to protect Hawaii's infrastructure and economy.

To Rowland, who has spent much of her military career fighting wars rather than policing local military communities, the six months of pure law enforcement training nearly overwhelmed her.

It nearly overwhelmed everyone.

"(The Academy) said that each and everyone of us will go through a time when you are going to want to quit because something emotional or something physical will affect you," Rowland said.

Some couldn't run, and some had to overcome the fear of getting shot with simulation rounds, but the class' motto, "Kuikahi," Hawaiian for "united," made sure no one had to fight his or her battles alone.

Rowland's battle came with only two weeks left.

A survivor of a high-speed crash in 1998, doctors gave Rowland 24 hours to live. But months of therapy taught her how to walk, how to speak and how to live again. When she put her hands behind the steering wheel during the high-speed driver's course, her past near-death experience raced through her mind.

"I couldn't do this," Rowland said, explaining how she began lashing out at her fellow recruits and at her instructors.

Her fears and her past began to jeopardize her graduation.

"I was so mean; I was so scared. Finally, I sat my (fellow recruits) down and told them, 'I'm scared.'

"I told them the story of my crash, a story I never tell anyone," she continued, "but I had to, because all we had was each other to get through this."

She got through it.

They got through it.

And as families pinned star-shaped badges onto the 17 new sheriffi's deputies' chests during graduation, Rowland watched and smiled from her table.

"We did it together," Rowland said. "Kuikahi!"