Quantico? Been there, done that
Suwanee officer tackles grueling FBI academy

SUWANEE - Botswanian caterpillars taste like unsalted beef jerky. Fertilized duck eggs wash sharply over the pallet, like a shot of vinegar.

Cass Mooney learned these cultural, culinary lessons on International Night - a real, um, treat for participants in the 236th session of the FBI National Academy.

In the case of duck eggs, one taste was one too many, he reflects.

Mooney, 35, a Suwanee police captain in charge of field operations, graduated the infamously grueling academy at noon Friday, joining only 1 percent of worldwide law enforcement personnel who've done so.

It's considered by many the Harvard of police training.

Mooney was among six Georgia officers in graduation ceremonies, making him the fourth active member of Suwanee police to be so recognized. The honor was a decade in waiting for Mooney, who in January left his young family behind in Suwanee.

"All 10 weeks were incredible," Mooney enthused over his cell phone, southbound on Interstate 95 through Virginia, Georgia-bound in an unmarked Crown Vic. "It was really a feeling of accomplishment."

The academy, held on the FBI's sprawling, wooded compound in Quantico, Va., runs invitation-only participants through a gauntlet of physical and mental hardship.

The goal, beyond whipping cops into top shape, is networking and education. After all, 250 police leaders from around the world can't help but swap contact information and cross-reference ideas on bad-guy suppression.

Mooney's class shared a combined 5,000 years of policing experience. He's got 14 years and a master's degree under his belt, having come aboard Suwanee in 1997 after working in Hall County.

"Just the contacts I made ..." Mooney said. "I've got friends now from California to Michigan to Florida."

With the blessing of his chief, Mooney applied to the academy several years ago and was accepted. Then he waited. And waited.

Once in Quantico, his regime included course work on practical subjects like forensic science and leadership development. In a recent, somewhat unenthusiastic blog entry, Mooney detailed a typical day: "eat, go to class, eat, go to class, eat, do homework, go to bed." The local department continued his salary and provided him a vehicle while away, but the federally funded program didn't cost Suwanee police, he said.

Then came the Yellow Brick Road, the final physical test.

Mooney's introduction to Quantico's muscle-punishing obstacle course came in week nine. For conquering it, he received a yellow brick mounted on a plaque. He's got a spot picked out for it in his office.

The fitness work paid off in the muscle department. Mooney gained two pounds in the academy but lost an inch from his waist.

But the experience wasn't without a major drawback. In three months, he returned home only once to see his pregnant wife, Stephanie, and their three young daughters.

"She had to kind of run the family," he said.

The biggest plus? Mooney said the frequent roundtable discussions, which were clearinghouses of ideas from police around the world.

"It was good to get different perspectives," he said. "I'm definitely going to bring some ideas to the chief, see if we can't improve the way we do things in Suwanee."