OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. – For the first time ever, the Osceola County Sheriff's Office is welcoming a woman to its SWAT team.
Deputy Michelle Sayers was one of a group of four recent graduates to pass the rigorous physical fitness, firearms proficiency and memory tests required to join the team. She joined the department in 2015 and has been a patrol deputy for the past three years.
“It took a lot of hard work and dedication, and I could not have done it without my family and law enforcement family. I look forward to the many new challenges the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office presents," Sayers said.
Sayers said she has wanted to be a member of the SWAT team ever since she was a young girl. She made her dream known when she joined the Sheriff's Office.
"It happened a little bit faster. I wanted to wait five years and I did it in three. That was very exciting. It was an opportunity I couldn't pass up," she said.
The 24-year-old trained for two years before trying out for the team. She then spent eight days at camp, all leading up to the tests she needed to pass to join the team.
Sayers said the SWAT team is excited to have her join the unit.
"They've been incredibly supportive. They welcomed me with open arms. A lot of them actually helped me prepare to try out," Sayers said.
Days after her graduation, Sayers responded to her first call with the SWAT team.
"The guys were very supportive. They walked me through what I had to do, what was expected of me, and made sure everything was OK," she said. "It was very exciting."
Sayers is not the only woman breaking barriers at the Sheriff's Office.
Chief Deputy Martha Gens is the first woman to serve as second-in-command in the agency's history.
She said it's a role she never imagined a woman would hold when she started as a 911 dispatcher at the Sheriff's Office 30 years ago.
"It really is an honor. It's very exciting to see that females can get to this kind of position," Gens said. "A female can do just as much as the guys can do, and I think we're definitely proving it."
Gens said law enforcement is a male-dominated field, but she hopes they're breaking barriers for other women who want to lead or take on challenging roles.
"Nothing can stop you. If you have the heart, you have the passion, nothing can stop you," Gens said.
Both women are hoping others will follow in their footsteps.
"Once they see a female was promoted or made the SWAT team or any specialty unit, then it empowers them and makes them feel, 'Hey, I can do that too,'" Gens said.
Sheriff Russ Gibson said having Sayers join the SWAT team illustrates the opportunities for women within the department.
“Deputy Michelle Sayers had a dream to become the first female SWAT team member of the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, and at our office, if you can dream it, you can do it. We are so very proud of Deputy Sayers' tremendous accomplishments, and if there ever was such a thing as a glass ceiling at our office, I promise you, it was shattered the very day I was sworn in,” Gibson said.
The sheriff adds both women are paving the way for the agency's future.
"These are great role models for other ladies to look at and say, 'We can do that too,'" Gibson said.
The department's SWAT team, which was organized in 1976, responds to critical incidents that involve a threat to public safety. Team members must undergo more rigorous training than traditional law enforcement officers.