Service in the police force has become a badge of honor for the Hilt family. Russell Hilt was a highly respected officer for 15 years in the West Deptford Police Department. He retired five years ago as a detective.
It wouldn't be too long, however, until another Hilt joined the force for West Deptford.
On Wednesday night, Russell watched his son, Justin Hilt, follow in his footsteps at the graduation of the 41st class from the Gloucester County Police Academy.
“It's kind of special, to see one member of a family retire from the police department and then watch his son follow in his footsteps,” West Deptford Police Chief Craig Mangano said.
Hilt was extremely involved and dedicated at the Police Academy. He was the class president and delivered a speech at Wednesday night's ceremony.
His speech emphasized family—not just his immediate family, however. He was also talking about his classmates and brothers in the force.
“Without the support of my classmates, it'll be a lot tougher,” Hilt said. “We all bonded, we all worked as one team to get to this objective.”
A group of West Deptford officers, as well as Mangano and Mayor Raymond Chintall, joined the Hilt family for Wednesday night's ceremony. Hilt, who was sworn in as a West Deptford police officer in August, got a flood of congratulations from his fellow comrades.
Still, it was family first for Hilt and the rest of the graduates. Pitman Police Chief Robert Zimmerman gave the keynote speech at the ceremony and stressed the importance of family to the people in attendance.
Hilt expanded on those thoughts, reminding his classmates, “Our family and friends gave us something to lean on when we couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel.
“Words can't really describe what they have done for me,” Hilt said. “It was small stuff, it was words of encouragement when you need it the most. They were tremendous.”
Hilt's family cheered wildly as he accepted his diploma from his father. In many ways, it was almost a passing of the torch. It was, without a doubt, a proud moment for everyone involved.
“I'm proud of him,” said Russell Hilt. “I know the rigors he's about to go through and I understand how he's feeling. I'm proud of him more than anything.”
“He's always been a hero of mine,” Justin Hilt said. “Growing up, he was always a role model, someone I looked up to. He's a great family man, great dad, great husband and great police officer.”
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