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She commands respect

March 23, 1997

By RICHARD F. BELISLE

Staff Writer

McCONNELLSBURG, Pa. - The only time female pride butts up against Sgt. Nancy Burkhart's job as commander of the McConnellsburg, Pa., State Police barracks is when she has to put on her campaign hat.

"I hate it. It messes up my hair," she said.

Burkhart, 35, has been supervising the barrack's 23 troopers for nearly a year and a half. She's the second woman to hold the top job in Fulton County.

She grew up in Reading, Pa., graduated from Franklin and Marshall College with a degree in pre-law and government. "I switched from pre-med because I'd had enough of science," she said.

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Burkhart shifts behind her neatly kept desk and smiles as she remembers her first post-graduation job. "I managed a Wendy's restaurant for about five months."

She joined the state police with a goal of staying about four years then moving to a federal agency - the FBI or Secret Service. She said she tried the feds first, "but they weren't hiring at the time," she said. As time passed she realized she wanted to stay where she was. She's been on the force for 13 years, loves the work and has moved up the ranks.

She spent nine years as a road trooper in three counties, taught at the state police academy and held a supervisory post at the department's Research and Development Bureau in Hershey, Pa. She's already taken the lieutenant's test and is ready to move again if a promotion comes up, she said.

"It was either stay a road dog or move up. I want to go as far as the Lord will take me," she said.

Burkhart is engaged to Robert Covel, a retired trooper. "He's retired so we can move anywhere," she said.

Burkhart is one of 146 women troopers out of a statewide force of 4,100. When she joined the department there were 105 women troopers. "The number is growing, but not fast," she said.

Women can meet the physical challenges of the job, but they have to make some concessions to style.

Skirts are out. "Did you ever jump a guard rail in a skirt? Women are expected to do the same job as the men and the uniform has to reflect that," she said.

Earrings are banned. "You won't see them on the men either," she said.

Women troopers can wear their hair a little longer then the men, and long hair is allowed if it can be pinned up under the campaign hat, she said.

Working with men poses few problems for Burkhart. "I grew up with six brothers," she said.

She said women troopers have certain advantages over their male counterparts. Citizens often don't expect to see a woman walk up to their car in a traffic stop.

"It puts them off center,'' she said. "People are generally more respectful of women too, although I've had to roll around in the mud a few times."

Burkhart has several women friends on the force who are married with children. "That's got to be tough,'' she said. "I can't fathom how they do it. We work rotating shifts. You have to have an understanding husband. That would be my greatest challenge."

The department is recruiting troopers this spring. Police academy grads start out at $35,500 a year. Burkhart said she encourages women to look into the job.

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