July 22, 2019
Jeff Williams Editor, Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
CONWAY — Ten cadets became Arkansas wildlife officers during graduation July 19 at Antioch Baptist Church in Conway. They completed 18 weeks of instruction at the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s H.C. “Red” Morris Enforcement Training Center at Mayflower.
AGFC Director Patt Fitts began proceedings by introducing Cody Hiland, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, as keynote speaker.
“You’ve been challenged with the protection and care of one of the things that makes Arkansas what it is: Arkansans love hunting and fishing,” Hiland said. “I can’t think of another thing that more fully captures the minds and the hearts of Arkansans than the idea of heading to deer camp for a week, that first morning in a duck blind when the sun’s coming up, fishing for largemouth bass somewhere or wading a creek fishing for trout.
“Today, you’re going to be charged with securing that heritage for our children and our grandchildren – and what a privilege that is, a privilege that comes with a cost.”
He read Paul Harvey’s well-known “Policeman” essay about dichotomies law enforcement officers face before adding, “Some people spend an entire lifetime wondering if they’ve made a difference in the world. Men and women of law enforcement don’t have to worry about that.”
The 2019 class is Keenan Hicks (assigned to Columbia County), Bennett Huggins (Cleveland County), Ethan Moore (Phillips County), Michael Neece (Bradley County), Onezean Ravenell (Jefferson County), Dustin Smith (Jackson County), Kelsey Spry (Crawford County), Austin Thomas (Drew County), Michael Tibben (Calhoun County) and Darren Walls (Lee County).
Col. Greg Rae, AGFC Enforcement Division chief, introduced Smith, 31, who was chosen as class leader.
“We all woke up this morning as game wardens and that’s something to be very proud of,” Smith said.
The 2019 class arrived at the training center March 17 with 16 cadets; 10 graduated.
“As you can see, not all 16 individuals are here with us,” Smith said. “Those six aren’t here for various reasons but, at the end of the day, we lost them because this academy is not easy.”
This year’s 18-week course was a bit longer than most, which run 16 or 17 weeks. It has been as long as 22 weeks, based on class size. The course began in 1984.
Smith received the Top Gun Award for having the highest shooting average during 80 hours of firearms training. He joined the Army National Guard when he was 18 and was a state trooper for six years.
Neece, 25, grew up in northeastern Arkansas and decided to become a wildlife officer when he was in junior high school. He received the Edward H. Armstrong Memorial Excellence Award for the highest grade-point average, the Physical Fitness Award and the Survival Swimming Award.
Moore, 24, of Jonesboro received the Joel Campora Memorial Outstanding Achievement Award, named for the wildlife officer who drowned during a water rescue in Scott County in 2013.
The ceremony included several poignant moments in remembrance of Sgt. Michael Stephen, a Stone County deputy who had been killed in the line of duty a day earlier. Moments before graduation began, a column of law enforcement vehicles within sight of the church near Interstate 40 accompanied Stephen’s body during its trip from the Arkansas State Crime Laboratory to Stone County.