May 26, 2021
Jim Harris Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
LITTLE ROCK – Brad Young credits strong mentorship through his almost 11 years with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission for preparing him well for his new role as the agency’s chief of enforcement. The 39-year-old Young, who lives in his boyhood home of Woodlawn in Cleveland County, officially takes over for the retiring Col. Greg Rae on May 31, but notes that a smooth transition has been underway since March. Young, who began his AGFC career in 2010 as a wildlife officer first class in Monticello, has worked alongside Rae as major for the past four years before being promoted to colonel and chief of the division.
“No, I could not have imagined (being chief of enforcement) when I first started out, but I didn’t look that far ahead, I never do that. I don’t do that today. I will look to potential problems, but not to advance. That’s come by keeping my head down, working hard, and those things have come my way,” he said.
“You may not always be ready for a position like this, but I’ve been lucky. I’ve learned from some of the best at the agency in Todd Calloway, Mike Knoedl, Pat (Fitts), G. Rae. I’ve had all of those to mentor me.”
Those names Young cites are the last four chiefs of enforcement at AGFC, and along the way he worked directly for each. Knoedl and Fitts rose to AGFC director. Fitts, like Rae, is retiring shortly.
But Young looks homeward for enforcement mentoring, too.
“My dad has been in law enforcement for 40-plus years. He’s chief deputy in Cleveland County. He started when he was 18 and he’s been going strong ever since,” Young said. “And my uncle was chief of police in Star City. It didn’t take me long to identify the cream of the crop in law enforcement and set my goals high.”
At Rae’s agency retirement celebration, held May 21 at the Cross Bar C Cowboy Church on U.S. Highway 70 west of Benton, a host of state law enforcement officers, including Arkansas State Police Col. Bill Bryant, noted Rae’s aura of leadership that he brought to the position since taking over 2017 when Fitts was chosen as agency director.
Young embraces the opportunity to sustain that leadership role.
“Not only do G. Rae and I still talk frequently and will continue to, but I always have my dad, who has forgotten more enforcement than I’ll ever know,” Young said. “Mike Knoedl and I still talk frequently, and Pat, and Todd Calloway. I don’t just draw from one type of leadership, I have several mentors that I look to, to assist me along the way. I took the leadership skills I saw from all of them to make it my own, basically.”
Rae, who spent 26 years with the agency, started in law enforcement as a deputy sheriff in Montgomery County. He lives in Mount Ida and has commuted to Little Rock to work. He’s ready to be homebound now with wife Sheila and 19-year-old son Dakota, catching up on missed birthdays and holidays in the past, he said, as well as raising cattle and hay on his farm.
“I’m fixing to look for a bass boat, and I’m fixing to start fishing with (Dakota) again,” Rae said after the festivities wound down May 21. “I took him out fishing the other day and it’s probably been 10 years since I’ve taken him fishing, so it’s time. I’m looking forward to that and getting back into it.”
Rae said he felt “humbled, very humbled” by the turnout of AGFC commissioners, division chiefs, enforcement employees and law enforcement from other agencies around Arkansas, plus many other friends. He was presented with his service revolver as well as a Henry .22-caliber rifle from Enforcement Division employees.
Rae grew up in Colorado, he said, and being checked at age 14, his first time out hunting, by a Colorado game warden influenced his career path when his family moved back to Arkansas. A cousin, Dewitt Forga, was a game warden in Montgomery County, and Forga and officer Tom Goodner also had an influence on a younger Rae.
To eventually get to the AGFC, though, he gained law enforcement experience in Montgomery County’s sheriff’s office. Bill Barnes, who has run Mountain Harbor Resort and Marina for many years, and a longtime friend of Rae’s, poked fun at Rae at his retirement about those early days patrolling the county with another officer, Neil Thomas, who is now a higher-up in the Arkansas State Police as chief investigator.
In Young’s case, he moved fresh out of high school to a position as a trooper with the Arkansas Department of Correction in the behavioral unit in Pine Bluff, then was a State Police Trooper first class. It was longtime friend Mike Knoedl, he said, who was influential in getting Young assigned to the AGFC’s Monticello office and maintaining his first class ranking, but now as wildlife officer, where he worked under Pat Fitts. In 2012, Young was named the state’s Boating Wildlife Officer of the Year, bringing regular trooper knowledge to the way boating was policed. As a post sergeant in Monticello, Young was named Wildlife Officer of the year in 2014.
“I always wanted to lead by example, by working with my guys,” Young said. “That was a wonderful year, a lot of work, a lot of trying to lead by example and motivate your men by getting out in the field.”
He left Monticello for a post in Little Rock working directly under the division chief leading statewide investigations. In 2016, he was district captain in Pine Bluff, where one of his key roles was helping police the controversial and dangerous “boat racing” that was going on at George H. Dunklin Bayou Meto WMA during waterfowl season, taking much from what he had implemented elsewhere in 2012 when he was named Boating Officer of the Year.
“I took what I had learned in my past as a trooper and used the rules of the road on the water, urging no passing and things like that, and it worked well for us,” he said. “It’s nowhere I’d like it to be, but it is much safer than it was then. It’s a place you can take your kids and have a good hunt and not be worried about being run over. We have a good, strong officer presence there. Those guys do an excellent job, there and on our lakes and streams everywhere.”
Young is a certified Law Enforcement Instructor. He was an officer combat tactics instructor in self defense and defensive driving instructor. He’s also a certified Field Training Officer, training other officers when he worked in the field.
Young is a family man and admits to being a “huge turkey hunter and bowhunter.”
He added, “I love the outdoors. I have kids, and with people taking from the resource my hope is protecting it for the future. I could see myself doing this until retirement. When I came over to the agency, I thought if I retired in the field I’d be happy, but the good Lord had other plans for me.”
As Rae passed the torch to his successor, he pondered what he saw as the biggest change in AGFC law enforcement over the past 26 years.
“Probably the way that the enforcement officers have become more professional, more involved,” Rae said. “Just like with the state police being here (today) and Col. Bryant’s statement, the training that we have is phenomenal. Used to be, in the old days you were just a game warden, and ‘just leave me alone.’ But now, everybody is so involved with everything going on in the state as far as law enforcement. So, I’d say it’s the professionalism, the training. I’d match our training up against any law enforcement agency in the state or any state in the Southeast.”