Mena’s Crawford honored as AGFC Game Warden of the Year
BY Jim Harris
July 26, 2023
Managing Editor Arkansas Wildlife Magazine
NORTH LITTLE ROCK – As Major Brian Aston of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission read off a three-minute list of some of the more amazing accomplishments of the officer he would announce Tuesday as the 2023 Sgt. Monty Carmikle Arkansas Game Warden of the Year, it struck some people in the audience that it was a wonder the winner would have time to attend the presentation, much less have much time away from his work.
The list ranged from saving a gunshot victim to helping pepper-sprayed high school students to rescuing a lost hunter, finding a missing 11-year-old girl, locating three individuals lost after a UTV accident and later providing aid to two more injured ATV riders in the same area. There were the two people he rescued from a camper fire, or the armed and dangerous felon he captured. He helped a group of officers and sheriff’s deputies clear students from 100 rooms at the University of Arkansas at Rich Mountain Community College following a bomb threat, and investigated numerous boating and hunting accidents. He had 66 interactions with regulations violators, and found time to file 40 incident reports. Through all that, he had the gruesome task of helping recover six boating accident victims.
And still, Chris Crawford finds much of the job he does “fun.”
“Absolutely. Absolutely,” the 17-year veteran of the Marine Corps who joined the AGFC in March of 2018 said Tuesday at the National Guard Armory at Camp Robinson. “I love the public. I love my job. You get to travel. In this job, you get to see aspects of law enforcement and deal with people that a lot of officers don’t get to, whether it’s on the waterways, the lakes, the rivers, or out in the woods. Yeah, sure, we assist with some of the bad calls and the domestics and this and that, but being a part of the day-to-day life of the men and women out there just having fun in the woods and waterways, it’s a blast.”
Crawford, as Aston noted, also has participated during the past year in 12 public relations events, dedicating over 60 hours to these functions, and in the process reaching more than 60,000 people across the state.
Along with his plaque as Game Warden of the Year, and receiving a pin from last year’s honoree, Kurt VanMatre, Crawford received a Luminox Navy Seal watch as a gift from AGFC commissioners and specifically Bill Jones, who donated the timepiece from Sissy’s Log Cabin jewelers and plans to make the award an every-year honor.
Crawford also received an AGFC Lifesaving Medal, in which he saved a hunter who had been gored in his calf by a feral hog and was close to bleeding to death. Eight wardens were honored with certificates of commendation, while three others received a Warden’s Star and Lifesaving Medal. Cpl. Bradley Huggins, Cpl. Tyler Webb and Game Warden First Class Channing Sanders were instrumental in the rescue of a lost camper in the Winona WMA area when temperature had fallen to near freezing. They were honored with both the Warden’s Star and a Lifesaving Medal.
Cpl. Lyndle Crownover from Baxter County, an 18-year veteran of the force, was honored as Boating Officer of the Year. Cpl. Jeff McMullin was the Waterfowl Officer of the Year. And, Game Warden First Class Audrey Bush, who was the most recent National Wild Turkey Federation Officer of the Year for the entire U.S., received her 2022 NWTF state Officer of the Year plaque.
“They wear many hats,” said Jake Dunn, the AGFC’s Enforcement Division assistant chief, “everything from checking a fishing license to saving somebody that just had a car wreck. Like our (game warden of the year nominees), they’re focused on major violations and the most egregious violators out there, and they’re doing an outstanding job of catching these people that are having a devastating impact on the natural resource. That’s what today is about, is celebrating those officers who are going above and beyond, and doing things that are really having an significant impact on the natural resources of Arkansas.”
Also nominated along with Crawford for Game Warden of the Year and presented plaques were Crownover, Michael Tibben, Tyler Staggs, Clint Park, Michael Neece, Douglas Martisek, Dustin Smith, Jeff McMullin, David Foret, Austin Powell and George Bethell.
Dunn said, “The guys really appreciate this, this means a lot to these guys to get recognized. They don’t go to work wanting a pat on the back, that’s not what they’re looking for, but any time you can give them a pat on the back they appreciate it.”
Senior Cpl. Brian Austin, Cpl. Chase Williams and Arkansas State Trooper First Class Justin Williams received certificates of commendation for assisting in the water rescue of a driver who had hydroplaned off the roadway into floodwaters. Huggins and Sanders were given a certificate of commendation for the rescue of a missing and possibly suicidal hunter in Winona WMA. Sr. Cpl. Chad Cruce of Stone County received his certificate of commendation for a swift-water rescue after a Ford F-250 was swept off a bridge. Sgt. Chris Majors rescued an autistic hiker who was lost in the Sylamore WMA area. Game Warden First Class Briston Gould located and assisted with a multivehicle accident with serious injuries, requiring CPR and other life-saving measures, that earned him a certificate of commendation.
Every one of these wardens, like Crawford, look to strike a balance between work that can keep them out all night and being with their own families.
Crawford said, “Game and Fish is a wonderful agency, and I love my job. We always try to find that (balance) … I’ve been very blessed and I love the county I’m in. I’m home.” After leaving the Marine Corps, Crawford worked for one year in Bradley County and Warren before relocating to his hometown.
The one year of his achievements that Aston listed before the presentation seems like it could have filled all five-plus years at the AGFC.
“There’s been, Lord, I’m trying to remember all of them … I told them I’d rather chase a guy with a gun than the bomb threat at the college where me and several officers, deputies, cleared hundreds of rooms at the college evacuating it. So that was a long day. There’s been several boating accidents and hunting accidents,” he said. Winning Game Warden of the Year left him “absolutely floored right now, I’m not going to lie. My knees got a little weak when they said (his name) because I couldn’t believe I would get this. It’s an honor. When you go through the (AGFC Enforcement) academy and you see the list of previous award winners and things that they had accomplished, and to have your name put up next to theirs, it’s touching.”
ONE OFFICER IN UNIFORM
AGFC Game Warden First Class Chris Crawford received the 2023 Sgt. Monty Carmikle Game Warden of the Year Award. Photo by Mike Wintroath.
TWO OFFICERS IN UNIFORM
AGFC Chief of Staff (left) and AGFC Lt. Col. Jake Dunn (far right) presented the Warden’s Star and Lifesaving Medal to Game Warden First Class Channing Sanders (left) and Cpl. Bradley Huggins (right). Cpl. Tyler Webb (not pictured) also received a lifesaving award and Warden’s Star. Photo by Mike Wintroath.
TWO MEN WITH WATCH
AGFC Commissioner Bill Jones presented Crawford with a military-grade watch in addition to his plaque as a token of appreciation for Crawford’s accomplishments. Photo by Mike Wintroath.
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