Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Road Trip - A Final Tribute

This post is dedicated to my Lompoc Special Operations Response Team (SORT) brother, Scott Williams. Although I didn't know him personally, what I do know of him I very much respect. He was a fine man who saved the life of a fellow officer/SORT member before he died at the hands of an inmate. Being an original member of Lompoc SORT myself, all Lompoc SORT members are my brothers-in-arms. Thank you to current members, Michael Wilfing and Derrick Miller, for giving of their personal time to take my wife, myself and Joyce Lewis to the SORT building so we could see the mementos and re-live the past for a little while.

It is also dedicated to the three members of the original Lompoc SORT who are no longer with us: Clyster Lewis, Dan Stanchfield and Kenny Freeman. You guys are forever missed and honored.

I intentionally left this part of the story out of the original post because I wanted to make it a separate post. While I was in Lompoc I was hoping to get to see some of the old mementos from my days on the original team. In particular, some of the old pictures that used to be in the Training Center and the sign from "The Hill" - the place where we originally qualified for the team. It had also been in the Training Center the last time I was there.

When we got to the Training Center Saturday evening none of the SORT items were there. In the space where the sign used to be was a memorial display for Scott Williams. I couldn't complain about that. He certainly deserved more recognition that we did since he'd given his life in the line of duty. I was a little disappointed not to see it but I got over it immediately seeing what was in its place.

I walked outside to look over the obstacle course and rappelling tower, still in place after all these years. The original team built the obstacle course in the span of a week. I was working as an Engineering Tech at the time and had ordered all of the materials for the job based on the plans we got from another institution. When the materials came in Warden Rison put us all on special assignment and we built the entire thing in 5 days. We worked hard but we had a blast and it really pulled the team together.

The Facilities department built the tower using the plans I drew. While some replacement of wood may have taken place over the years, all of them are still being used today. It was nice to see. (They have painted a mural on the front of the rappelling tower. I like it.

After visiting with everyone for a while Arden and I drove back down to the picnic area to see some of the retirees who were there. I ran into my old friend, Joyce Lewis. We began talking and I said something about the SORT sign and pictures that used to be in the Training Center. Joyce said they had probably been moved to the SORT ready building and that there were a couple of current SORT members there at the picnic grounds who might just let us in to see them. She said she hadn't seen them for a long time either.

She disappeared for a few minutes and returned with two of the current members - Michael Wilfing and Derrick Miller - who graciously agreed to take us up to the building where we could see the items we were talking about. Along with Joyce they got in a golf cart and drove up the hill. Arden and I went to the van and drove up to meet them.

Mike and Derrick let us into the building and there they were - the old familiar pictures and the sign. There was one entire wall of team pictures - from the very first one to the current one.

The sign had originally been down near the firing range. Apparently someone didn't like it - most likely jealous because they couldn't measure up - and put several rounds through it before it was moved.

The SORT room also has a tribute to Scott Williams. They have preserved his locker and made it a memorial - very befitting a hero. I wish I'd have had a chance to meet him. Please excuse the glare.

I was humbled by these two SORT members who took me to the building. They treated me with respect and courtesy, even calling me Sir at one point. (That could be simply because I'm older than they but I choose to believe it was respect for my past.!)

Anyway - I was extremely grateful that these two guys would take time out from their evening to allow a fellow SORT brother to take a trip down memory lane. They didn't have to do it - but that's what SORT guys do for each other. Thanks again to Mike and Derrick for the tour. It meant more to me than you'll ever know.

To Scott, Clyster, Danny and Kenny - you are all missed by your brothers-in-arms and by all who knew you well. Rest in peace warriors - you earned it. Thank you for your service to your country and for your faithful dedication to your brothers and fellow staff.