Fort Bragg law enforcement agencies and first responders participated in the Law Enforcement Torch Run for Special Olympics North Carolina, at Fort Bragg, June 7.

The run included the 16th Military Police Brigade, agents with U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, 87th MP Detachment (CID), personnel from Fort Bragg’s Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and firefighters. Around 400 people were estimated to have participated in the event.

The torch run is a way for law enforcement agencies across the world to raise money and awareness for Special Olympics athletes. In North Carolina, law enforcement officials carry the Torch of Hope for 2,000 miles across the state before the start of the Special Olympics North Carolina Summer Games held in Raleigh.

Sgts. Blake Dills, 65th Military Police Company, 503rd Military Police Battalion, 16th MP Bde. and Earl Ituralde, 21st Military Police Company, 503rd MP Bn., 16th MP Bde. were the torch bearers for the Fort Bragg leg of the run.

“I feel blessed that I get to be a part of this and to represent the company, battalion and the brigade,” Ituralde said.

Agent Ryan Gasdia, CID, was part of the team who took the helm of organizing this year’s torch run. Gasdia and another CID agent, who helped organize the previous year’s event, began planning early.

“I was working with the agent before me who did this last year and we noticed a struggle to get people involved,” Gasdia said. “We started earlier this year to draw more people in and I think we succeeded. We are going to try to do better next year. We are also trying to pull in EOD (192nd Ordnance Battalion), EMS, pretty much all first responders because it is a smaller community here and hopefully it’ll be even bigger than this.”

The Law Enforcement Torch Run began in 1981 in Wichita, Kansas. Then police chief Richard LaMunyon thought it would be a way for law enforcement to get involved with the special needs community. The first run raised $600 for the Special Olympics athletes.

This year, $56 million has been raised worldwide, with $1.3 million of that coming from North Carolina agencies, according to Capt. Robert Spatorico of the Fayetteville Police Department.

“One of the first things we ask when we are interviewing new employees is ‘why do you want to be a cop?’ ‘I want to help people,’” Spatorico said. “Then you get in the grind of being a cop, arresting the same people and dealing with the same situations. You ask yourself, ‘am I really doing anything to help anybody or am I doing the same thing over and over again?’ This (run) is grassroots. You raise some money and you see the kids and the athletes benefit from what you do and you realize, I’m helping people.”

Spatorico addressed the participants after the run, encouraging the continued efforts of the torch run as they move on.

“It continues for us as guardians of the flame by guys like you,” he said. “A lot of MPs’ ambition when they get out is to go to federal law enforcement or go back to where they come from and do law enforcement and that’s how we plant the seeds.”

Col. Larry Dewey, commander, 16th MP Bde., said this isn’t the first torch run he had participated in. While stationed in Hawaii at Schofield Barracks, Dewey attended the Troy Barboza Law Enforcement Torch Run, one of the biggest in the U.S.

“If we don’t participate here (at Fort Bragg), I think we are missing an opportunity to join all of the other law enforcement agencies to raise money,” Dewey said. “I think it’s a noble cause. Anytime we get a chance to show our respect for the athletes, it’s a good day.”

Brian Bennett, a Special Olympics athlete and ambassador, also attended the event.

“(This run) means everything to everyone, my friends, everyone who has a disability,” he said. “In Cumberland County we have 150 Special Olympics athletes, in North Carolina, we have 40,000. World wide we have 40 million. It’s special that we have this going on.”

Bennett competes in basketball and tennis and won a silver medal for bowling this past weekend in Raleigh. His favorite basketball player is Dennis Rodman.

“There’s just something about him. Every time I start playing basketball, I start acting like him,” he said. “I turn 39 this year. I’ve been competing with Special Olympics since I was 17 … I’m not going to stop.”

Bennett spoke to the Soldiers and participants after the run and said the Special Olympics shows people with disabilities they can participate in sports just like able-bodied individuals.

“If I cannot win, let me brave in the attempt,” he said.