The FBI recently honored three Oklahoma game wardens for their assistance in a priority law enforcement
"It's always nice to know that there are wardens out who know the area and are ready to assist, and this was important that night," said James E. Finch, special agent in charge of the Oklahoma City FBI office.
Finch honored the three wardens during the Aug. 5 meeting of the Oklahoma Wildlife Commission.
He told the Commission that around midnight May 4, 2011, warden Ben Bickerstaff got a phone call. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol was asking Bickerstaff to assist with a law enforcement operation west of Orienta in Major County.
A short time later, Bickerstaff along with wardens Lt. Mark Walker and Lt. Frank Huebert were at an FBI command site near Gloss Mountain State Park. The FBI was on the trail of Sandlin "Sandy" Smith, a Florida man wanted in connection with the bombing of a Muslim mosque, and the suspect's cell phone had been traced to that rugged area of northwestern Oklahoma.
Huebert, who has good knowledge of the local terrain and access to the area, was able to help position members of an FBI SWAT team near the suspect's position. Bickerstaff and Walker had night-vision equipment to lend to the operation, and they also assisted in maintaining roadblocks around the perimeter.
"We approached the tent of Mr. Sandlin to get him to surrender. He ... came out of the tent armed with an AK-47, pointing it at the agents," Finch said. "At that time, he was fatally wounded."
Finch told commissioners the three wardens greatly contributed to the operation's success.
"The reason I'm here is because of my appreciation," Finch said. "These guys ... helped immensely with locating and securing that area. Guys, in my book, you're awesome."
Each warden received a certificate of recognition from the FBI, signed by FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III. The certificates recognize each warden for "dedication and contributions to a joint law enforcement operation carried out by your agency in cooperation with the FBI. Your skills, devotion to duty, and ability to work closely with other law enforcement officers were responsible for a significant part of the successes achieved in this priority investigation."
No law enforcement officers were injured during the operation. Finch told the wardens,"I owe you a lot, and certainly the families of our SWAT team owe you a lot.
"My hat goes off to these guys for doing something I pray about every time they (FBI agents) go -- that they all come home. I truly believe the support coming from the game wardens here made that possible," Finch said.