Law Enforcement, Fire, Total Force volunteers bring back L.A.W. Camp

  • Published
  • By Mr. John Van Winkle
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

Local law enforcement, firefighters and military volunteers restarted the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office's L.A.W. Camp July 12-14 at O.J. Watson Park in Wichita, after a three-year hiatus.

The L.A.W. in L.A.W. Camp stands for Leaders Achievers and Winners, and highlights the end-state this program aims for, by giving an opportunity to interaction with law enforcement in a positive manner with strong role models while building their self-confidence, learning team-building and life skills.

This is something that the 2023 L.A.W. Camp organizer, retired Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office Capt. Mary Mattingly, has seen in her 22 years of involvement with L.A.W. Camp.

"Particularly with law enforcement, we have had many that have hand a negative interaction with law enforcement because of someone in their family or what they've seen, and what they've experienced, so this is an opportunity to have a positive impact, also and bring the military in, and show the opportunities that are available for people," she said.

It's not uncommon for law enforcement officers to come across past L.A.W. Campers when they are out and about in the community, and that engagement gives each a conversation point to touch on when they meet, and a chance to catch up. For the deputies, she noted, this offers an opportunity for more positive interaction and mentoring, and the chance to highlight positive opportunities available in the future for the children. One of the current Sheriff's Office deputies at this year's camp is a former camper himself, she added.

This free camp was founded in 1995 by the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office, for county residents ages 10 to 14. But the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered the camp for 2020-2022. When the Sheriff's Office looked to restart the camp, they called upon Mattingly to plan and organize the restart of the camp and gather the 40 other volunteers to bring the camp back to life for local kids.

Military members were among those who volunteered to restart the camp, including Senior Airman David Bunch, a traditional Guardsman assigned to the 284th Air Support Operations Squadron at Smokey Hill Weapons Range near Salina. He took time away from his civilian day job, to take part in the camp as a squad leader.

"I wanted to get involved with the kids, and help give them a positive experience with both L.A.W. enforcement and military members," said Bunch. "If I could help do that, I think it the positive experience with them would be worth it. With an over-abundance of squad leaders, Bunch shifted duties to where the need was greatest, which was leading camp logistics efforts, to keep the 10 groups totaling 80 kids rotating between events, while maintaining accountability, and "keep the kids having fun and safe," he said.

A number of organizations were represented among the volunteer cadre, including: the Sedgwick County Sheriff's Office; the Wichita, Bentley and Maize Police Departments; Sedgwick County Fire Department; Kansas Air National Guard; and the Air Force Reserve's 931st Air Refueling Wing.

"It's just an opportunity to come out and serve, that's what I'm here for," said Lt. Col. Vanessa Schoon, a traditional reservist and the 931st Mission Support Group's deputy commander.

Camp activities included kayaking, fishing, golf, paddleboats, corn hole, K-9 demonstrations, volleyball, a heavy rescue demo by the county fire department, and group discussions with Wichita Police Department officers about gangs, peer pressure, and de-escalation.

The 2023 L.A.W. Camp closed out with a visit from the 22nd Civil Engineer Squadron with a static display of select military vehicles. CE joined other local First Responders to give campers the chance to see Fire Engines and other vehicles up close, and learn more about the first responders, and their career fields and experiences.