Statewide and national politicians were nearly as plentiful as the barbecue Thursday at the 27th annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Cookout in Glennville.
Campaign signs barely 1 foot apart lined the entrance and both sides of the long dirt driveway that led to Wayne Dasher’s pond house, where the board member and former chairman of the Georgia Board of Corrections has hosted the event since 1987. Cars, pickups and SUVs lined up in a freshly mowed field created an area that looked like a parking lot for the state fair.
Dasher said he hosted the first event with just Tattnall County law enforcement and first responders to show them the community’s appreciation. He has continued to host the annual event, which now brings in law enforcement, firemen and emergency medical-services personnel from throughout Georgia.
It also attracts elected leaders from across the state, including Gov. Nathan Deal and former Gov. Sonny Perdue; state representatives, including Al Williams of District 168 and Terry Rogers of District 10; and U.S. Representatives John Barrow of District 12, and Jack Kingston of District 1. Georgia’s secretaries of state, agriculture and labor also were present.
In addition to officers from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and local police departments, Thursday’s event attracted 18 county sheriffs, including Liberty County’s Steve Sikes and Long County’s Craig Nobles.
“This (large crowd) shows the support we have with this community,” said Sikes, who added that he’s attended the cookout for at least 15 years. “It’s expensive to put on something like this. To feed this many people takes a lot of sponsors.”
A centerpiece of the feast was a special rice soup called Cadillac rice by its chef, Wayne County Commissioner Jerry “Shag” Wright. He cooks his rice delicacy in a gigantic iron caldron and uses boat paddles to stir it. His wife, Raquel, a Screven city councilwoman, said her husband’s reputation as the “Cadillac Rice Man” almost exceeds his reputation as one of the longest-serving county commissioners. Jerry Wright, who has served Wayne County for 34 years, also oversees smoking chicken and pork butts, as well as cooking Brunswick stew for the event.
With assistance from regional TV personality Sonny Dixon, Dasher began the event by reminding everyone the food “didn’t just drop out of the sky.” He said it was there thanks to 43 “gold” sponsors and 53 “silver” sponsors and more than 100 people like Wright who began cooking the pulled-pork barbecue, smoked chicken, stew, rice and potato salad two days earlier.
One by one, elected leaders seized the moment to express their thanks to law-enforcement officers and first responders attending the event.
Barrow noted that, almost always, the first responder is a local responder. Kingston reflected on his first visit to Glennville’s Sweet Onion Festival and his first time at the law-enforcement appreciation cookout.
Kingston then shouted, “God bless the Dasher family.”
Third Infantry Division Command Sgt. Major Christopher Gilpin spoke on behalf of division commander Maj. Gen. Mike Murray, who was at Fort Bragg, N.C. at the time. Gilpin also expressed his appreciation and that of the soldiers at Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield for the community’s law enforcement and first responders.
“I want to thank you all from the outset for keeping our people safe,” Deal told guests. “That’s the No. 1 function of government ... I found out that if you’re going to run for governor of this state, you’re going to have to tell people what your granddaddy did. Well, I’m proud to say my granddaddy was sheriff of Bulloch County.”
Deal also thanked law-enforcement leaders for supporting for his criminal-justice reform initiatives. He said Department of Correction officials estimate since he’s been in office, the jail backlog has been reduced more than 90 percent.
He then invited state lawmakers to join him on stage as he signed newly passed legislation that maintains the confidentiality between law-enforcement officers and grief counselors.
“Last year, I think we had about 2,000,” Dasher said, as he looked at the crowds of people getting back in long lines for more barbecue. “I feel like it’s a little more than that this year, maybe around 2,300.”