The Soyka Story Part 3
As part of my continuing story to keep you all better informed of my abilities to be your Sheriff, I will talk more about my work experience as it relates to my SWAT career. While I did not keep track of the actual date that I started with the Stearns-Benton SWAT team, I know that it was in 1998, thus giving me 20 years on our SWAT team this year. The Stearns-Benton SWAT team is a combined part-time SWAT team who specialize in tactics related to higher threat situations. Everyone has probably seen SWAT on TV or the movies and it is not quite all repelling down skyscrapers and shoot outs. In fact our Sheriff Office SWAT team, as all SWAT teams nationwide take great care and pride in resolving situations with no use of force. This is done through training and good use of tactics and officer safety.
The Stearns-Benton SWAT team is made up of 20 deputies from both counties that receive specialized training, as entry team members, snipers, or gas deployment personnel to deal with very dangerous high threat situations and get called in for emergency situations. The situations that SWAT are involved in include but are not limited to, drug raids, hostage situations, armed suspects, and searches for dangerous criminals. Recently at my urging, after a couple years of asking we were able to open up opportunities to small town police departments in Stearns County. We have since added a Paynesville and Albany officer. This is a win-win for both agencies and is a excellent example of my wanting our Sheriff’s Office to work more with the communities we serve in Stearns County.
During my time on SWAT, I started out as a team member, moving to team leader and around 2007 became the team commander. In this role I am responsible for training, making sure the team has adequate equipment to get the jobs done and to plan out or approve all tactical plans on call outs. As you can imagine this is a large responsibility that I do not take lightly as I am the one giving orders to others that potentially puts their lives in danger. All tactical plans are thought out, sometimes for days, sometimes on the fly as situations evolve, however I always take officer and the public’s safety in the utmost consideration. I have been involved in well over 100 operations during my time on SWAT.
Our SWAT team trains once a month in various topics and firearms drills. This training may be room clearing, entries into buildings, tubular assaults and officer/public down rescues. All the training is done to make us the best SWAT team around. In 2012, the Stearns-Benton SWAT team was awarded the SWAT team of the year award by the Midwest Special Operations Training Association (SOTA). SOTA represents all SWAT teams in the state and some from surrounding areas. They hold an annual conference every year that provides the latest training and tactics topics. SOTA awarded our team this for having 2 high stress situations almost back to back and our response to them. One involved the shooting death of Cold Spring Officer Decker and the other involved a murder that occurred a month prior in Rockville. In that situation, the team was called out after a suspect shot a victim to death with a assault rifle and fled into the dark of night. The team conducted a house by house search of Rockville and eventually located the suspect in an apartment building. The suspect came outside holding a rifle and handgun and was shot when he refused orders and started to raise his guns toward officers. The suspect is now in prison for his crimes.
During my time as the team commander I have instituted a weapons qualification, PT test, and mandated specific training for certain jobs on the team. I also have introduced the newest of tactics and training and implemented the addition of small police agencies to the team, along with adding a tactical medic program to provide the best medical care in the field that we can for both officers and the public. All this was done to make us better professionally and for the good of you the citizens. As your next Sheriff I will continue the tradition of obtaining the very best equipment and training for our team and will continue to have the team strive to be the very best it can be and to keep you all safe.