Gulfport (Miss.) Police Explorers gave PoliceOne t-shirts to officers arriving for the movie. The explorers had donated several hours in helping get items ready for the event. Photo Dale Stockton
Ocean Springs (Miss.) Police Officer Bryan Wallace (left) celebrates winning the Las Vegas trip with Waveland Police Lieutenant Mac Cowand and Cowand’s wife. Photo Dale Stockton
Gulfport (Miss.) Police Officer Jarred Fore was the winner of the grand prize Steyr Pro Hunter tactical rifle with a Bushnell scope. Photo Dale Stockton
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In July, Law Officer brought you the story of the Sept. 11 ordeal of Port Authority Police Officer Will Jimeno and Sergeant John McLoughlin (see Buried Alive, July 2006). Jimeno has always been filled with a great deal of enthusiasm for the job, and when he called to talk with me about the release of World Trade Center, the movie based on his experience, we came up with Project Inspire. The concept was pretty simple: Take the new film for a special sneak preview for police in Southern Mississippi, where Hurricane Katrina had left a number of devastated towns in its wake. I had just returned from Waveland, Miss., a town flattened by the storm, and thought the story might encourage many who were weary and felt like they d been forgotten.
In Waveland, I saw firsthand that the officers were struggling. They were getting by with donated equipment and cars, but most of them were living in small trailers and working long shifts. The strain of handling the residents post-hurricane stressors and then going home to handle their own was evident. Combine that with stifling heat, dripping humidity, hungry bugs and an approaching hurricane season, and you have a set of circumstances that would cause anyone to think about leaving. I ran the idea past Lieutenant Mac Cowand of the Waveland Police Department. Cowand was immediately receptive, confiding that many in the area had left because the future seemed so bleak. He encouraged me to make it happen. I learned that the only operational movie theater in the area was in Gulfport, Miss., so that became my target location.
After several phone calls and e-mails to Paramount Studios, I got a call from the film s producer, Michael Shamberg. After hearing the details of Project Inspire, Shamberg said he would send the idea to the right people. Ultimately, Paramount agreed to provide a special pre-release screening of the movie for two showings. Two showings was a big commitment; after all, southern Mississippi isn t exactly Hollywood, and the studio has to pay for the theater, security for the film itself and the tickets. There wasn t anything in this for Paramount except a sense of good will.
It was up to Law Officer to cover the logistics and get the word out. I also pursued the possibility of getting some companies to provide give-away bags and door prizes. While at the 5.11 Challenge Sponsors Weekend, I gathered the help of many of the other 5.11 sponsors. More e-mails went out and the dates for the showings were set: Wednesday, Aug. 2, and Thursday, Aug. 3, a full week before the rest of the world would have the chance to see the movie.
We offered a grand prize for each showing: A Steyr Pro Hunter rifle with Bushnell scope for the Wednesday event, and a trip for two to Las Vegas for the Thursday showing. Numerous donations provided additional prizes. The most moving gift came from a unique group assigned to a special operations unit in Iraq. Headed by a long-time friend of law enforcement, Steven Bronson, they collected $900 in cash and sent it to me via FedEx. I was stunned by their thoughtfulness, especially considering they were in the middle of fighting a war.
Since I m based in Southern California, I needed the help of someone in the area, and Gulfport Deputy Police Chief Alfred Sexton assigned Sergeant Bill Bennett, who soon became a good friend and partner, to the task. Bennett agreed to distribute some flyers, and we set up a Web site to handle the RSVPs. Bennett also arranged for receipt of shipment of products. Incoming boxes dwarfed the department s FEMA trailer and required three large transfers to a community center. The evening before the first showing, I met Bennett and four police explorers at the center, where we spent four hours stuffing give-away bags and sorting door prizes.
The Wednesday mid-day showing went off without a hitch, and the Steyr rifle went to Gulfport Police Officer Jarred Fore. Turns out Fore is a long-time hunter and needed a new rifle. When my name was called, I couldn t believe it, he says. I just sat there stunned for a minute. Fore is known for his marksmanship and was just selected as a sniper for Gulfport s tactical team.
On Thursday evening, officers and their guests began arriving early, many showing up more than an hour before the show to make sure they got a good seat. All but just a few seats were filled, and almost all of the officers were in uniform. The Thursday special prize went to Ocean Springs (Miss.) Police Officer Bryan Wallace, who won not only the trip to Vegas but also a $500 gift card. He later told me he almost didn t come to the event. I had a really bad week including having seven teeth removed, he said. I usually play in a dart league on that night but the other traffic guys said they wanted to go, so all four of us went as a unit. Turned out we all won something, but I m the one that really made out. Wallace works traffic from both a car and motorcycle and installs much of the special equipment in the department s vehicles.
World Trade Center demonstrates dramatically that when the whole world comes tumbling down on you, it takes a while to dig out, and even then, it may take a while to recover. Project Inspire took this message to one of the areas most devastated by Hurricane Katrina, where the message was not lost on those in attendance. I m honored to be part of this effort, and I m grateful to Paramount and the many sponsors for making the event happen.