Local emergency responders laugh as they are entertained by Charlie Lewis last Thursday at Belle Meade Hunt, which held its annual dinner to honor those that work in public safety in the community.

Belle Meade Hunt last Thursday hosted emergency responders from across McDuffie County. This marked the 20th year of the hunt group holding a cookout to honor those in the community that work in public safety roles.

Charlie Lewis, of Belle Meade Hunt, as in past years again delivered comments of appreciation for those who serve the community.

“Twenty years ago I was on the front porch out here and I welcomed a crowd of first responders. Twenty years ago we had the first real infraction of our American society as far as I’m concerned. I’m 81 years old and I have seen a lot of ups and downs,” he said.

Lewis recalled how 20 years ago about 65 first responders attended the dinner.

“Folks I’m going to tell you. You are more important, 10 times more important today than you were 20 years ago - maybe 20 times,” said Lewis. “Without you today, there is nobody between us old folks and the devil. There’s absolutely nobody except you.”

Lewis, who has the ability to engage an audience, called on Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry and provided an idea. He suggested that the city place a photo of the current and all prior police chiefs on the wall.

“The only progressive thing I know the city council has done in the last 50 years I have been here is this child right here,” Lewis said as he pointed to Thomson Police Chief Courtney Gale. “Chief, welcome and we thank you for coming out to Belle Meade.”

Lewis resumed and talked of how the first responders are not the first line of defense; they are the last line of defense when it comes to possible terror attacks.

“What we just experienced in Afghanistan is a good example of why you are more important than you have ever, ever been,” he said. “Thomson sleeps better, without knowing it, because of you and don’t ever think of yourself as not being the top drawer. You are what makes America keep ticking every day.”

“We don’t have a clue what’s coming in from the southern border. When don’t have a clue of all the Afghanistans that have come in here and who has infiltrated. We don’t have a clue. But, you will have the first clue because you will know it. You are the folks that are going to protect us,” Lewis added.

He briefly spoke of how in the past year he has experienced first hand what it is like to have first responders at his home.

“I have learned to appreciate you more than I ever, ever, ever would think I would,” Lewis said, and then opted to not elaborate further.

He returned to his light-hearted banter as he held up an American flag cowboy had that he said he had picked out for the sheriff’s office. He joked that the sheriff said the badge would not fit. Continuing to entertain with humor, he turned to a hot topic — the defunding police movement.

“You know we talk about defunding the police,” he continued.

Then he talked about how the McDuffie County Sheriff’s Office has just acquired new 9 mm handguns, which apparently replaced .40 caliber handguns.

“Nine is less than 40, so that is a good example of defunding,” Lewis joked.

With that, he yielded the floor to McDuffie County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton.

“I don’t know how I can follow that,” Newton said. “We are 20 years later and it’s hard to imagine that we are 20 years after than tragic event of 2001,” Newton said. “It did awake America to the importance of the folks that are running in when we are all running out.”

Newton expressed appreciation for how Belle Meade Hunt has honored emergency responders each year.

“I just hope America hasn’t become desensitized because of what we are going through now. I mean between COVID, and riots, and killing it just doesn’t seem like we care anymore,” said Newton, as he reminded all that the first responders keep us safe. “We greatly appreciate y’all for what you do every day,” Newton said to the first responders.

He added that local public safety has done a tremendous job dealing with the pandemic.

“We appreciate that,” Newton added Thomson Mayor Kenneth Usry introduced Chief Gale, and talked about her selection. “It boiled down to three people, and by far when this lady came in for the interview she was way ahead of the rest of the crowd,” Usry explained.

The mayor said the biggest challenge right now for the police department is manpower, as he pointed out the Thomson Police Department is short four or five officers currently. Like the others, Usry thanked the responders.

“We can lay down at night and go to sleep and know we are in good hands. These folks are looking after us,” Usry said.

Usry said he was in Chicago last week, where their mayor wants to defund police.

“That’s scary, Its big time scary,” Usry said. “In Thomson, Ga., in McDuffie County, we are looking after our police department, our sheriff department. We’ve got good qualified people. We just need more people and we’re thankful for what we’ve got,” Usry added.