OHP Lieutenant Rick Dodson named pilot of the year

Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lieutenant Rick Dodson was recently named pilot of the year but that's not what made him happy. It was the name on the award that triggered emotion in Dodson.

"Trooper Joe Nicolle was a very good friend of mine and to accept this award bearing his name is the greatest honor I could have received," said Dodson.

The Richard Oldaker/Joe Nicolle Memorial Award was presented to Dodson during the annual OHP Aircraft Christmas banquet on December 11.

Dodson graduated with the 40th OHP Academy in 1984. His first assignment took him to Norman , working in the driver license division. He became acquainted with Nicolle while they were working an Oklahoma City Metro assignment.

"In the last 12 months, Rick donated approximately 39 personal days off to his dedicated effort in refurbishing and overhauling an OHP helicopter," said First Lieutenant Larry Jackson, commander of the OHP Aircraft Division. "He worked tirelessly in his endeavor to make ready the aircraft for use by OHP pilots."

The highway patrol has a full-service aircraft division, including transportation, search and rescue, and counter drug operations. Jackson attributes the resurgence of OHP helicopters in the aircraft division to Dodson.

"He did all the leg work and paved the way to recreate this service to the citizens of Oklahoma," said Jackson. "Thanks to his efforts, we now have 13 troopers piloting nine Cessna 182 airplanes and two Bell OH58 helicopters.

Troopers work eight-hour shifts from eight different locations statewide. They respond to searches for missing persons and escapees, requests from fellow law enforcement agencies, seasonal Marijuana eradication and traffic enforcement. Last year, OHP pilots logged over 3,000 hours of flight time and were responsible for over 12,500 traffic contacts. They assisted in numerous manhunts and searches for missing people.

During the banquet, two troopers were awarded the Chief's Award for their outstanding service to the public. Trooper James Bullock, McAlester, received the Chief's Award for presenting his gun safety program to over 3,000 children in his area. Trooper Mark Lambert, Durant, was responsible for locating a lost and sick person who was also an amputee.

"This particular search was extremely difficult due in part to the fact that it was conducted at night which always proves a hindrance to the effort," said Jackson. "Trooper Lambert was given the assignment with the knowledge of only one thing, that the missing person went hunting. Lambert didn't know if he went north, south, east or west. Thanks to Lambert's knowledge of the area and the common practices of local hunters, he was able to find the individual, thereby saving his life."

The Nicolle-Oldaker Award was created in 1999 by Jackson to recognize the efforts and dedication of troopers assigned to the aircraft division. The first recipient was Trooper Roy Anderson in 1999 and last year Bullock received the award.

"This year's recipient, Dodson, has been a member of the highway patrol for almost 18 years," said Jackson. "His dedication to duty while a member of the aircraft division is unparralled. It was common for Rick to end his regular eight-hour shift and instead of heading to the house would spend several hours refurbishing the helicopter."

Jackson said Dodson has made phenomal personal sacrifice in developing an intensive training program to educate fixed wing pilots in becoming helicopter pilots.

All the funding used to refurbish two OHP helicopters was provided by the Department of Public Safety Asset Forfeiture division. There was no cost to the citizens of Oklahoma. The funding was allocated specifically for this project by the DPS commissioner and OHP staff.