One Tiny Trooper’s Wish Granted In A Big Way

By: 
JENN HANLON
Correspondent

On Tuesday, October 13, the day at St. Paul’s Catholic School began as any other day for brothers Bennett and Chase Stenger. What they didn’t know, was that this was going to be a special day in their lives, and that wishes sometimes do come true. For five-year-old Bennett Stenger, who is battling a disease that qualifies him as a Make-a-Wish candidate, his dream to become a policeman for the day came to fruition.
Students were ushered outside the building at about 8:45 a.m. to take a group photo for the school. They also sang happy birthday to one of their teachers. Media began arriving, but nobody seemed to question the presence of all the photographers and even the WCAX team. As the clock ticked up to 9 a.m., suddenly several Vermont State Police vehicles arrived with lights flashing and a wail of the siren. Sgt. Sean Selby asked for Bennett and Chase to come forward. The entire student body started cheering and Bennett’s dream day began. His eight-year-old brother Chase was also allowed to spend the day with Bennett for this special occasion. At first they thought they were going to be placed under arrest, which would have been just fine with them, but instead, they were issued hand sewn child-sized trooper uniforms. The rest of the school was told about some of the activities the boys were going to be participating in as troopers for a day, and as the caravan of VSP, media, and special guests left Barton, everyone in the crowd cheered and wished the boys well.
The next stop was at the Gateway Center marina for a quick ride on the VSP boat for a patrol around the lake. While the air was chilly and the sky overcast, the lake itself was smooth as glass. Everyone on the boat had to put on safety floatation devices, and Bennett sat in his father Andrew’s arms while Chase sat next to him, all snuggling under a blanket. The boys are familiar with the lake since their grandparents have property there, and they spotted their grandmother on her lawn waving a sign saying “Go B.” Since the water level was low, the vessel could not get closer to the shoreline, but she was clearly acknowledged by the boys. On the way back into the harbor, Aux. Tpr. Albert Stringer opened up the throttle, did a few circles with full lights and sirens blaring.
As the boat docked, the next event was disclosed. “Now we’re going up to the firing range to see some special teams and blow things up, how does that sound?” “Great!” said the boys, with a twinkle in their eyes.
The next stop was the firing range at the Derby Fish and Game Club in Derby Line, each boy rode in a cruiser on the way. As they arrived, a couple of bad guys were spotted in a vehicle ahead of them. “We’re going to have to arrest them!” and Bennett locked the cuffs onto one of the “criminals,” and Chase cuffed the other, who was trying to run away from the scene. Sgt. Teresa Randall told the boys to not let go of their prisoners and place them in the back of the cruiser so they could be brought to jail. Not a bad catch for the first day on the job, two bad guys arrested.
At this point, Roger Stoddard, age 10 and friend of the family, joined the brothers in the activity. Stoddard is Make-A-Wish grantor Judy Moulton’s grandson, and a wish grantor in training. He has accompanied Moulton on several of her wish granting experiences, usually as support staff, but on this day he was allowed to participate in the happenings.
At the firing range, the VSP Bomb Squad and Tactical Services Unit (SWAT) teams were present and ready for action. The boys were given safety instructions, and then the show began. Pumpkins had been set up with different explosive devices in them. Before anything could happen, everyone was issued eye and ear protection and was warned there would be loud explosions. And that’s just what happened. Bennett was even allowed to flip the ignition switch after yelling “Fire in the hole!” Part of setting up the explosives was watching one of the troopers from the meth lab team put on one of their hazardous materials suits, which looked like a tinfoil spacesuit. The point of the exercise was to show how the teams sometimes have to blow up hazardous materials found at drug houses, (or bombs) and the special equipment keeps the officers safe while doing so. The big bang demonstration ended up with a “ring of fire” explosion setup, which drew cheers from those in attendance.
Then it was time for the TSU team to move into action. A member of the TSU team with a sniper rifle took out a few targets, then the entire team stormed out of the vehicle with guns blazing. Bennett, Chase, and Roger were given front row seats in the safety area so they could take in all the action, and enjoy the show they did.
Part of the TSU unit includes remote control bomb disarming robots, one large that has the ability and power to pull an entire vehicle if necessary, and another that is much smaller. It was at this time that Bennett perked up and learned how to run the larger robot, while his brother learned how to control the smaller one. Roger went back and forth between the two, assisting with the controls. At that point, sibling rivalry kicked in, and the boys decided they wanted to fight with the remote-controlled machines.
“I’m going to get him!” said one brother to the other. At that time, the troopers in charge explained that the bigger robot would disable the smaller one due to size, so that wasn’t a good idea.
The next demonstration was with VSP German shepherd K-9 Argus and his handler. With one of the “bad guys” wearing protective gear, Argus was deployed to take him down. And take down that bad guy he did, and the boys were delighted with the show of power and force the well-trained animal is capable of. They also met VSP K-9 Greer, a black Lab type dog who is very low-key and trained to sniff out explosives.
After every incident, there is usually a debriefing back at the barracks, and this event was no exception. Bennett and his entourage arrived through the back door of the barracks in Derby, and were given a tour of the entire station, even the holding cells in which the bad guys are kept while being detained. Then came another surprise.
Waiting in the conference room was beautiful cake for the occasion that was decorated and donated by Price Chopper in Derby. The top had all a cop’s favorite tools, including handcuffs, a toy gun, and replica police vehicles. Bennett spotted it as soon as he entered the room, and promptly removed the gun from the cake. “I want it!”
As a lunch of burgers and hot dogs and other platters of food were being set out for all those who participated, more gifts for Bennett and Chase arrived.

See more of the story in Thursday's Express

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