BY LEANN DILBECK –
A former Mena resident received a notable recognition during his graduation as the agency’s only Mexican AGFC (Arkansas Game & Fish Commission) officer, and one that he holds a close parallel to. Bernie Soliz’s peers in the academy voted for him to receive the Joel Campora Achievement Award. Campora died in the line of duty on May 31, 2013, along with fellow law enforcement officer, Scott County Sheriff Cody Carpenter while the two were attempting to rescue two women trapped in their home that was consumed by overnight floodwaters near Y-City.
Soliz said the two (he and Campora’s) lives are paralleled in many regards. Before the two both became AGFC officers, they started in law enforcement in Polk County and later transferred to Montgomery County where, in fact, Soliz rented the same Mt. Ida home as the Camporas. They both had both served as youth directors at Salem Baptist Church in Nunley.
Soliz had never met Campora’s family until the summer after his passing when Salem Baptist dedicated its VBS to Campora and invited his widow, Rebecca, to attend. She told The Pulse, “Bernie and I were talking (at the dedication) and he was telling me he was the youth pastor at Salem and a deputy in Montgomery County. I’m like ‘wow’… what a coincidence! Then he said, ‘And I live in the same rent house you and Joel did.’ I looked at him and told him, ‘Don’t go AGFC. Quit while you are ahead.’ Well he didn’t listen to me,” she joked.
Soliz said part of his final assignment in the academy was to write a report on Joel Campora. Having met Rebecca, he reached out to her once more for information about Joel that was different than the plethora of info available on the internet.
Bernie said he was surprised and honored when he learned he had been selected to receive the award. Until now, the two have uncanny similarities. Unlike Campora, who resided in Scott County at the time of his death, Soliz now resides in DeQueen. Officers must reside in the county in which they have been assigned. Rebecca commended Soliz for the leadership he has shown, “Bernie has the same work ethic and integrity of Joel. He is going to be a great officer. When I heard he had got the award it made me feel like Joel was right there with him in academy encouraging him along the way. Maybe Bernie is going to continue the work for Joel.”