RCSD receives top awards from ESGR and American Legion

Sheriff Lott praised by Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army

By W. Thomas Smith Jr.

The Richland County Sheriff’s Department (RCSD) and two RCSD officers – Major Maria Yturria and Deputy Sarah Merriman – received awards from the Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) and the American Legion Post 193, respectively. The awards were presented at the beginning of RCSD’s quarterly PROACT (professionalism, accountability, coordination, and teamwork) meeting at the department’s Denny Terrace Training Division headquarters auditorium, Wed., July 21.

Sheriff Leon Lott accepted the ESGR Extraordinary Employer Support Award on behalf of RCSD. Yturria received the Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year 2021 Award from American Legion Post 193 in Chapin, and Merriman received the Law Enforcement Officer Award for Bravery 2021 also from American Legion Post 193.

“This ESGR award is an honor to be shared with every single employee of the Richland County Sheriff’s Department,” said Lott. “And it’s another first for our state.”

The ESGR Extraordinary Employer Support Award recognizes previous recipients of the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award, which RCSD received in 2013. Only 280 employers nationwide have ever received an ESGR Freedom Award since the inception of the award in 1996. All Freedom Award winners are selected from approximately 3,000-plus nominations from across the nation, annually. As such, RCSD is the first and only recipient of the Extraordinary Employer Support Award in the Palmetto State.

Col. Kevin Shwedo, U.S. Army (Ret.), said the awards – including Lott’s recent recognition as a National Sheriff of the Year and S.C. Sheriff of the Year – reflect a sterling command climate at RCSD.

An ESGR volunteer and the executive director of the SCDMV, Shwedo pointed to Lott’s service both as president of the Association of the U.S. Army’s (AUSA) Fort Jackson-Palmetto State chapter and his command of the all-volunteer S.C. State Guard as symbolic representations of his tirelessness and strong leadership which carry over to command culture at RCSD and throughout the department.

As pres. of AUSA’s Palmetto State chapter, Lott is “at the fort once a month taking care of soldiers that are serving at Fort Jackson and around the Army,” said Shwedo, who also serves as Civilian Aide to the Secretary of the Army for S.C. “He has that reputation. The president [of AUSA], a four-star general by the name of Carter Hamm, talks about Sheriff Lott every place he goes to represent the Association.”

Shwedo added, “If you want to know why RCSD is getting the award, it’s because you [RCSD deputies and employees] are able to do everything at the pinnacle of success. And I couldn’t be prouder to be a part of the presentation and to thank Sheriff Lott and all of the men and women in this room for everything you do for our Guard and Reserve, the state, and the country.”

ESGR Chair Emeritus Eli Wishart, a former two-star commander of the S.C. State Guard and retired U.S. Army Special Forces colonel, said, “As the boss goes, so goes the unit; and that is precisely what we see with Sheriff Lott and RCSD.”

Susan McPherson, director of Public Policy and Military Affairs at the Columbia Chamber, agrees. “A champion for the military community through their participation, hiring and support while officers are away serving their country, Sheriff Lott and his officers are more than deserving of this prestigious honor,” said McPherson. “It is entirely fitting for RCSD, under the leadership of Sheriff Lott, to receive the first-ever Extraordinary Employer Support Award in S.C.”

Tom Yeoman, first vice commander of American Legion Post 193, said of Yturria’s and Merriman’s awards: “I am proud of RCSD and of these two officers, both of whom are very deserving outstanding law enforcement professionals.”

Yturria’s Outstanding Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award was her second from Post 193. She received the same award in 2013, the same year coincidentally that RCSD received the Secretary of Defense Employer Support Freedom Award.

Merriman, RCSD’s Deputy of the Year 2020, received the American Legion’s state award for bravery on May 28. She received RCSD’s Medal of Valor in January.