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Police veteran killed in Iditarod Trail plane crash modernized force's weapons training

Jerzy Shedlock

Retired Anchorage Police Department Sgt. Ronald "Ted" Smith had the respect of his fellow officers as well as the public, known throughout Alaska and Outside for his contributions to advancing firearms training, said recently retired Lt. Dave Parker.

The veteran police sergeant and Eagle River resident died this week when the 55-year-old fixed-wing airplane registered to him flew into a mountainside near Rainy Pass, along the Iditarod Trail. Smith was flying Eagle River neighbors Carolyn Sarjova and her 10-year-old daughter, Rosemarie, out to the sled-dog race checkpoint of Takotna, according to state and federal authorities who spoke about the crash Tuesday.

Smith joined the APD in 1982 and quickly gained a reputation as an above-average firearms instructor. Anchorage police had an outdated firearms training program -- experience handling guns came from static shooting drills at a firing range -- before Smith became involved, Parker said.

Officer Smith changed that when he implemented more dynamic training. APD police then ran through realistic scenarios, target shooting in 360-degree environments.

Smith always was willing to assist fellow officers, Parker said. He offered encouragement while expecting the best.

“He could correct problems without being a jerk,” Parker said.

His 29 years of service with Alaska's largest police force was celebrated in July 2011, when the Anchorage Assembly passed a resolution recognizing Sgt. Smith for helping officers gain firearms confidence and thereby increase their chances of surviving hostile situations.

Police have dealt with a number of Anchorage residents wielding weapons during the past two years. Smith laid a firm foundation for future officers, the resolution said.  

“It is impossible to measure how many lives have been saved because of (Smith’s) teaching techniques, but it is safe to say that many officers and suspects benefitted from his expertise,” the resolution says.

Smith shared his techniques not only with the department but military units preparing for combat and citizens academies.

The resolution also notes that Smith was no wintertime lackey. He allegedly could stand for hours wearing a T-shirt in below-freezing temperatures, issuing demands at cold and tired officers, enjoying it all the while.

After retirement, Smith worked as a patrol officer at the Palmer Police Department. He carried on; he was a stalwart of public safety, Parker said.

Contact Jerzy Shedlock at jerzy(at)alaskadispatch.com