Tag Archives: BUSAR

TeamBUSAR.org…

SHIRT

Three years ago I was at a crux. I had resigned from my backcountry law enforcement ranger position, found out we were having a baby, and started planning our move to North Carolina. I remember reading a text from my MMA coach that he sent out to the team about training and priorities. I was in Florida on vacation, and he was right. I realized that I could no longer dedicate the time and energy to that sport, with new priorities entering my life. I left the gym, leaving part of me behind.

The same was true of my LE Ranger position. While I will never regret my decision to leave, there was a part of my soul that missed the most rewarding facet of that job…

Search and rescue.

I have been extremely fortunate to have a career filled with adventure, but there has only been one time in all those years that emotion has swept over me so strongly, I had to walk away.

Ten years ago, I was on a search for two off-trail hikers on the Spruce Flats Falls manway. I was just getting into the law enforcement division, but got teamed up with “Rambo” Ricky Varner who knew the area like the back of his hand. We located the couple, who were forced to spend the night out, and walked them out to Tremont.

There, patiently waiting, was their family, and what ensued was one of the most tender reunions I have witnessed. They don’t always end that way, but reuniting a family with their missing loved one will move the most calloused soul.

spruce-flats-falls

Photo credit: http://www.thegreatsmokies.net/spruce-flats-falls/

And so two years ago, fueled by a desire to be pushed by a group of hard-core guys, a penchant for the misery of off-trail rescues, and the aspiration to help others, I started recruiting a band of outdoor misfits to form an elite search and rescue team. Our mission would be simple. Prepare for the toughest missions the Smokies can offer..

  • Off-trail rescues
  • Extended carryouts
  • Winter rescues
  • Missing aircraft
  • Technical and swiftwater rescue

With the promise of bad weather, long hours, no pay, and dangerous work, they started to trickle in one by one. First an adventurer racer, then a paddler and climber, then a helicopter pilot, a doctor, a flight medic, a Special Forces veteran, a neuroscientist, another wildlife ranger, and the list went on.

Original flyer:

fb7ae39c8c17d1ed32a65b97f5b72d93

As diverse as the crew was, they all had in common the desire to help others in need and the ability to push themselves physically and mentally to build a professional team.

Every week for two years, in every weather condition, we have met at a local park to workout together, carrying our SAR packs and kettlebells, pushing the levels of fitness higher and suffering through grueling fitness standards. Every month, the team has assembled for some form of training, be it technical, swiftwater, tracking, land navigation, wilderness medical, rescue swimming, working with K-9 teams, or just a tough off-trail scramble.

Leaving the comfort of our homes and families to respond to missions, we have carried out patients on the icy Appalachian trail. Rigged up ropes to haul the injured hikers up to safety. Searched for a downed plane during hypothermia inducing weather. Assisted with joint technical rescue training. Responded to many calls only to get cancelled en route when the victim walked out. Searched the dark trails for a missing hikers. Assisted in the body recoveries of recent fatalities. And taken vacation days and cancelled personal plans to respond when called.

The team did all this, and more, to be an asset to the Search and Rescue operations of Great Smoky Mountain National Park and help those in need. The park is working constantly to overcome staffing and budget challenges. We hope to help them by pre-deploying on high volume weekends and holidays, which will reduce our response time and allow us to assist with the P-SAR (Preventative Search & Rescue) program.

The BUSAR Team is the finest group of professionals I have ever worked with. They are my friends, my mentors, my teammates, and they have helped fill that tribal void in my life. I am proud of all they have accomplished and all that they will going forward.

So today I am announcing our team website, Team BUSAR, and the exciting news that we got our non-profit status. For the last two years, except for three donors, we have paid for everything out of our own pocket. Our gear, our training, gas, meals, etc. We have done all that because we desire to help.

Now we are asking for your help.

With over 11 million visitors to the Smokies, there is a good chance that you or someone you care about may need help out there at sometime, so please consider helping us by the following:

  1.  Jump onto our site and read the bios of this dedicated group of professionals
  2. Push this message, and our website, teambusar.org out on social media, hiking forums, email groups, and word of mouth. The more the better, as just that action may find us the help we need.
  3. Like us on Facebook, TeamBUSAR Facebook, and invite all your friends to do the same
  4. BUSAR is a 501(c)3 non-profit, so please consider donating if you are able –  Donate to BUSAR
  5. If you know someone who is looking for a charitable tax deduction, please send them our way.  I am more than happy to chat by phone or meet up to explain our vision. Our team not only has a worthwhile mission, but with half of the team being veterans, it makes a difference in their lives as well. Dusken’s experience
  6. If you are aware of any grants or foundations that are inline with our mission, please email us at  – busarfoundation@gmail.com

 

To date, the BUSAR project has been one of the most fulfilling chapters in my life. This team would have never started without the hard work and dedication of those on the team and their support of their families. To all those involved, current and former, I give thanks.

Thanks to Chief Ranger Steve Kloster, who has been advising me since it’s formation, along with Jared St. Clair, TN District Ranger, who took over the SAR Coordinator role. Thanks also goes out to all the members of the Smokies Tech Rescue team, Kevin Moses and the cadre of B-TRTE for tech training, Chuck Hester of BLRI, and Brian Osgood and the BCRS crew for loaning us equipment for swiftwater training.

What was birthed two years ago, is now starting to stand on its own two feet. The feet wear muddy boots, the bodies are now hardened by countless workouts and training missions, and the spirit stands by waiting for the call and ready to help. The path ahead of us is clear, we are prepared, and ready for the journey. We invite all of you to join us in this mission to help others, by helping us…

BUSAR!!

20161210_115057

 

BUSAR Update – February & March

20170313_124136.jpg

Prepare for takeoff…

Training – 

Cobrathon – We created a land navigation course over at the BigPig Outdoor’s training site. Each leg of the course has a skill associated with search & rescue, medical, survival, tracking, or fitness once you make it to your objective, like the “5 minute fire” or “5 minute shelter” challenges.

Survival 101 – BUSAR’s own, Dusken Sledge, spent his time in the creek and completed the Survival 101 course.

20170312_141148.jpg

Smokies Tech Team – Focused on patient packaging and prepping for interagency training later in the month

20170306_114632

Interagency Training – BUSAR joined the National Park Service, TN Army National Guard, and TN State Parks for a three day training event at Pickett State Park and Obed WSR. We worked on high angle rescue, tech skills, and swiftwater rescue.

Responses – 

  • Baxter Creek Trail knee injury – self rescued
  • Silers Bald carryout 51 y.o. male – stood down after helicopter hoist

Team Workouts – Borkowski returned from New Mexico, so we welcomed him back with a 60 pound sandbag carry for the night in addition to his kettlebell and pack.

Cobra Lair Demo Workout – Several guys came up to help demo some walls for our future build. Armed with only sledgehammers, wheelbarrows, and testosterone, we had a great workout.

IMG_0210.JPG

20170319_120421 - Copy20170319_135952

20170319_190337

rubble

BUSAR Update – December & January..

20161210_115057

Training – We trained at Lookrock in both December and January. December focused on hypothermia treatment, SKED packaging, and high angle recovery.

January focused on multiple reps of steep angle, with sessions after dark as well.

Morgan and Sharbel also completed BigPig Outdoor’s Survival 101 course in January.

And the Jernigator did a little run up Groundhog Ridge manway..

Responses – 

  • Grieco, Ransom, Sharbel, Campbell, Sledge, Jernigan, Geist, Wadley, and Lewis responded to the crash of N1839X. Plane crash in the Smokies
  • Grieco responded to missing AT hiker at Peck’s Corner

Team Workouts – 2017 marks the end of 35 pound kettlebells as we up it to 45 pounders. Thank you for the loyal service and punishment you have brought to the team…

15822560_1553050094711995_2153946746924245969_n

 

Recruitment – 

  • Jeff Wadley – Former Lt Colonel in Civil Air Patrol and SAR theory junkie. Literally wrote the book on plane crashes in the Smokies – Mayday, Mayday
  • Ben Harrell – Former Civil Air Patrol ground team leader and computer wizard

fb7ae39c8c17d1ed32a65b97f5b72d93

BUSAR November Update – Birthday Bucket List Trip..

superhero

What do you get the team superhero for his 74th birthday? A trip on their bucket list of course.. Happy Birthday to my good friend and team member Doc Miller! His AAR follows:

AAR: BUSAR Old-Manventure: Porters Creek Manway-Lester Prong-Tourist Bunion-Dry Sluice Manway

November 12, 2016

One goal of BUSAR training has been for members to become familiar with the unmaintained manways in the GSMNP along which off trail hikers may easily lose their way. The Porters Creek area, in particular, attracts hard-core bushwhackers and has been the source of recent high profile search efforts (Morgan Briggs missed the manway and wound up on Porters Mountain, 2009–Jenny Bennett was found in Lester Prong off the manway, 2015). In the 80’s manways from the Greenbrier area were fairly open up to the Appalachian Trail. It is still possible to reach Charlie’s Bunion, near the Appalachian Trail, from the Greenbrier section of the Park beginning at the Porters Creek Trailhead at 1900 feet, following the trail to Backcountry Campsite 31, then continuing via old manways up Porters Creek and Lester Prong to reach the steep upper ridges of the Bunion. Last December the Goat led the BoBerry Manventure (BUSAR – Real Bunion) up Porters Creek Manway and the first tributary of Lester Prong to the real Charlie’s Bunion via the Pyramid, then descended via the Dry Sluice Manway.

This year he planned to lead the team up a generally parallel route following the second tributary of Lester Prong up to the “Tourist Bunion” located on the above map just above the “R” in “TRAIL” at 5536 ft. elevation.

Three promontories are variously referred to as Charlie’s Bunion, thus resulting in confusion at times.

Jenny Bennett clarified this in one of her several blogs about the area:

(Real Bunion)

The Charlie’s Bunion designated on the USGS topographic map is also known as Rocky Craig. BUSAR

scaled that via Pyramid Rock in 2015. The next ridge to the west culminates in Middle Craig. The next promontory, further west, is variously called the Tourist Bunion or Bunion Craig. That was the objective of our training on this day.

The plan was to approach via the vanishing Porters Creek Manway and Lester Prong, then scale the ridge

and top out on the Tourist Bunion (Bunion Craig). We would complete the loop by descending steeply via Dry Sluice Manway to Porters Creek Manway above Campsite 31. As the date approached, Andrew announced “Alex has home improvement obligations, so I am polling the group to see who still wants to climb the Tourist Bunion this Saturday? There is a LOT of exposure, potential of death, and once you commit, you can’t down climb”. Another option was vertical training at Look Rock, but when Dusken instantly replied “I opt for the one involving death” it was game on. Sharbel assumed the role of team leader. Andrew, Common Man, Dusken, Johnny and I rounded out the team.

Andrew described the route as “trail to manway to scramble to trail to manway to trail”. Many thanks to Goat, Sharbs and Stronger than the River who had run much of it during their 6.5 hour scouting trip the previous week. Sharbel planned the day as follows: “let’s all meet at the Porters Creek trailhead at 0730 on Saturday so we can go over our plan of attack and hit the trail by 0800. Pack light as there are some tight spots to get through. The creek should be flowing decently so we will be ok on a water source for the majority of the hike. I won’t tell anyone they cannot do this hike but if anyone has doubts about themselves I would say to sit it out. Once we leave the creek we are going straight up and through some pretty thick veg. Once we get to the scramble there are some exposed areas where death is a possibility and going back isn’t an option. I think the trip will take 8-9 hours. Maybe quicker if we want. See y’all at the trail.”

Ten days before my 74th birthday I was having doubts about whether my participation would prevent the elite team of exceptional athletes from completing the mission before darkness fell. I had been longing to make the trip, and was confident that I could do it, but not if it would diminish the enjoyment and comfort level of the team who might consider me a liability. I thought secretly of doing what I considered to be honorable and let the team carry on without me when the going got tough. I would enjoy the glory of the day in quiet contemplation along beautiful Porters Creek, pondering the off trail adventures of Jenny Bennett and my late friend Charlie Klabunde in one of their favorite places, until the team returned.

Phase one unfolded as planned. Everyone reached the rally point at precisely the same time. It was a beautiful clear Fall day, warm for November, with light winds predicted on the ridge tops. When the team reached the end of the trail at Campsite 31, I was about 10 minutes behind. Knowing the real manventure was just beginning, I tactfully pointed out the fact that the day promised only 10 hours and 20 minutes of daylight, we had left the trailhead an hour after sunrise, and it might take all of the remaining light and more to complete the loop at my speed. I suggested that I linger in the area while the team proceeded at their usual high-speed pace. At that point, a great day became a fantastic day.

King Cobra declared that he wasn’t going on if I didn’t. The team unanimously rejected my proposal and unselfishly insisted that we would accomplish the goal together. What followed was one of the greatest displays of teamwork and teambuilding that I have experienced.

For most, it was literally a walk in the park, for some it was an opportunity to function outside their comfort zone, for me it was a test of physical ability and endurance and a life-changing experience which I will never forget.

The rhododendron tunnels of the old Porters Creek Manway were less tight than I had anticipated, thanks to the pruning efforts of some whom Jenny Bennett fondly referred to as “certain eccentric humans that I know”.

cr

The drought made the trip up Porters Creek and Lester Prong dry and easy.

cairn

The way was marked by occasional cairns, some of which are very impressive.

It is important to correctly identify the confluence of Porters Creek and Lester Prong* and then to count the tributaries joining Lester Prong. The finger ridge up to the Tourist Bunion lies between the second and third tributaries of Lester Prong. The team verified this with the GPS. Even such skilled backcountry navigators as Jenny Bennett, who used only map, compass, altimeter and terrain association (not GPS) have misidentified the tributaries (Tourist Bunion).

One must know which tributary you are ascending in order to climb out of it in the correct direction.

*The cremains of Charlie Klabunde and Jenny Bennett were spread at the confluence of Porters Creek and Lester Prong. Jenny’s Last HikeSharbel led us up the third tributary, following the mostly dry but nonetheless beautiful remote streambed, to approximately 4400 ft. elevation.

At that point, travel became more difficult as we climbed through dense vegetation, belly crawling at times, to scale the ridge to our East. It was often necessary to be within 10 feet of the one climbing above you to maintain visual contact. Once we were on the ridge, the real adventure began–as did the teamwork that I mentioned.

d

The final 1000 feet of elevation rose progressively more steeply as the beauty and exposure increased in inverse proportion to the width of the knife edge ridge.

sh

Jenny Bennett’s words echoed in my mind – “There’s lots of handholds and footholds—it just happens there’s a lot of air around it, too. So it becomes an exercise in positive thinking. In other words, focus on what’s there instead of what’s not there.”

Andrew schooled me in proper handholds and techniques on the flaky Anakeesta shale formation where Sand Myrtle has a tenuous, untrustworthy toehold. Common Man was right behind me to check my footholds and boost me when my old joints prevented me from reaching where I wanted, and needed, to be. In the absence of rope, body belays for the stiff and rusty “Tin Man” were improvised using a page from Jason’s Swiftwater Rescue playbook when topography exceeded the extent of my flexibility. Sharbel, Dusken and Johnny were also part of the human chain.

Considering the consequences of a slip and fall into the adjacent nearly vertical scree-filled ravine, the team literally put their lives on the line for the benefit of the weakest link, just as they would in a rescue situation. They have the skill and experience to assess and manage the risk and to do it safely. This is why we train as we do. As a proud member of this team I never had any concerns or doubts about completing the mission safely.

me

Jenny J cheered us up the final pitches from her vantage point on the Appalachian Trail. She would have been part of the crew but for a knee injury.

te

Andrew sighted a Peregrine Falcon overhead, a great omen, as we enjoyed a brief lunch and photo op on the “Tourist Bunion” while visiting with “tourists” who had come by way of the Appalachian Trail.

te2

Like many of them, I had enjoyed the breathtaking view from this spot many times before, and in many seasons, only dreaming of reaching the Bunion the hard way. I never imagined I would have the opportunity, and certainly not at age 74. I am deeply indebted to this team who has accepted, supported, encouraged and trusted me to participate.

We were burning daylight and it was time to go down – fast! Of course that was part of the plan and our route lay 15 minutes to the East along the Appalachian Trail. Sharbel led us right to the top of the obscure Dry Sluice Manway and we began our descent to Porters Creek.

ds

Common Man stayed with me and Johnny kept us in sight while maintaining visual contact with the leaders. The steep descent of the open Dry Sluice gave way to intimate rhododendron tunnels in the upper reaches of Porters Creek Manway which has been flagged with yellow tape. We rallied at Campsite 31 and then hit the trail together for the last leg. Common Man hung with me while Johnny continued to bridge the gap between us and the leaders. It was indeed after dark when we reached the trailhead by the light of a brilliant Super Moon. Cheerful, unselfish team members – who held team above self – waited in the cold darkness to debrief our “fantastic” adventure which was a high point in my life.

Thank you brothers…..BUSAR!

chimneytops2fire_imt_photo-900x572

To make my long story short, it was my first day back with the park, when I got assigned to the fire. After coming of a lookout detail on Ski Mountain, I was tasked with evacuating the headquarters building with another wildlife ranger, Ryan Williamson. We cleared the building out and then were tasked to remove trees of the Gatlinburg Bypass for the evacuation.

Ryan and I started cutting trees when the embers started falling, causing spot fires to erupt on both sides of the road. We called in that it was no longer a safe route and watched the convoy roll out Two Mile. Things were getting pretty crazy at this time, with winds driving a canopy fire up the ridges.

There was a lot going on the radio, but somewhere in there we got word to head to the Spur, the section of road connecting Gatlinburg to Pigeon Forge, to clear downed trees. The Spur was one of the main evacuation routes for thousands of residents. As soon as we cleared the city limits, we started running into downed trees and cut them out as we headed towards Pigeon Forge.

Word came over the radio that trees were blocking the road at Gnatty Branch and we hit stand still traffic shortly after. I jumped out and started hoofing it through the traffic, thinking Ryan would catch up as traffic eased forward. The traffic wasn’t moving, so Ryan ditched the truck and set out on foot, catching up to me later on. It is hard to estimate, but we both agreed that we probably walked through 1.5 miles of traffic to get to Gnatty Branch.

At one point a father and son team came running up, talking to me briefly, then started running ahead. Predictably, this caused some drivers to panic and exit their vehicles thinking there was a need to run. Fearing they would abandon their vehicles compunding the problem, I assured them we would get the traffic rolling.

Arriving at Gnatty Branch, the rangers had already diverted traffic to travel in the opposite direction on the South bound Spur. Ryan, Rob, and I cut out the tree that was blocking the road. While cutting on that tree an officer from Pigeon Forge rolled up and said there was a burning tree up ahead that was blocking the road, so I jumped in with him to go clear it.

Around this time, my phone started blowing up and I got the following email from my neighbor on the other side of the mountain about a fire 1 mile from the cabin:

emergency!  please call 911…there is a fire across the lake and it has burned out all of our phone lines.  I tried 911, but lins were burning and I’m not sure emergency went out.  Please call!!!

After calling the local fire department, I frantically tried contacting my wife to get her and my son to evacuate to safer grounds. With no luck, I was able to get the dispatcher at Graham County to get one of the volunteer firefighters to contact her. By far, that was the most stressful half hour of the night for me, observing the chaos at hand and knowing that my family would be trapped if the fire spotted close to them.

Once we cleared the North bound lanes, we shifted to the South bound, then back to the North bound, and repeating the loop until 2 am to keep it open for emergency responders. With fire on both sides of the road, houses and condominiums ablaze, and the repetitious explosions of propane tanks venting, it will be a night that both Ryan and I will never forget. Wind gusts were clocked at 85 mph that night, and at one point, I had to brace Ryan to keep the wind from pushing him into the tree he was cutting.

I started wildland firefighting 16 years ago and have seen some pretty crazy fire behavior on western details, but the firestorm surpassed anything I could have imagined in this area. The fact that the fatalities are not in the thousands, is a testament to the rangers, firefighters, and other emergency personnel that were out there that were on the front lines with us that night.

 

Several other BUSAR team members responded through their home units in the days after the firestorm; Doc Miller, Jason Benjamin, & Matt Jernigan. While my response was not through BUSAR, I give credit to the team for keeping me in “fighting” shape, both physically and mentally.

BUSAR’s Jason Benjamin also wrote a great Facebook post about his observations while leading an inter-agency structural crew in the days following the fire:

What the Gatlinburg fire reminded me about humanity:

I’ve avoided social media for the past several months because I was tired of being told how divided our country was. Every time I logged on to Facebook my news feed was flooded with terrible, hateful posts. People I had always known to be thoughtful and considerate were spewing venom at anyone that disagreed with them. Lines were drawn and friends became enemies as they called each other names like “deplorable”, “elitist”, “misogynist”, “hack” and “bigot”. As a military veteran and career firefighter, I’ve spent nearly 30 of my 47 years helping people. I could no longer put up with being inundated by the constant fury and vitriol. I even deleted a few people from my social media because of the hate they displayed.

I spent two days in Gatlinburg last week fighting fire and searching for victims on my days off from the fire department I work for. The staging area was in the same building as the shelter for those that had to leave their home. The moment I arrived on the first day, I saw dozens of the local residents that were staying in the shelter. Before I could get inside to check myself and my teammates in, I was thanked and blessed ten different times by strangers. The pain in their eyes and voices was heartbreaking. I already had faces to put with the stories I’d been hearing and I hadn’t even checked in yet.

Shortly after checking in, I was asked to lead a Battalion made up of firefighters and equipment from all over the Southeast. There were local departments represented, as well as departments from as far away as Cherokee, NC and Manchester, TN. All of us were there for the same reason and we couldn’t wait to get to work. Although our primary mission was searching for victims, we spent the entire morning putting out brush fires and rekindled house fires. It wasn’t until after we took a break for lunch that we finally got the chance to look for victims. At times, the smoke was thick, but we kept working for as long as we could. No one wanted to quit.

I spent the first day back at my fire department thinking about what I had seen in Gatlinburg. I thought about all the people that sincerely thanked us for being there. I thought about the victims we’d found and the ones that were still out there. I thought about the men and women that volunteered to be there because they wanted to help. I thought about the newly-broken families. I thought about the senseless pain and suffering. I thought about the tragedy.

I can’t say when it occurred to me, but at some point I thought about how I hadn’t seen hate. I hadn’t heard anyone mention politics. None of that mattered at that point in time. All that mattered was people were facing the worst nightmare of their lives and other people came from near and far to do anything and everything they could to help. I witnessed strangers helping strangers. I saw immigrants from Latin America and India sharing cups of coffee and tea with native East Tennesseans and no one was talking about building walls. They were talking about rebuilding their homes and businesses. No one seemed to care if the person sitting next to them was here legally. They did, however, make it very clear they were glad they made it out of the fire safely.

I’ve had a few days to process most of what I saw in Gatlinburg. As awful as it was, there is so much to be thankful for. A lot was lost during the fire, but so much more was saved by the brave men and women that stayed to fight and the thousands that showed up later. I’m thankful I had a chance to play a small part in it, but I’m most thankful for what the Gatlinburg fire reminded me about humanity:

Regardless of how much we disagree, we will always come together and fight to survive and protect each other. We are humans and we have not lost our humanity. We are not as divided as I thought. We just temporarily forgot what it means to be humane.

15337521_10154850200879602_7619032848203451625_n

 fb7ae39c8c17d1ed32a65b97f5b72d93

October BUSAR Update…

20161009_063817

Manventure – 

Since my birthday falls in October, I get to pick the training mission for the team. I believe that some aspects of life are best appreciated when under adverse conditions, so I pulled out my list for planning..

  • Cold water   √
  • Cold weather  
  • Minimal gear  
  • Tough terrain  
  • Sleep deprivation  

Last year, we crossed the Smokies via Ekaneetlee manway and swam Fontana to our pickup. 2015 trip This year, I figured I would switch it up and invade Tennessee from the North Carolina side of the park, traversing 3/4 of the park, mostly off trail.

Drop off’s would done at night in Fontana Lake, with each team not knowing their location. They would have to determine their location and rally at a UTM point. The simple rules were that you could not use established trails, except for Jenkins Ridge up to Spence,  and sleeping gear would only be jackets and garbage bags. We would follow the Defeat Ridge manway from the AT down to Middle Prong trailhead.

Night swim..

20161007_20010520161007_202328

Determining location..

20161007_210957

Somewhere on Horsehoe Ridge…

Foraging and tracking..

Rally points, pullup contest winner, and Defeat Ridge manway…

20161009_063951

Routes in red, purple, and yellow..

map

Rescue Swimmer II – 

Herrington, Jutkofsky, Jernigan and Grieco knocked out the final part of the  Public Safety Rescue Swimmer course. BUSAR’s Jason Benjamin instructed. Lots of water time, simulated rescues and a night scenario.

20161011_172727

GRSM Tech Team Training – 

Herrington and Grieco attended the Smokies Tech Team training focusing on patient packaging and setting up a highline.

20161025_142715

VDEM SAREX – AAR by Doc Miller

I received Andrew’s text regarding the Abrams Creek carry out just as I pulled into Hungry Mother State Park in Marion Virginia where I was participating in a SAR Simulation during the Virginia Department of Emergency Management Ground Search and Rescue Academy on Black Diamond’s home turf. I regret the timing and would otherwise have been at Abrams Creek to help.
The VDEM SAR Academy is like nothing Tennesseans have ever seen. It begins Friday evening and ends Sunday evening for two week-ends hyphenated by a one week-end hiatus.   Intensive certification classes run simultaneously for the disciplines of Search Team Member, Search Team Leader, “Fundamentals for Awareness, Signcutting and Tracking” and Search Management. The finale is a Simulated SAR Exercise which commences at dusk on the final Saturday.  Although there was not a Management Team class this session, a scenario is customarily presented and all of the planning, searching and “rescue” is executed by the students under the eyes and ears of silent and often unseen “angels” who monitor and evaluate the process.  When necessary, some functions are augmented by prior graduates to achieve critical mass for a meaningful exercise. Typically there are multiple subjects, one of whom requires medical evaluation, “treatment”  and litter evacuation. This year there were two “family members” who had become lost while searching for the subject who originally went missing and was “injured” off trail.
A number of BUSAR members have worked with VDEM certified STM, STL, FAST and management personnel during the Virginia SAR Conference and the Blue Ridge Parkway SAREX earlier this year. There were four BUSAR participants in this October SAR Academy.
Rob and Ashley were FAST Instructors, Jenny was a Search Team Member candidate, and it was my privilege to function as Search Team Leader for a superbly trained FAST (clue aware, track aware, tracking) team. When assigned to a tracking or K9 team, the “leader’s” role is to provide communications, navigation, documentation and, if trained, medical support so the specialty teams can focus their awareness and observational expertise on the task with negligible distraction. Night operations add to the fun and challenge and provide valuable operational experience to the candidates for certification.
An added bonus of this Simulation was the opportunity to observe the real time location and movement of every field team on a computer projection screen in Base. The data was streamed automatically from DeLorme InReach satellite communicators which were assigned to each team along with their radio.
Computer Projection in Operations Section in Base
FAST Team Hotel Task: “Cut for sign along lake shore from Route 16 to drainage @ 5327/8229”.
We began the task at the bottom of screen and cut the sign which came from the opposite direction, then
made a big circle up to the bath house and back to the beach.
Another team’s search pattern is seen on the lower portion of the screen before it was redirected
to the  injured subject to assist in evacuation from his location seen on the upper portion of the screen.
Multiple teams converging at victim location to assist with litter evacuation.
Evacuation route of multiple teams to and from location of injured subject near top of screen to
Base near bottom of screen.
 
Participation in a Simulation provides the actual experience of signing into a search, waiting in Staging for an assignment, receiving a briefing (instructions) for the task, navigating to the designated search area, executing the task while communicating location and status reports, being debriefed, and signing out from the search. Those BUSAR members who attended the Blue Ridge Parkway SAREX experienced a similar immersion during daylight hours. These are invaluable skills for efficient, effective search and rescue.  The training, including meals and lodging, is free to any member of an agency holding a Memorandum of Understanding with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. Black Diamond SAR Council serves SW Virginia and has responded in northeast Tennessee and in the Smokies.
Doc

Responses – 

  • Johnston and Morgan responded to Abrams Creek carryout

Workouts – Finally cooling off. Greg is getting ready to test for a Combat Rescue Officer slot in Alaska, so we have been doing a lot of military PT to support him. Lots of pullups, pushups, situps, and flutter kicks. His PT test is at the beginning of December in Anchorage.

14611026_1447049181978754_1479554784971116088_n14712499_1453812311302441_4703742254136644540_o20161018_194336

Recruitment – 

  • Johnny Johnston –  Mountaineer, off-trail explorer, and Crossfitter

Rescuing Naked Foragers…

10539184_855770517561_8037276118026745574_o

Three worlds collide in a BigPig news update..

Due to technical difficulties, a.k.a. moving further into the mountains, I have had limited computer access of late, but stuff has been brewing in the land of many pigs..

Two foraging events:

Spring Poisonous, Edible, Medicinal & Useful workshop is scheduled for Sunday, April 10. You can find out more here: http://www.bigpigoutdoors.net/poisonous–edible–medicinal—-useful-plants.html

I will be the keynote speaker at the awesome North Carolina Wild Foods Weekend. I wrote about this event a couple years ago, and I am honored to be speaking about foraging and survival. There are a ton of great instructors at this family event.To learn more about this event, click here:  http://wildfoodadventures.com/workshops/category/north-carolina-wild-food-weekend-association/

IMG_1334

Search & Rescue:

Lot’s of good stuff brewing with the BUSAR team, including attending the Virginia SAR conference. I will be teaching a 2 day “Wilderness Survival for SAR Personnel” class and the BUSAR boys will be leading daily PT sessions. Click here to learn more:

https://mail.google.com/mail/u/1/?ui=2&ik=26b9e98f08&view=att&th=152612ba84283c9b&attid=0.1&disp=inline&realattid=f_ijnengnd0&safe=1&zw

http://www.eventbrite.com/e/2016-virginia-sar-council-sar-conference-tickets-20784514041

Also lined up is the Virginia SAREX in May. Click here to read more about this full scale SAR exercise. https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B1_MEYv9Akm8ZHpaX3BVMlFEVWc/view

Naked, but not Afraid!! 

Last year, I had the pleasure of training Melissa LeEllen for her episode of Naked & Afraid. Her episode will be aired this season, possibly in July. I will make another post as we get closer, but you can read more here: http://www.melissaleellen.com/ Go Melissa!!

Mayday, Mayday – BUSAR Training

d114078e-946e-4ef9-b95c-1811730571d7

The ‘Ole Jernigator planned our January training and lured us in with the statement that “it won’t be as physical as our usual training, so we will focus more on skills”

On Sunday night, we all knew we had been fooled and that if the Jernigator is in charge, then you better plan a rest day afterwards… or at least just do upper body exercises in our case.

Training Mission: Locate two old plane wrecks near Parson’s Bald. Work on key skills. Have fun and stay safe.

Day 1: We load up the Cobra wagon, slay the Dragon, and start dropping off 2 man teams.

5cba2544-1808-4dd3-bb32-89091f1b9fcf

Team Snipe Hunt (pink on the map), made up of Doc Inferno and B.O., get dropped off at mile marker 3 to bushwhack up Dalton Branch manway to the gap, continue up the Old AT manway to Parson’s Bald, and camp at Sheep Pen Gap (Campsite 13).

8ac4c44a-582d-472c-83ec-d3641f005a52

Team Goat, made up of Mr. and future Mrs. Goat, get dropped off at Twentymile to bushwack the Long Hungry Ridge manway and rendezvous at campsite 13. (Red on the map)

ec4a037c-df71-4950-b4b1-cbc49d4bf049

Team Ridgerunner, made up of Jernigator, King Ski, and myself, brave the briars of the powerline and head up the State Line from Deal’s Gap, to rendezvous with everyone at Campsite 13, after a brief interlude and lunch with the Snipe Hunters. (Gold line)

Moving at a good clip, we are at 13 in 4 hours and setting up camp. Sixty years of nature has erased most of the Old Appalachian trail, but the beautiful open ridge and weather just requires a good set of legs conditioned from countless reps on the Thighmaster..

bde39305-76ef-4217-b6d4-4fcfceadf1fd (1)

 Day 1 Map:

Day 1

Our training has evolved to where we are making sure to hit several key topics on each trip. A summary of the weekend follows:

Land Navigation – Rotating every hour, off trail navigation is done with a map and compass. UTM’s are done with a grid reader. Everyone got a chance to determine the bearing for the grid searches.

e61a80dd-b4ab-43ba-bd0e-fab7f1ef7657

Survival – It dropped into the low 20’s that night, so everyone got to showcase and test out their hasty pack gear. Supplementing inadequate gear with leaf beds and quilts was demonstrated by King Ski, even though I had gifted him a 20 degree bag earlier that week.

b405a983-6dfa-4fb9-b0bc-2dd3380ca8d1

3b64a322-1945-46e1-b0aa-35c704285769

bccff380-f221-4899-9c06-f65953a4258e

Tracking – Doc and I set up a night time signcutting station based upon the VDEM Operational Tracker standards. It sucks during the day. It sucks more at night. Great drill from track master Spieden!

Medical – After locating the wrecks, Doc Miller gave a great treatise on triage and dealing with multiple casualties.

3bba14ad-7694-41fc-8ec1-2ab9836c741a

Search Techniques – Doc Miller, a ground team leader and medical officer for the Civil Air Patrol, also gave a briefing on downed plane procedures. We grid searched for both planes and located both with ease.

450f4f7d-9f18-41d5-9b43-5ce4349a8043

N110WP – twin-engine Beechcraft B-18 crashed in 1964. Six fatalities.

6147ac08-6f77-4323-a583-fb9df7de4934

Cessna 421 crashed in 1978. Five fatalities. Largest pieces of wreckage shown.

c08be4c9-c048-4141-a41c-ac6a772c85a3

ac4ecb85-e4d5-4860-8f16-41a384f79206

Day 2: After locating the planes, we split back into teams to head out. My team BUSAR boogied down the ridge,  and jumped on a spur of the Old AT to bypass Sheep Wallow Knob. We ended up in a maze of hemlock blowdowns, got trashed, and barely made it back before dark. (Gold line)

Mr. and Mrs. Goat were lured by the same siren song, but got pushed further into the drainage forcing them into a full contact fight with the Rhodo Clan. Ever victorious, they emerged with smiles and headlamps around 7 pm. (red line)

The Snipe Hunters ambled out the state line, but got ambushed by the Briar Gang after dark under the powerlines. That’s a bad neighborhood and I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy. They took heavy losses, but popped out at the gap around 8pm. (pink line)

day2

If you want to read accounts of all 54 plane crashes in the Smokies, pick up a copy of Mayday, Mayday by Jeff Wadley and Dwight McCarter. Not only is this book a great read for the average person, I view it as essential for pilots that fly in this region or SAR teams that operate around here.

http://www.amazon.com/Mayday-Aircraft-Crashes-Great-Smoky/dp/1572331542/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1452138757&sr=8-3&keywords=mayday+mayday

 

5816bb2e-e396-4418-a27c-6d21905a9a57

Jeff is a good friend, has 30 years of Civil Air Patrol experience, and knows the Smokies like the back of his hand. We will be hosting him in February for a SAR theory lecture and exercise. It is open to surrounding agencies and individuals involved in SAR. Email me for details.

Travelling off trail, in remote areas, exposes you to greater risks. Mitigate those with proper planning, the right gear, satellite messengers, realistic training, and by leaving a trip plan. This one was texted to my wife and a ranger buddy. Trip plans are downloadable here:  http://www.bigpigoutdoors.net/bpo-trip-plan.html

d52ab5d9-7d73-4c38-807c-60f401905415