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SAR INSTINCT: Flying High & Saving Lives

By Pfc. Casey Scarpulla | | August 8, 2014

The Search and Rescue team aboard Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Ariz., is a huge asset to the air station and the Yuma community. Their primary mission is to provide search and rescue support for the air station and surrounding ranges, up to a 100 nautical mile radius. While SAR focuses on the safety of our service members, the local community is also a high priority.

“We’ll get a call from base operations [on station] and they’ll get the request from an agency out in town. Or, if it’s military, the respective unit will call base operations and they will contact us,” said Maj. Clayton Danford, Command SAR Officer for Headquarters & Headquarters Squadron and a native of Colorado Springs, Colo. “Once we get the information, we’ll gather our crew, we’ll do quick planning, figure out what the situation is, and then prepare to go out and execute the rescue.”

During these rescue missions, SAR interacts with multiple outside agencies including local police and sheriff departments, fire departments, and border patrol. The SAR team is often requested to assist Yuma County, although their reach can extend as far as Riverside County, Calif.

“We can get to people that other agencies can’t because of our technical capabilities. We are able to get to the person, one way or another, and execute the rescue,” said Danford. “[The other agencies] like having the ability to call us when they need us.”

On Wednesday morning, the SAR team was contacted by the MCAS Yuma Emergency Dispatch requesting SAR to assist with the rescue of a motorist in Riverside County, Calif. This was not a routine mission; this rescue was unique even to them. The rescue entailed having a corpsman rappel down to the victim who was standing on her car, which had been swept off Highway 78 due to a flood. The team’s quick thinking and immediate action enabled them to secure the victim, and remove her from the dangerous flooding on the highway.

“We’ve never really trained or practiced rescues where the corpsman deploys into the water; but we came up with the best and safest way to rappel down to the patient with a rescue strap,” said HN Alexander Camacho, a SAR corpsman and a native of West Palm Beach, Fla. “That was the safest way to get to the patient and for [me] to be down there on the unstable car because it could have gone with the current at any time.”

On average, SAR executes 1 or 2 missions per month, but they conducted two this week. The busy days did not affect the mission readiness of the unit; the workload instead, boosted morale. They were able to put all of their training to the test and passed with flying colors.

“For the aircrew, it was nice to see that all the hard work we’ve done is paying off and being utilized,” said HM2 Ryan Mooney, a SAR corpsman and a native of Monroe, N. Y. “On the maintenance side, they weren’t just doing the maintenance for training missions. What they’re doing is being utilized in the community to save people’s lives.”

With SAR teaming up with local agencies in immediate and surrounding communities, the missions reinforced the relationship between the air station and local counties. With unique rappelling and hoisting techniques, SAR continues to be an invaluable asset to the local populace. The crews are extremely proficient at what they do and continue to improve their skills through their daily training.

“The big thing is that the community is always happy when we show up,” said Mooney. “Everyone always has positive feedback and are happy that we were there and able to do it.”

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