The desert can be an exciting environment for recreational activities such as dirt biking, off-roading, camping and more.
The desert can also be a treacherous place with an abundant amount of dangers.
Members of the Kern County Desert Search and Rescue Team brave these dangers and scour the desert providing much needed support to local law enforcement.
The group operates under the direct supervision of the Kern County Sheriff Department. Their goal is to be prepared to respond to any local or national emergency that would require the expertise of the SAR team, which specializes in desert search and tracking techniques along with advanced medical rescue.
“SAR is called to work through the emergency response system for situations such as off-road riders who have not returned when expected; riders separated from their groups; lost hikers, etc.,” said Betty Nakashige, 412th Mission Support Group and three-year member of the SAR team. “We also find and aid Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered away from their caretakers or similarly impaired residents who have gone missing.”
Team members are required to meet minimum annual training guidelines in order to maintain skill levels while promoting teamwork in the field. Some of these specific trainings include Helicopter Safety (evacuation and transport), Desert Tracking (day and night), Search Management, ATV/Motorcycle/4×4 training, Map/GPS usage and advanced medical training.
They’re on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What may be the most impressive thing about the team is that it is made up entirely of volunteers.
“I have been asked before, why do it when you do not get paid and a lot of stuff comes out of your pocket to pay for items that are needed. My answer is I do it for me, for the community, whether it’s bad or good that comes out of the rescues. It’s the feeling of being there to be supportive, to help, to hold a hand, to know we have a team of folks who are out there doing this because they want to and not because they are being paid. It’s knowing that you have folks who care,” said Nakashige.
“If you want to help your community or other people, it’s a lot of dedication, training and self-sacrifice for you and your family,” said Rick Buckreis, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs Graphics chief and nine-year member of SAR.
For their selfless service during 2011, the Kern County Desert Search and Rescue Team was honored with the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was presented to them during a Kern County Supervisor’s meeting in Bakersfield, Calif., Oct. 30.
Each team member received a personalized certificate, a congratulatory letter from President Barack Obama, and a lapel pin.
For their more than 9,500 hours of voluntary service in 2011, each member received the gold lapel pin, which is the highest level of the award.
Established in 2003, the President’s Volunteer Service Award is available on an annual basis to individuals, groups and families who have met or exceeded requirements for volunteer service and have demonstrated exemplary citizenship through volunteering. It is the premier volunteer awards program, encouraging United States citizens or lawfully admitted permanent residents to live a life of service.
“I feel honored to be selected to be one of the members of a dedicated search and rescue group of volunteers,” said Victor Yaw, 412th Maintenance Squadron. “Out of all the dedicated volunteers throughout the nation, to be chosen is a great honor.”
Yaw, Nakashige and Buckreis are three of seven Team Edwards members who are on the 31-person SAR team.
“I thought it was very good for the team to be recognized for what they do, day in and day out,” said Buckreis.
Beyond the normal on-call status, SAR members normally stage in specific Off Highway Vehicle riding areas that routinely require their services repeatedly throughout a high traffic weekend.
Last Thanksgiving weekend and the New Year’s holidays, the team had more than 19 medical helicopter airlifts; 36 ambulance transports; 5 county helicopters requiring some level of ground support; and responded for 22 missing people – mostly ATV or motorcycle riders.
News reports estimated that more than 150,000 people visited the East Kern County deserts over the 2011 Thanksgiving holiday.
The SAR team handled about 700 OHV medical patients ranging from Band-Aids to full trauma rescues.
In between rescues, they visit campsites, help the lost, give out maps so groups can plan better, and give talks and/or training at local town meetings, Boy Scouting events and other local events.
The Kern County Sheriff Department’s Desert Search and Rescue Team is always looking for volunteers who want to put on the uniform to help their community.
“You need to look at why you want to volunteer; if it’s for personal recognition, this is not the job. The look on the faces of the family when we brought their lost one home to them makes my SAR time worth it,” Buckreis said.
Congratulations to the Team Edwards members of the Kern County Desert Search and Rescue Team:
- Rick Buckreis, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs
- Brian Duhart, 412th Test Wing
- Randy Glass, 412th Maintenance Group (Joint Strike Fighter)
- David Hill, Air Force Research Laboratory Detachment 7
- Bert Maxwell, 912th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron
- Betty Nakashige, 412th Mission Support Group
- Victor Yaw, 412th Maintenance Squadron
There are 13 different SAR teams with the Kern County Sheriff’s Dept. with different specialties and areas of responsibility. For more information call Volunteer Services at (661) 391-7659 or check out the Desert SAR team’s video on Youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9tXptua03DM&feature=plcp.