Dirt bikers, motorcyclists and hikers can take comfort that in an emergency, a search and rescue team would come looking for them. But, what they might not know, is that the search and rescue team is made up of volunteers from their community who have given of their personal time and expense to help them.
One of those teams, the Kern County Sherriff’s Desert Search and Rescue Team (SAR), received the President’s Volunteer Service Award Nov. 1, presented by Senator Jean Fuller of California’s 18th Senate District. Their team is made up of 29 volunteers, seven of whom work at Edwards AFB. This was the second year in a row they received the award.
The award was established in 2003, with the intention of recognizing individuals, groups and families who have shown exemplary citizenship through their volunteer work. For the Desert Search and Rescue Team, this is their second annual award. DGSRV Inc., a non-profit corporation, acted as the certifying organization for their award, verifying their service and delivering the award.
Each member of the team was presented individual and team certificates and a pin issued by the President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, along with a letter signed by the President Barack Obama. An anonymous individual added to the award by donating coins that read, “You have received this because you made a difference.”
According to Richard Buckreis, 412th TW Public Affairs Graphics chief and administration lieutenant for the Desert SAR unit, the team collectively served over 7,000 hours in 2012.
“I believe as the coin says that we’re out there to make a difference for our community. Not only do we do search and rescue, but we are qualified for natural disasters and because of our training we can assist in other types of situations besides search,” said Buckreis.
The SAR team specializes in desert search and tracking techniques and advanced medical rescue. Beyond those duties, they volunteer in preventative practices, such as setting up road blocks for parades.
“People think that is a manual labor but the thing is, it’s someone’s safety, so there are a lot of things we do and you don’t get recognized for it. When you get this award, it’s someone saying, ‘thank you’ and that means more than a piece of paper,” said Buckreis.
The year-round work doesn’t stop for the holidays. Instead, they set up a home base in the Dove Springs Off Highway Vehicle area to provide support to anyone in need. Their busiest weekend is near Thanksgiving when large numbers of riders flock to the recreational area. In 2012, over 325 people at Dove Springs received aid from the SAR team, ranging from Band-Aids to helicopter medical evacuations.
Buckreis has been a member of the SAR team for over 10 years now. He noted that his team is one of 12 in Kern County.
“The reason I joined is to help the community,” said Buckreis. “It is closure for the family or bringing someone’s loved ones home. That’s the key and most of the time we do bring them home, once in a while [when we can’t], it gives closure to the family.”
Buckreis noted that there are a lot of qualifications to being considered for the team and all of the gear is paid for by the volunteers.
“Something that stuck in my mind was a case where a man with Alzheimer’s walked away from his caregiver. We found him in Cal City, in a cemetery, taking a nap. He had walked out to the highway and hitchhiked the rest of the distance,” said Buckreis.
Betty Nakashige, Logistics Readiness administrative assistant, is also a member of the Desert SAR unit.
“I found that the search and rescue team had everything I was looking for. You help find people who are missing or hurt and you also participate by staffing in public relations events like parades, marathons and other public events to insure that safety guidelines are followed. You work with a team and we’re one big family,” said Nakashige.
She added that people often ask why she volunteers at her personal expense.
“I do it for me,” answers Nakashige. “I do it for the community, whether it’s bad or good that comes out of a rescue. 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.”
Many of the SAR members also have full-time jobs during the week. Their businesses offer support for their efforts by allowing them to leave work to respond to emergencies like Amber Alerts, high altitude rescues and river rescues.
“The county requires basic First Aid and CPR. I don’t think anyone on our team is basic, most of them are advanced, first responders or Emergency Medical Technician,” said Buckreis.
They also offer off-road vehicle and motorcycle safety talks for public groups like schools and churches.
For Nakashige, the work she does with her SAR team gives her a sense of accomplishment.
“I think it is fantastic to be given something once in a while whether it’s a ‘thank you’ or a certificate. Especially receiving recognition from the president of the United States and the State of California Senate, I mean like, ‘WOW.'”
For more information on the Kern County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Unit, call the Volunteer Services Division at (661) 391-7659. Or visit www.youtube.com/user/KernCountyDSAR.
Congratulations to the award recipients!
Desert SAR members from Team Edwards
- Richard Buckreis, 412th Test Wing Public Affairs
- Brian Duhart, 412th TW
- 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