The South Carolina State Guard (State Defense Force) recently participated in a large scale Search And Rescue (SAR) exercise which involved a State & Multi-County Joint Task Force operation. The State Guard worked with State Officials as well as Oconee, Pickens & Greenville county personnel. The Exercise was conducted in the rugged mountains of South Carolina with the mission of locating a lost hike who needed medical attention. The operation was a resounding success.
The most notable feature of JAGEX 2021 (12-14 November 2021) was the diversity of professionals and agencies who participated in this real-world Search & Rescue (“SAR”) training exercise. More than twenty members of state and county agencies from Oconee, Pickens & Greenville counties trained side-by-side with an equal number of soldiers from the South Carolina State Guard over the rugged mountainous terrain in and around Table Rock State Park making this year’s exercise, named Winter Soldier II, a resounding success.Planning for Winter Soldier II started almost a year before the exercise with the State Guard’s Judge Advocate General (“JAG”) Detachment working with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (“DNR”) and Table Rock’s manager Michael Trotter to conduct the Exercise on state land. The key in offering meaningful training to SAR operators with different levels of experience is developing appropriate real-world tasks for each group then integrating all the tasks into a single exercise that reflects real-world missions. Relying on the skill and expertise of MAJ Andrew “Doc” Holliday and CPT David Root, JAG’s leadership undertook a 6 month decision making process that considered numerous “lost hiker” scenarios and different geographical search areas. After much planning and seven (7) separate terrain walks, JAG developed a draft operations order and pitched it to emergency managers Pierce Womack and Scott Krein of Pickens and Oconee counties respectively. Both are true leaders in the mountain SAR community and great friends of the State Guard. As the “hosting” agency, Deputy Director Womack took the lead and approved the overall scenario. He also asked to add a strong test of communications systems which are frequently a problem in the mountains and volunteered a high-angle team to assist transporting the injured hiker over the rugged terrain. As always, Director Krein’s experience and leadership were key to making the Exercise realistic.As is often the case, the real world impacted Winter Soldier II at the last minute and reduced the number of participants to approximately 45 persons. Thanks to the extensive terrain study conducted by JAG, the Exercise was adjusted to accommodate the available personnel. A State Guard search team drawn from the JAG Detachment, Search & Rescue Command, and representatives from both the engineer detachment and Professional Services Command entered the search area from the Foothills Trail and searched South while a combined team of first responders from Pickens and Oconee counties searched north from the Palmetto Trail. The rugged search area was bisected by steep ravines of anywhere from 150 to 350 feet deep. The SCSG Team was the first to locate the “lost hiker” who was injured at the bottom of a steep ravine next to a stream and small waterfall. The SCSG provided the hiker with initial first aid and called in the Pickens/Oconee team who sent an EMT down into the ravine to provide additional aid to the hiker while the remaining members started to build a haul system on top to safely extract the hiker. The two teams pulled the injured hiker from the ravine and carried him to the Pinnacle Pavilion at Table Rock. A special three-man team comprised of CPT “Doc” Holliday, 1LT Matthew Hudson-Flege and Corporal Steve Murph weathered strong winds and sub-30 degree weather to operate a crucial communications node on the slope of Pinnacle Mountain throughout the Exercise.This complicated three-day exercise could not have been conducted without more than a dozen volunteers assisting the JAG’s 1LT Terra Shipp with all the logistics and vehicles necessary to sustain the Exercise. JAG would like to offer is heartfelt appreciation to the PMD’s Chief Bob Kuenzli (retired), G4’s CSM Robert Smith, and the inestimable duo of LTC Pat Meyer and MAJ Steve Hubbard from BG Leon Lott’s personal staff for their help with the Exercise. MAJs Tom Winslow and Tom Fernandez of the JAG Detachment documented the lessons learned during the training with drone, video and still photography. JAG also appreciates SSG Eric Ledford and SGT Kristen Ledford who not only assisted with the Exercise but volunteered to transport all unused food items from the Exercise to a homeless shelter in Easley where it was all put to good use. The selfless contributions of our support staff exemplified the JAG ideals of family, service, and competence without which the Detachment would not have been able to conduct this and its other successful field exercises.