Troops from the Georgia State Defense Force recently had the opportunity to train with White County Search & Rescue / CERT Team. The training focused on integrating K9’s into Search & Rescue operations in a wilderness environment. The exercise allowed Defense Force troops to learn the structure of a K9 Search & Rescue team, as well as understand the different types of search dogs that can be used in field. So in future missions Georgia SDF troops could successfully integrate and work together with a K9 unit for Search & Rescue operations in wilderness environments.
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By Spc. Lauren Boyle-Estheimer
Georgia State Defense Force (GSDF) Soldiers from the 4th Battalion (4BN), 1st Brigade (1BDE) participated in an introductory search and rescue K9 assistance training exercise with the White County Community Emergency Response Team/Search and Rescue (WCCERT/SAR) K9 unit at Yonah Preserve on August 13, 2022.
WCCERT/SAR Leader and K9 Handler Donna Frady and Lead Flanker Chuck Blaine led the training. They provided 4BN/1BDE Soldiers an overview of the various types of SAR K9s, the formation of a Flanker Support Team, and how dogs detect scent.
The WCCERT/SAR led 4BN/1BDE Soldiers in a training field exercise, applying the fundamental techniques of K9 search and rescue operations. Soldiers worked in teams to search, through a wilderness environment, for participants who were designated as “missing” for the purposes of the training exercise. The individual and collective mission essential task list (METL) which Soldiers used during the exercise included search and rescue, land navigation, and communications tasks.
The K9 Flanker Team
A K9 flanker support team is made up of 3-4 trained people: a K9 handler, a communication flanker, and two navigator flankers. Soldiers had the opportunity to serve in the flanking roles, moving behind the handler in a straight-line formation. This hands-on exercise allowed Soldiers to learn the structure of a K9 search team, the different types of search dogs that can be used in a search mission, and ways GSDF troops could successfully work together with a K9 unit during a real-life rescue mission.
Canine search teams are trained to work in a variety of settings and can be an integral resource during an emergency search event. Given their heightened sense of smell, dogs can possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses (humans only average about 5 million). K9 handlers introduce an uncontaminated scent article (usually the inside sole of a shoe belonging to the missing person) to the tracking dog to begin the search process.
During this exercise, WCCERT/SAR brought their primary SAR K9, “Leigha,” a six-year-old Shepherd- boxer mix, as well as a puppy-in-training, “Mae,” a German Shepherd. Dogs must be licensed and certified through the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency (GEMA/HSA) to participate in SAR-related events in Georgia.
“We learned how we would work with their dogs, and we learned how integrating with their K9 unit would work. We were able to walk through some of those scenarios,” Capt. Ken Mayger explained. “In addition, we provided the opportunity for their K9 handlers to train a newer dog. So, it was advantageous for us and good training for their dogs.”
Coordination and Participation
“There was good coordination and participation between both CERT and GSDF,” said Leah Torregiano, White County CERT Coordinator and Emergency Management Agency Specialist. “I think we learned a lot, as far as being able to work together on a real search if we got called out together. We have worked separately on searches, but we never worked jointly together.”
For one Soldier, this training exercise reinforced his reason for serving in the GSDF.
“I wanted to get out in the woods, stay active, and more importantly, help people and give back to the community,” said Pvt. George Taylor, who joined the GSDF earlier this year.
A Mission Complement
When asked how the GSDF can complement their real-world missions, Leah explained.
“The training we had today really aligns with in the future. When there’s a call, you’ll know what we can do, and we know what you can do, and we can work together,” she said. “Sometimes, to get a fully trained team out there, I might not be able to get as many personnel that [the GSDF] can get. So, we would definitely be able to complement each other.”
One of the 4BN’s goals, as set by 4BN/1 BDE Commander Lt. Col. Kiker, is being a force-multiplier for civilian agencies, in various capacities.
“We will definitely have future joint trainings with their team,” Capt. Mayger said. “Basically, it prepares us to integrate with civilian forces when we go on CERT or other civilian agency searches. Additionally, they have more experience involving incident command scenarios so the more we are able to train with their team, the better prepared we are for similar situations.”
The 4BN/1BDE’s primary training area of operation is the Pine Valley Outdoor Recreation Facility. The 4BN, which specializes in wilderness SAR, maintains readiness to provide skilled assistance to local authorities in efforts to find lost persons, as well as to deploy in support of natural disasters relief operations in Georgia.
During this exercise, Soldiers also trained on utilizing the preferred SAR technology, SARTopo, in the field while communicating situational awareness with the tactical operations center (TOC). SARTopo allows the TOC to create a search map of the area to be used to track the field personnel in real-time, easily mark items of interest, and coordinate the search effort using real-time wind and shading effects. Additionally, all field personnel have the same view of the SAR area of operation that the TOC is viewing.
“SAR operations continue to evolve with new technology and resources,” said Lt. Col. Kiker. “This training is an example of our intent and efforts to add to our skill sets and remain current in our capabilities and productive in future SAR missions.”
The GSDF 4BN/1BDE would like to thank the White County CERT/SAR Team for providing our Soldiers with an introduction to basic K9 search operations and techniques, as well as assisting our unit in gaining access to the Yonah Preserve to train for this mission-critical exercise.
If you are interested in joining the WCCERT/SAR, visit the White County Office of Public Safety | White County Georgia website (whitecountyga.gov), or email Leah Torregiano at: email@example.com
If you are interested in joining the GSDF, call 770-750-4232. The GSDF is a component of the Georgia Department of Defense.
Source: Georgia State Defense Force