By David Brown, WO1, Texas State Guard
Camp Swift, TX – “A child is missing...”
“My father is lost...”
“We think our grandparents may be trapped by the floodwaters…”
Such events can set off an intense sense of desperation. Time is of the essence. Every minute of delay may be a matter of life or death.
Soon, the Texas State Guard will play a much bigger role in responding to such emergencies in coordination with state and local authorities.
The Texas State Guard Search and Rescue program has launched a major new transition to standardize training, to create an official Mission Ready Package, and to make the State Guard’s search and rescue capability a go-to resource for officials statewide.
“Our goal is to have hundreds of Texas State Guardsmen earn national-level certifications so we can partner with local jurisdictions across the state in search and rescue operations,” said Brig. Gen. Talentino Angelosante, Asst. Dep. Commanding General of the Texas State Guard.
A longtime veteran of the U.S. Army with decades of experience in search and rescue is redesigning the program and overseeing new instruction and certification standards for State Guard search and rescue personnel.
Capt. Terry Benjamin joined the Texas State Guard in 2015 with 18 years of prior federal service, and experience as a trained Cavalry Scout and Blackhawk pilot.
“I’ve been doing search and rescue all my life, deployed hundreds and hundreds of times,” Benjamin said.
In addition to using his tracking skills throughout the Middle East and South America, Benjamin performed search and rescue operations as an Army medical evacuation pilot. Benjamin also taught Urban and Wilderness tracking techniques with the U.S. Border Patrol, while working as a law enforcement officer in Southern California. Benjamin is currently director of Lone Star Search and Rescue, a North Texas K-9 search and rescue team, and serves as a SARTECH II Senior Evaluator for the National Association of Search and Rescue. Additionally, he is one of the founding members of the Texas Task Force 2 (TX-TF2) urban search and rescue unit, an elite team of search and rescue dog handlers.
In the coming months, Benjamin anticipates assessing the existing search and rescue skills of all State Guard personnel, to support agency plans to certify qualifying service members under a new partnership between the Texas State Guard and the National Association of Search and Rescue. This new arrangement will make it possible for State Guardsmen to get intensified field and classroom training culminating in the association’s nationally accredited Search and Rescue Technician Level 1 certification. The new program, developed in collaboration with the National Association of Search and Rescue, includes training tailored to the State Guard service with participants able to obtain certification within 4 to 6 months.
The Texas State Guard has a rich history in search and rescue operations, notably during major disasters such as Hurricane Harvey. The State Guard was also among the first on the scene in the wake of the Columbia Space Shuttle tragedy and has a long record of assisting Texas Parks and Wildlife in performing search and rescue operations.
Having search and rescue technicians in the Guard isn’t new, said Benjamin. This is the first time, however, that the Texas State Guard will have a standardized way to assess service members in this field, empowering the State Guard to stand up mission-ready packages in support of partner agencies statewide.
“We want to get as many service members qualified as we can so that we can be a force multiplier,” said Maj. H. Lee Burton, Dep. Commander of the Texas State Guard Special Teams Training Group.
Burton said he anticipates developing close relationships with local fire departments, sheriffs, and other agencies statewide so that they know they can call on highly trained State Guard forces to support their search and rescue efforts.
“This will help local communities in a big way,” said Burton. “And help us enhance our role as ‘Texans Serving Texas.’”
“I think about how we helped during the floods in Wimberley (in 2015),” Benjamin said. “We can build on that. The local sheriff calls, they don’t have the manpower, they don’t have a dog team, they need areas cleared. And the Texas State Guard is ready to go in. Texas has flooding like that all the time. With Mission Ready Packages (MRP) in place, we can do more for more communities. We want to be in front of everybody’s mind.”
Tracking skills are important, but land navigation, GPS, and technology skills are, too. Everyone in the Texas State Guard has a role to play and a strength to bring to search and rescue operations.
“This isn’t some elitist program, we want everybody in,” said Benjamin.
Some people may be proficient with boats, others drones, and drivers are needed as well.
Although the goal of getting everyone to a Search and Rescue Technician Level II certification is a long-term objective, the ball is already rolling. So far, 16 Texas State Guardsmen have received their SARTECH II certification through this program.
“Our goal is to train everybody in the Texas State Guard in search and rescue,” said Benjamin. “So when ‘the emergency’ comes, we have people ready to serve in those MRPs.”
The Texas State Guard is looking for Texans with search and rescue experience, as well as people with backgrounds in engineering, law, medicine, construction, technology, and other fields willing to serve the people of the Lone Star State. Prior military experience is not required to join the Texas State Guard, but those with prior federal service are especially encouraged to explore available opportunities. More information can be found online at tmd.texas.gov/state-guard.
The mission of the Texas State Guard is to provide mission-ready forces to assist state and local authorities in times of state emergencies; to conduct homeland security and community service activities under the umbrella of Defense Support to Civil Authorities, and to augment the Texas Army National Guard and Texas Air National Guard as required.
The Texas Military Department is commanded by the Adjutant General of Texas, the state's senior military official appointed by the governor, and is comprised of the Office of State Administration (formerly the Office of the Executive Director), the Texas Army National Guard (TXARNG), the Texas Air National Guard (TXANG) and the Texas State Guard (TXSG).