Airmen deliver urban search, rescue team to Haiti

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Holly Hess
  • 60th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Airmen aboard a C-17 Globemaster III from Travis Air Force Base, Calif., arrived in Haiti Jan. 14 with urban search and rescue teams for humanitarian relief efforts following the 7.0 earthquake that ravaged the island nation.

On their way to Haiti, the aircrew stopped at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., to pick up California Task Force 2 officials.

The task force, or CA-TF2, works with the United States Agency for International Development, and specializes in large-scale disaster search and rescue missions.

"The Task Force was formed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency after the 1985 earthquake in Mexico City," said Terry DeJournett, the CA-TF2 leader. "During the earthquake, it was realized there was not expertise in the area of search and rescue in structural collapses. So our group was formed."

California Task Force 2 is a highly-trained, 72-person team made up of doctors, paramedics, structural specialists, rescue members and canines.

"The canines go though extensive training and continually train five days a week to be ready at a moment's notice," said Ron Wickbacher, a CA-TF2 canine search specialist.

His canine, Dawson, is a 7-year-old border collie trained as a live-scent dog, meaning the canine searches for human survivors trapped beneath collapsed structures.

"It's amazing what these dogs can do," Mr. Wickbacher said. "They can accurately find live humans trapped three to 10 feet under ground."

Before relief efforts begin, CA-TF2 members set up a reception departure center to coordinate incoming urban search and rescue teams. Additionally, a small reconnaissance team is sent out to mark waypoints and provide Global Positioning System mapping.

"This GPS-mapping equips the teams with the tools they need to find potential survivors," said Michael Goudchaux, a reconnaissance team rescue specialist. "It feels great to help people. I'm looking forward to putting together everything the team has learned for a good cause."

California Task Force 2 has been active for nearly 20 years. They also provided assistance after the Southeast Asia tsunami in Sri Lanka and the Oklahoma City bombing.

"It is an absolute honor to represent the United States and support Haiti in their time of need," Mr. DeJournett said. "This is what we train for."