Mount Up for Search and Rescue

If someone you love goes missing, you would do everything you could to find them- and you would want a mounted division on the case.

It can happen to anyone- you're out in the beautiful environment, and suddenly, you get turned around and aren't sure which way's home. This time of year, it's starting to get warmer- kids are wandering, visitors are trying to find the best mushrooms, and hunters are looking to go big... and then they find themselves in a terrain they're not used to and become lost and disoriented- which could be life threatening, especially if medical conditions are involved.

Catrina Stachnik, of the Benzie County Mounted Division, pointed out that horses can go longer and farther, and faster, than a human on foot- in fact, one horse replaces five people. A rider is up higher and can also use the horse as a tracking animal. Plus, a 4-wheeler may drown out the voice of someone calling for help, or break down-and now you're stranded with a broken vehicle.

Mounted teams are so helpful, that the Benzie County Sheriff's Office Mounted Division hosts a state-wide search and rescue training every couple of years in Interlochen (they started in 2001). This year, seven counties attended (Benzie, Leelanau, Manistee, Mason, Otsego, Oakland, and Tuscola) and the training is going international this year- as the Toronto Mounted Police joined in.

The instructor, Lorenzo Veal, talked about how important this training is so that when there is an emergency, everyone is easily working together. He stated, "We have proven that if we do it one way, we can all do a better job doing it the same way vs everyone coming in with their own way and it's just mass confusion."

The 2-day training starts with an informational meeting. Volunteers learned the importance of establishing a unified command with a lead agency- which should automatically be the office where the event took place, and knowing and understanding your role in helping. Then develop a written plan to find the lost subject and outline objectives for a 12-hr period; the plan is revised at the start of each period. Next was understanding how to get clues from interviewing the friends and family, the person who last saw the subject, and reminders to ask about not just a description/photo or what they were last seen in, but also about medications and health and the person's habits. Last was walkie-talkie protocol- keep it on, keep it short, and keep it simple.

Day 1 had the group working together to find an object (a gun) used in a chase scenario. Day 2 got a bit trickier and brought in emergency medical crews. It began with a missing boy, and so the group split into three teams to find him. Along the way, they encountered multiple other scenarios (a hunter who had been shot, a diabetic siezing, a suicidal woman) and needed not only to work together, but command needed to provide instruction and direct emergency personnel to help the victims. Sound extreme? Maybe not so likely these things all happen in one day- but if they did, doesn't it give you comfort the team could handle all of those scenarios, get the victims back to the command post and give them medical attention, and find the boy?

That comfort is exactly what the division wants to give their communities. Sargent Kristopher McCarthy of the Toronto Mounted Police stated, "The most important thing is the networking- gaining the community membership of the mounted community itself- learning from each other's experiences and going forward, and taking those experiences back to Toronto so that I can further teach my unit back home." The Toronto unit is expanding and thought it beneficial to attend the training and gain further knowledge to take back. Stachnik agreed, saying "This says that we're here for the people of the community and those that visit us. And if something was to happen that they know that we can deploy out and find them."

If joining a mounted search and rescue team sounds like something you'd like to do, you can contact the Benzie County Sheriff's Office (ask for Catrina Stachnik) or check with your county and see if they have a division.

I'd like to thank the entire mounted team for allowing me to accompany you for both training days- I learned a great deal and enjoyed my time covering this story (and the downtime riding one of the Toronto horses!)