Sunday, March 22, 2015

SAREX: Civil Air Patrol holds Search and Rescue Exercise

Michael Riemann (L) and Lt. Jack Marty

GAINESVILLE – When you fly 95-percent of the search and rescue flights in the United States, you need to be a well-oiled machine. Fine-tuning that machine was the order of the day Saturday at Gainesville’s Lee Gilmer Memorial Airport as the Civil Air Patrol readied for their latest SAREX.

SAREX is an acronym that stands for ‘Search and Rescue Exercise’, standard practice for the CAP.

“Today’s focus is going to be mostly on airborne photography,” Public Affairs Officer 1st Lt. Jack Marty explained. “Locating a target; being on that target within plus or minus three minutes of what was anticipated; taking the photographs and downloading those into a program.”

The Civil Air Patrol came into existence just days before the attack at Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. American supply ships headed to Europe from our east coast port cities were being torpedoed by Nazi submarines, often within sight of our own shores.

Concerned civilian aircraft owners, pilots and mechanics decided to do something to help stop the deadly assault. According to Lt. Marty those early civilian sorties aloft spotted 173 U-boats, reported 17 floating mines, spotted 36 bodies, 91 ships in distress and located 363 survivors.

Today their mission is probably less dramatic, but nonetheless vital. Disaster relief, emergency transport and search and rescue operations are the most publicized activities but they also run a highly successful Cadet Program, preparing tomorrow’s leaders.

“We are a U.S Air Force Auxiliary (Unit), so this mission today…is being funded by the Air Force. At any given time in Georgia, we’ll have one to two SAREXs a month,” Marty said.

“Everyone here today is advancing their training,” Marty said as the main terminal at Gilmer Airport began to fill.

“A number of the people that we have here today…have had real-life incidents,” Marty said, welcoming new arrivals to the briefing room. He pointed out a man who helped in the recovery of NASA space program equipment; he nodded towards another man who was a part of the shuttle disaster recovery team; a third man, Marty said, participated in emergency efforts related to the BP Horizon oil spill off the Louisiana coast in April, 2010.

“The reason we exist, basically, is to provide a cost-effective alternative to the Air Force in search and rescue.”

Representatives from the American Red Cross were participating in the SAREX.

“We’re involved in supplying direct relief to individuals who have been affected by disasters,” said Michael Riemann, Disaster Program Manager for Northeast Georgia chapter of the Red Cross.

“Since the Civil Air Patrol has a role in disasters, we are working with them to find the most effective way to interact…to help people in need,” Riemann added.

Major Fred Koenig, Incident Commander, said that this SAREX would hone CAP member skills with the electronic aspects of reconnaissance and search and rescue efforts. “We want to spend as much of our allotment as possible and keep as many butts in the air today, flying and learning (as possible); that’s what we’re here to do today.” 

The early morning ground level fog was beginning to dissipate and as the sun began to warm the air, the promise of a beautiful spring day made everything seem idyllic; disaster the furthest thing from most peoples’ minds.

But the sound of the Cessna 172s cranking their engines reminded everyone that preparation is the best remedy for the unexpected things of life. SAREX was starting.

Story and photo gallery:

Major Fred Koenig

Preflight equipment check

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