As we set to leave Guardian Centers in Perry Georgia, after our embed training mission with Virginia Task Force 1, one of the most elite search-and-rescue-teams in the world, I can’t begin to tell you how many amazing moments there were. Plus, I’m pretty spent, so words aren’t coming easily. So, a top ten list might be a good way to go about it. Here goes: top ten things I learned while embedded with VA-TF1
10. Every one warns you that the MREs will, let’s say, “alter” your bathroom habits. I’m going to leave it at that.
9. I’ve been called a bad-ass, and “tough” on this trip because I’ve crawled through crushed cars in a simulated bridge collapse, and burrowed through concrete to get to a tunnel. I’ll take it. May I remind you I slept in a sleeping bag in a tent where I was warned – way too late, mind you – that snakes and wild boar roam nearby. That’s right, I’m tougher than I even thought.
8. Apparently, there was quite a look on my face when my Chicken Pesto Pasta MRE was unveiled. I can’t wait to see that video. No matter what, I’m not skilled at hiding my reactions. #pokerface
7. Guardian Centers CEO Geoff Burkhart is a visionary, a smart man, and a heck of a nice guy. Imagine building an 830-acre facility like this to train first responders on a variety of simulated disasters, from Hurricane Katrina-type flooding, to a replica of the Murrow building in OKC. Geoff’s wife told me he was watching TV one day and saw a story on the news about all of the totaled cars from Hurricane Sandy’s salt water and remarked, “we need those”. Now, they’re here. He makes things happen. A true inspiration.
6. How do these men and women do it? I’m still in awe. I crawled through one car in the simulated bridge rescue mission, and it was not easy. These rescuers climb through five cars, from back window through windshield, rescue someone, then climb back through the same five cars. Then, they repeat that 5-10 more times. And they do it in the dark. Kudos. Well done.
5. If you do a story where a person rescues a goat, people will remember it. Especially if the goat gives chase.
4. People don’t need as much sleep as they think they do. I worked a couple of days that were 18-20 hours long, and that probably isn’t even close to what the men and women of VA-TF1 do when they are deployed on a mission, or in this week’s training for that matter. I used to think 8 hours was necessary. I can get by on 4. It ain’t pretty though. And I start to mumble my words. Hmmm, maybe I’ll stick to 8.
3. Search and rescue dogs are THE best. They are so full of joy while they are doing their important work, they inspire me to try to enjoy what I do more.
2. People get paid between $10 and $12 an hour to act as “victims” for these responders. Sometimes they sit in the cold, in a car in a simulated bridge collapse. Sometimes they lie on a slab of concrete for hours two stories up, in a simulated parking garage, waiting to be found. I asked one victim why he decided to do this. He told me he wanted to see what it was like, and that after being found and rescued, he was very grateful for the rescuers’ expertise, and that he had a new appreciation for life.
1. You want to have a memorable night, go sit with 5-10 members of VA-TF1, eat and chat for an hour or two. You can learn a lot. These rescuers have seen so much, from their days and nights in Haiti, to their efforts in Turkey, to responding to Oklahoma City’s bombing. Their stories are amazing and awe-inspiring. They have a great camaraderie, are a lot of fun, and you can tell they really respect each other. I am proud to say they made me feel like I was one of them this week.