FRANCONIA, N.H. –
More than 150 volunteers from search and rescue teams across the state, including eight from the New Hampshire National Guard, gathered at Cannon Mountain on Sept. 10 for an annual familiarization day hosted by Fish and Game, State Police and NHARNG aviation.
The goal of the training is to build team networking while exposing participants to various aspects of rescue operations such as land navigation, GPS usage, litter carries, and hoist and aircraft safety.
Two years in the making, the Guard's volunteer search and rescue team or NHNG VSAR is the newest in the Granite State and on the Volunteer Council for New Hampshire.
“This is the first time we’ve trained with the New Hampshire National Guard search and rescue team,” said Lt. James Kneeland, search and rescue coordinator for Fish and Game. “Their background will be an asset when it comes to training moving forward.”
While there is a long-standing relationship between Fish and Game and the aerial MEDEVAC units of the NHARNG, the VSAR is only now coming to fruition.
For pilots like Chief Warrant Officer 2 Christopher Wareing of the 238th Aviation Regiment (MEDEVAC), knowing fellow guardsmen are on the ground as volunteers provides a level of comfort to him and his team.
“It was really exciting to land today and see soldiers and airmen out here learning how to conduct these searches,” said Wareing, who has conducted countless rescue missions as a prior medic and crew chief. “These service members are going to help us to do our part of the mission better.”
The NHNG team is starting with a higher experience and knowledge base than the average volunteer might, said Kneeland, who worked with NHARNG State Command Sgt. Maj. William Ferland to field the group this year.
“Without the volunteers, we can’t make our mission,” Kneeland said. “Search and rescue is not nearly as successful without them.”
Two of the volunteers participating were Pfcs. Jordan Graham and James Small.
“I saw this as an opportunity to do more for individuals on a closer level,” said Small, a mechanic with the 3643rd Brigade Support Battalion.
Graham, a firefighter in his civilian career and a fire control specialist with Charlie Battery, 1st of the 103rd Field Artillery Regiment, agreed.
“I’ve learned so much from those within my community,” Graham said. “Being able to be there for them in their time of need and knowing I can help them puts a smile on my face.”
Last year, 4,816 volunteer hours were spent on search and rescue missions in the state.
“I love New Hampshire and I love the people here,” Small said. “It’s part of my responsibility to give back to them because they’ve given me such a beautiful place to live.