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    Texas validates storm response agencies

    SAREX 2022

    Photo By Capt. Leyda Ocasio-Kanzler | A Texas Parks and Wildlife helicopter hovers over disaster city as a hoist team...... read more read more



    Story by Capt. Leyda Ocasio-Kanzler 

    Texas Military Department

    COLLEGE Station, Texas – Law enforcement agencies, active-duty Military and various National Guard units came together to conduct the annual Search and Rescue Exercise, in College Station, Texas, June 14-15, 2022.
    What initially started 10 years ago as a statewide exercise, has now become a validation event for agencies across the U.S. that test their skills in preparation for natural disasters response.
    The primary focus of the SAREX is hurricane response preparedness, based off real-world events in the past.
    Chief Warrant Officer 4 Jose Pedro Lebron-Vargas III, of the Texas Army National Guard serves as the Search and Rescue Director of Air Operations for the State of Texas, where he coordinates the air space and federal assets of the Department of Defense. He additionally serves as the deputy director for the Air Operations Center working in tandem with Brett Dixon of Texas Task Force One. Vargas has been a SAREX key planner for the past four years.
    “We try to mimic a hurricane and what each echelon would be doing,” said Vargas. “The goal is to practice communication between different agencies and states in order to execute smoother operations for when real disaster strikes.”
    This year over 60 soldiers from the Texas State Guard stepped in as role players for the scenarios. The participation of the Texas State Guard provided the crews with optimal chance of cycling through more scenarios through-out the day gaining the maximum amount of exposure and practice.
    “Something that I took away from this experience was the overwhelming sense of teamwork and how all the agencies worked together seamlessly to extract us to safety; said Pfc. Ashley Gibson, assigned to the Texas State Guard.
    National Guard units from Maryland, Indiana, Arkansas, and Oklahoma were among the participating states this year. Years prior, National Guard units from Missouri, South Carolina, and North Carolina have traveled to Texas to test their skills.
    “In the past, we have had anywhere between 15-20 different agencies participate in the SAREX,” said Vargas. “This year, we had over 200 participates; 22 different agencies, 16 aircraft, and for the first time ever; 5 unmanned aircraft systems,” said Vargas.
    Agencies, regardless of state origin serve a critical role within the Texas State Aviation Office when they are activated as a support function in response to natural disasters. The SAREX ensures our state and federal partners continue to stay ready and relevant with new procedures and technology.
    During live missions the Joint Air to Ground Team, who has tactical control of the aircraft and responds to the emergency calls, assigning aircraft to the location in need. The Air Operations Center who holds strategic control provides aircraft what they need logistically to accomplish the mission. While the hoist crew, consisting of a military or law enforcement rescue aircraft and personnel conducts the actual hoist procedure.
    “During the SAREX we practice this same concept,” said Vargas. “That’s why this exercise is so successful, because we execute the whole chain, all the way to the rescue aircraft.”
    The realism of scenarios provides agencies the most accurate picture of what they will be facing when called upon. By putting them under similar stressors the teams can practice all skills with the benefit of being provided feedback from top instructors.
    Communication between the agencies is especially important as Texas enters its peak hurricane season. By conducting this exercise right before the rise of potential natural disasters it creates ready and relevant service members.
    “The SAREX enables our military personnel to communicate with civilian entities and understand their language and standard operating procedures,” said Vargas. “Now, we have this dialogue with our agencies that has only gotten better over the years.”
    Over the next years the Texas Combat Aviation Brigade will be undergoing a deployment cycle which leaves Texas with a significant loss of aviation assets. Without events like the SAREX, Texas and other search and rescue agencies would not be able to stay as current as they are now.
    “Knowing the capabilities of our neighboring states puts Texas at an advantage when disaster strikes,” said Vargas. “This event allows Texas to work with the some of the best search and rescue agencies to challenge them in scenarios that have occurred in the past.”
    The SAREX is more than just a skills challenge; it is a try-out for the real event. When agencies come to Texas to participate in the SAREX they are competing to be on stand-by for when disaster strikes.
    “As a Citizen-Soldier and a Texan, people should know what the State goes through to stay ready and relevant,” said Vargas. “We bring agencies together for the sole purpose of supporting Texans. We want to make sure we do it right, efficiently and learn as much as we can. So, when disaster strikes, we have the best people, the best teams in the positions.”



    Date Taken: 06.15.2022
    Date Posted: 07.28.2022 10:31
    Story ID: 425848
    Location: COLLEGE STATION , TX, US 

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