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Pa. Guard hosts national search-and-rescue conference

By Capt. Travis Mueller | 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade | Nov. 7, 2019

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – The Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team, including Soldiers with the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, hosted a national search-and-rescue workshop at the Keystone Conference Center Nov. 5-6.

PA-HART is a joint partnership with the Pennsylvania National Guard, Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and certified civilian rescue technicians. It is an aerial search-and-rescue team, able to assist citizens during disasters.

The workshop brought together search-and-rescue experts from Pennsylvania, Illinois, Kentucky, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Indiana, Maryland, Delaware, Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida.

"The room was filled with the most influential military and civilian players of the HART community," said Ryan Walt, PA-HART program manager. "The conference information, networking and education propels established and new HART programs into the future."

"The workshop has benefited 18 different states because of the networking, which will save time, money and lives," said Scott Grahn, a senior strike team leader with PA-HART.

Participants discussed partnerships between military and civilian organizations, safety considerations and inherent risks when conducting search-and-rescue operations in aquatic environments.

"The national conference brought together experienced civilian-military HART teams to share lessons learned," said Lt. Col. Michael Girvin, executive officer of the 28th ECAB. "It also helped increase awareness and reduce risk across the nation."

Among the participants was Maj. Gen. Anthony J. Carrelli, the adjutant general of Pennsylvania, Randy Padfield, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Timothy Schaeffer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, and Brig. Gen. David Wood, director of the joint staff with Joint Force Headquarters-Pennsylvania National Guard.

"The national HART teams in the National Guard provide a critical resource in water rescue, that innovates civilian water rescue expertise with military aircrews," said Girvin. "Swift water rescue is a high-risk, low-frequency mission that HART teams train for throughout the year to ensure they are ready when the call comes in."

PA-HART members completed multiple rescues in 2018. After flooding in Pennsylvania in August 2018, they conducted hoist rescues of 19 people, two dogs and a cat. In South Carolina after Hurricane Florence, they helped assess damage, transported supplies and performed a medical evacuation of two flood survivors.