Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Keaton Key (tan T-shirt) and Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Jonathan Frangione help bear the stretcher carrying injured hiker Chris Waits up a ravine to a waiting ambulance. Both cadets are Arkansas Wing members; Keaton belongs to the 95th Composite Squadron and Frangione to the 115th Composite Squadron.
Ground team training participants from the Arkansas and Texas wings wait in two lines to previde handholds for the stretcher team.
Photos by Capt. Brad Kidder
Capt. Brad Kidder
Public Affairs Officer
A weekend of ground team training quickly escalated into the real thing Oct. 30 for members of the Arkansas and Texas wings.
When hiker Chris Waits went for a training jaunt with friends at Camp Preston Hunt outside Texarkana that crisp Sunday morning, little did she know her day would take a turn that not only changed her year-end competitive plans but also tested some of the Civil Air Patrol members’ newly honed skills.
Waits’ loss of footing on a trail at the Boy Scouts of America compound near Genoa left her at the bottom of a steep ravine with shattered bones and debilitating pain and in urgent need of medical attention.
Meanwhile, about 35 Arkansas and Texas Wing members were convened at Camp Preston Hunt for a ground training exercise hosted by Arkansas Wing’s Texarkana-based 95th Composite Squadron. Search and rescue training that Friday and exercises Saturday featured use of electronic tracking gear, radios, maps, CAP vehicles and aircraft, along with a lot of dusty black boots to locate simulated downed aircraft and lost individuals as the participants took on a multitude of tasks required to become a qualified Ground Team Member.
Sunday morning’s ground sorties were designed to be an all-hands demonstration of the training and skills needed for ground team search and rescue.
Sunday was also the morning Waits was introduced to CAP.
On their march to the first exercise waypoint, ground team leader 2nd Lt. Stephen Green of the Texas Wing’s Sulphur Springs Composite Squadron and his trainees heard a persistent cry for help. They initially took it to be part of the exercise, only to soon realize they’d encountered an actual emergency.
Green notified mission base, marshaled his team to secure the area and, with the aid of two other ground teams that arrived shortly afterward, saw to the immediate needs and comfort of Waits and her friends.
The CAP members “came out of nowhere. It’s like they were squirrels coming from the trees,” nurse practitioner Rita Collins said afterward.
Paramedics secured Waits and her shattered leg to a backboard while CAP members secured a rope handrail and organized a plan to move the injured woman out of the chasm to ambulance on the road above. A path was cleared of loose rocks and freshly fallen autumn leaves so CAP members could line each side, providing handholds and stability to the crew carrying Waits up the steep grade.
“You saved us probably 30-45 minutes of waiting for people to come help us get her out of there,” one paramedic said as the woman was being moved onto the stretcher. “These young people are impressive.”
Waits, herself a registered nurse with 24 years of operating room experience, eventually had this to say while recuperating at home after surgery: “I am used to being the caregiver for others in their time of crisis. On Oct. 30, I found myself in the unique situation of having my role reversed.
“I am so grateful for the assistance and am awed at the teamwork and effort exerted by these CAP cadets for a total stranger.”