KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. --
The area surrounding Klamath Falls, Ore., is typified by forests, wilderness, lakes, streams, mountains, and rivers. This draws people from all over the state to enjoy the beauty and adventure of the outdoors. Many 173rd Fighter Wing Airmen enjoy these activities, and a number of them are combining one of their core values, service before self, and their love of nature.
A group of 173rd FW Airmen volunteer their off-duty time with a search and rescue group that works to help those who find themselves in trouble and far from help.
“The members of the Sheriff's [Department] Search and Rescue have, over the years, been credited for finding lost children, hikers and backpackers in the wilderness,” reads the Klamath Country website description of the group. “It should be noted that this group of volunteers, like many others associated with our Search and Rescue Deputies, give freely and tirelessly of their time and energy to protect and serve the residents and visitors to Klamath County.”
Chief Master Sgt. George Mulleneix, who has volunteered for the group since 2007, says a search starts when his phone rings.
“Whenever we get a call we go out and either look for an individual, or we get individuals who might be hurt on the trail and we’ll go in and get them with a litter.”
He relates that during one such search, two hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail were caught in a storm with heavy lightening. As they ran from the area, one of them slipped while attempting to jump a downed tree and badly dislocated his shoulder. Mulleneix and others hiked in, located the injured hiker, and escorted him to an area where a helicopter could take him to a hospital for treatment.
Another 173rd FW Airman, Master Sgt. Matt Marshall, says the extensive training they receive helps ready them for whatever situation arises--from small boat rescue to ground and mounted search and rescue. He says his background is one of the reasons he volunteers for the group.
“As an avid outdoorsman with extensive survival, navigational and military training, who’s favorite past time is exploring the wilderness areas of the Pacific Northwest. I felt a duty to serve my local community and put my skills to use assisting whomever and wherever possible,” he says.
That service gives him a sense of satisfaction and it provides a lasting camaraderie with the other members of the team Marshall adds.
Another 173rd FW member of the search and rescue team, Tech. Sgt. T.J. Lombardi, 173rd Security Forces Squadron and avid photographer, captures images from one a training event where they learned to use litters to rescue injured climbers from cliff faces or high places. He says it is the kind of environment where they must rely on each other and in many ways it mirrors the Espirit De Corps he finds in the military.
“One thing I love about the SAR community are the sincere and genuine people—willing to help in any capacity,” he said. “The longer you are in this community, the more stories you hear of missions spent alongside each other and those same people quickly become your friends and mentors.”
For the Airmen of the 173rd Fighter Wing it’s perhaps only natural to combine a love of the outdoors with service to the community, many would say it’s one of their core values.