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Texas Emergency Management ONLINE 2015 Vol. 62 No. 9

Texas State Guard: Helping Individuals in a Time of Need

Brooks County

Brooks County has had a tragic history over the last several years recovering over 350 human remains. Usually the Brooks County Sheriff’s Department learns about human remains from undocumented persons who have entered the United States across the Texas/Mexico border. They either make anonymous phone calls or pass on the information in person if they are being detained. At times, maps are drawn to disclose the locations of the human remains. Unfortunately, the maps are drawn from memory, so they are not always accurate.

Photo by Warrant Officer Ricky Thomas

Photo by Warrant Officer Ricky Thomas

The Texas State Guard, working in conjunction with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Brooks County and US Border Patrol, was assigned the mission of locating human remains and assisting with locating lost individuals in Brooks County. These missions originated when Brooks County Sheriff’s Department contacted DPS for assistance. Meetings were held in September 2014 with federal, state and local agencies along with ranch owners and managers to establish a starting point for the first mission including the mission perimeters. Since then, the State Guard has been conducting ground search, rescue and recovery missions in Brooks County. Personnel are trained to the Rescue Training International (RTI) standards and on Man-tracking. They also receive additional training from the Texas State University Forensic Anthropology Research Facility commonly known as the “body farm.”

Photo by Warrant Officer Ricky Thomas

Photo by Warrant Officer Ricky Thomas

Each State Guard Search team contains a sixteen-person strike team and adheres to the Incident Management System of Command and Control. There are two seven-person search teams within the strike team, which has an overall unit leader plus a logistical/communication asset. For areas of the state that lack reliable communications, the search team is augmented by a four-man communication team using the Texas Interoperable Communications Package (TIC-P). Strike team members include a chaplain who is a qualified Critical Incident Stress Management Counselor. Chaplains were added to the teams with a twofold mission:  to provide last rites to any remains that are located and to provide counseling to search personnel during and after the mission as needed.

Since the inception of the mission, the teams have located nine sets of remains and provided medical assistance to over 16 individuals, including one near death. The teams have identified numerous trails and “layups” (fox holes), which showed signs of recent use.  Personal items found include numerous cell phones, cameras, clothing, food (buried caches), money (pesos and US Dollars) as well as identification cards, all of which were turned over to law enforcement.

During past missions the State Guard has also assisted with 9-1-1 distress calls. Brooks County Sheriff’s Department through their 9-1-1 system receives phone calls from individuals who are either lost or becoming concerned for their own or other’s safety. An approximate location is determined using GPS coordinates, and the caller is requested to stay at their location to wait for help. The Sheriff’s Office notifies the deployed State Guard unit, who in turn sends a team and search the area. Although callers are not always located, property or human remains may be discovered.

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