By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
State defense force trains for searches
Georgia State Defense Force 1st Lt. Jill Doyle, the 911th’s intelligence officer, inspects the search-and-rescue pack of Cpl. Ian Willoughby, an information technology specialist with the 911th. - photo by Photo provided.
CLAY NATIONAL GUARD CENTER, Marietta — A missing-person call on a police radio demands prompt action, often involving dozens of volunteers combing dense and sometimes dangerous areas. The time and stress accompanying the search is emotionally and physically draining. Many Georgia law enforcement agencies lack the time, personnel or resources to accomplish an intensive search.
Law enforcement is now finding a willing and able partner in search-and-rescue missions through the Georgia State Defense Force, an all-volunteer arm of the Georgia Department of Defense. The force is gaining a statewide reputation for its support of search-and-rescue operations.
The Georgia State Defense Force’s primary mission is to support the Georgia Army and Air Guard, but many of its members — through civilian or military training — qualify in the skills necessary for missing-person/search-and-rescue relief. GSDF members assisted law enforcement in more than a dozen searches for missing people in the past two and a half years.
The institutional skills of search and rescue are becoming mandated for all 800 members of the GSDF. Under the direction of Brig. Gen. Jerry Bradford, State Defense Force commander, the number of SDF personnel qualified in search and rescue skills are increasing together with the number of qualified SAR teams available to local authorities.
GSDF members assisted in the second search for Iraq war veteran Jason Roark by Morgan County authorities in 2008. GSDF personnel were not only brought in for the multi-day search effort, they organized the operation, which involved several dozen GSDF members and many citizens.
“Gen. Bradford plans to change the mindset of civilian agencies to not just calling us [the GSDF] for support, but to call us first when search and rescue is initiated,” said SDF Maj. Sam Pena, who leads Atlanta’s 911th Support Command.
Bradford envisages the State Defense Force personnel being used in three situations. The first would be using the SDF to supplement other agencies that cover many of the operations in which the SDF has participated in the past. The second entails running the search area then reporting to local authorities, similar to SDF operations during the Roark search. A third situation is the SDF running the entire SAR operation.
“Eventually, the SDF hopes to expand its capabilities to assist the Georgia Guard’s Joint Task Force 781 in its search, evacuation and recovery mission during all manmade or natural disasters,” Pena said. Joint Task Force 781 is part of the Georgia National Guard’s Homeland Response Force.
Reaching this stage of readiness requires more people and more training, according to the SDF.
For the last three months, 30 SDF members have taken on the task of becoming SAR qualified at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center in Forsyth.
“Like anything else we do, we do SAR because we want to serve our communities and our state. We want be a part of something larger than ourselves,” said SDF Pvt. Borbi Bropheh, the newest member of Atlanta-based 1st Medical Company.
“But not just anyone can do SAR,” said 2nd Lt. Tim McNeill, the 911th’s personnel officer and a SAR instructor. Three ever-increasing degrees of challenges, physical and mental, which are based upon civilian fire department standards, segregate the capabilities of each SDF volunteer.
Those in training in Forsyth expect to graduate in late September. “They learn what is necessary for staying and surviving in the field for at least three days, search and rescue operations fundamentals and rappelling,” McNeill said.
“Lots to learn,” said Sgt. Thomas Dager, one of the trainees and the NCO-in-charge of the intelligence section for Jackson’s 2nd Battalion, 5th Brigade. Dager also is a former Guardsman who once served with what is now 3rd Squadron, 108th Cavalry.
“It’s a lot of information, but if we’re gonna aid folks in distress or immediate danger, we’ve got to do it right,” he said.
As the Georgia State Defense Force prepares to become the resource local authorities call on first for search and rescue skills and resources, it’ll continue to push SAR operations for its volunteer members.
“It’s just that important, said Pvt. Desire Saltkill, a decontamination specialist with 1st Medical Company.
Georgia’s SDF is an all volunteer force and is looking for additional members.  Anyone interested can view GSDF information at

Sign up for our e-newsletters