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Whooah!!! SAREX 2008!!!

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Against a backdrop of pristine skies, dark blue waters and boreal forests, the skills of more than 250 military and civilian search and rescue experts from across Canada and the US were tried, tested and proven during the 2008 National Search and Rescue Exercise (SAREX) held recently in Thunder Bay, Ont.

The annual exercise, hosted on a rotating basis by one of the CF search and rescue wings, provides an opportunity for the SAR community to exchange valuable information and experiences gained and identify issues of import, and further serves as a venue for collecting SARrelated data during live-exercise scenarios.

Hosted by 17 Wing Winnipeg’s 435 Transport and Rescue (T&R) Squadron, winner of the Diamond Award as the unit with the best overall performance recorded in selected competitive events, this year’s SAREX proved to be extremely demanding for all participants.

“We expanded the exercise by adding two scenarios designed specifically to test the skills and abilities of our personnel to operate in a marine environment,” said SAREX co-ordinator Major Jay Steele, a CC-130 Hercules pilot with 435 (T&R) Sqn. “It added more relevance because it simulated more accurately the varied missions we perform.”

The citizens of Thunder Bay and area were able to view first-hand, from the comfort of their patios, offices or even park benches, the skills of the aircrews as they manoeuvred their helicopters and aircraft overhead. Regrettably, the marine events could not be seen from the shore.

As well, the precision parachute jumps of Canadian Search and Rescue Technicians (SAR Techs) and US Para- Jumpers (PJs) and Rescue Swimmers generated cheers and applause from spectators who gathered each day throughout the exercise outside the fence of the Thunder Bay airport.

As if the expanded format for this year’s SAREX was not enough of a challenge for the participants, national pride and friendly military-civilian rivalry added to the exercise with the participation of the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association (CASARA), the US Coast Guard, and the US Air Force’s 39th Rescue and 308th PJ Squadrons.

“Our mission of saving lives is absolutely crucial,” said 17 Wing commanding officer Colonel Scott Howden. “By coming together as we have here in Thunder Bay, we greatly enhanced our ability to respond efficiently and effectively to the needs of those who seek our assistance in times of distress.”

“I, like most Canadians, see your exploits on television newscasts and say wow!” were the heartfelt words spoken by Lynn Peterson, mayor of Thunder Bay. “But after witnessing first-hand the training, the dedication and the passion you all have, I just want to say on behalf of all Canadians – thank you.”

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