114th Fighter Wing search and recovery

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  • 114th Fighter Wing

Airmen from the 114th Fighter Wing Force Support Squadron conducted hands-on search and recovery training during October’s Unit Training Assembly at Great Bear Recreation Park, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, Oct. 1, 2022.

Search and recovery is a significant responsibility assigned to the services career field. In addition to their primary roles in lodging, food services, events and fitness, service specialists are trained in the intricate recovery and care of human remains and artifacts after a casualty incident. 

“The primary mission of a search and recovery team is for contingency operations overseas,” said retired U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Donald Wenzel. “Our secondary mission would be domestic operations for anything from an airplane crash to a terrorist attack. Anything where there’s multiple bodies that need to be secured.”

Wenzel previously worked as the 114th Force Support Squadron services supervisor and continues to instruct Airmen on search and recovery operations. 

The training exposed Airmen to the realities of bodily fluids and potential biohazards thanks in part to Mike Eggers, manager at the Renner Meat Locker, who donated unused pig and cow remains for the simulated mission. The remains were transported to the training site and placed throughout a portion of the rugged terrain where Airmen then utilized their search and recovery training to locate and collect the items.

“It’s important to do training like this to help newer members who haven’t had a chance to deploy, be exposed to the realities of what it may be like,” said Staff Sgt. Jesse Hakinson, 114th food service specialist. “It’s not going to be just picking up fake plastic pieces. Using these remains puts you outside your comfort zone, which is what an entire deployment is like.”

Hakinson was part of the 11-member training team and used her prior deployment experience to aid her in mentoring other Airmen on the team. 

In addition to the search and recovery teams, two unit members from the 114th Civil Engineer Squadron, Airman 1st Class Brendon Schulte, 114th Civil Engineer apprentice and Tech. Sgt. Cody Taylor, 114th Civil Engineer craftsman, participated in the exercise to provide geospatial mapped coordinates of the remains utilizing a Trimble Total Station. 

“We use the GPS (Global Positioning System) rover to mark points and grid coordinates of the items located, which are sent back to our base station,” said Taylor. “The base station uses satellite information to identify our starting points. It works similar to the GPS on your phone, except it’s more accurate.” 

The final product the total station creates is a valuable tool used for the overall documentation of the scene and points of recovery. 

“It was nice to put this training into practice rather than learning about it on paper,” said Schulte. “Having a team go through to mark the remains and place tags on them was nice for us to be able to get hands on and real world experience.”

After the remains were properly collected, they were transported to a secondary location where the force support squadron conducted mortuary affairs training.   

Maintaining proficiency through simulated large-scale search and recovery readiness exercises enables Airmen of the 114th Fighter Wing Force Support Squadron to stay mission ready in order to execute real-world missions at a moment's notice.