By Maj. Andy Thaggard, 102d Public Affairs DetachmentOctober 18, 2017
TUPELO, Miss. -- It was just a normal weekend at drill for two Mississippi National Guard members -- report in on time, jump into the day's training -- then help save a life.
Capt. Drew Headings and Chief Warrant Officer 4 Dennis Osborne are assigned to the Tupelo-based Company D, 2nd Battalion, 151st Aviation Regiment, Mississippi Army National Guard. Both are pilots of the UH-72 Lakota helicopter in a medical evacuation unit.
Their Saturday, October 14, 2017, was going to be spent on the ground, preparing for the next month's scheduled individual weapons qualification events by working through vehicle load plans and daily training schedules.
That all changed when their cellphones started "blowing up" with calls from the Pontotoc County first response community calling for help with a Silver Alert for an 89-year-old woman. A Silver Alert is a public notification system to broadcast information about missing persons -- especially senior citizens with Alzheimer's disease, dementia or other mental disabilities -- in order to seek public aid in locating them.
"In recent years, we've tried to get more involved with local civil authorities and to work more with the search and rescue task force," said Headings, who is also a Tupelo firefighter. "Local responders had our cellphones from past meetings. So we gave them the correct numbers to the (Mississippi National Guard) joint operations center in Jackson and then began letting our chain of command know that a call for help was coming while preparing a helicopter in anticipation of an approved assistance mission."
The search and rescue flight launched at 11:40 a.m. and was on-scene within 10 minutes.
"Our aircraft have radios that will talk to the first responders on the ground, so we were able to link up to the incident commander, who gave us our search grid," said Headings.
Osborne and Headings spotted the woman lying on the side of a ditch in tall grass 45 minutes later.
"The grass was so high, we had to walk first responders within three to five feet of her," said Headings.
Once the search party on the ground confirmed the woman's identity, the flight crew coordinated with the incident commander and departed the scene to clear the airspace in case a civilian medical helicopter was necessary.
"It was an extremely rewarding experience. It's our mission and what we train for," said Headings.
Conducting searches in defense to civil authorities (DSCA) is "fulfilling and rewarding, getting to help somebody," he said.
DSCA missions are a core element of the Mississippi National Guard, and both pilots recently served on a task force in Houston conducting Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.
"One of the best things to come out of (Saturday's operation) was that a plan had been put in place, everyone got to see it exercised, it went rather quickly, and worked really well," said Headings.