By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
Whenever someone thinks of a game warden they usually envision a person clad in green checking fishing or hunting licenses.
But since Sept. 11, 2001, the face of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife Fisheries and Parks has become much more camouflaged.
Wednesday, at the Meridian/Lauderdale County Public Safety Training Facility located on Sandflat Road in Meridian, a large training scenario revolving around a massive explosion perpetrated by terrorists was being conducted with a wide range of law enforcement and emergency response agencies taking part. Mike Street, training coordinator for the facility, said this was the largest such training exercise utilizing personnel from agencies and departments that may respond to such a crisis.
"Fire, law enforcement, homeland security, emergency responders and other areas of public safety are training here today because in the event an incident of this magnitude occurs it will create a great deal of chaos," said Street. "We need to learn to work together while at the same time performing our duties according to our skill sets."
One of those skill sets involves the MDWFP's Tactical Search and Rescue Team. These are the same aforementioned game wardens of the department with a special ops twist. To see these men, faces camouflaged and heavily armed with assault rifles materialize from a tree line, evokes visions of Navy Seal teams rather than someone who yesterday was checking your fishing license.
"We are a tactical search and rescue team that is trained by the Department of Homeland Security to respond to special needs and missions," said MDWFP Lt. Dale Bell. "We are here today to keep our skill sets sharp because we don't know when we will be needed."
Such was the case in May 2012 when the team was scrambled to find one of the FBI's 10 Most Wanted, Adam Christopher Mayes. Mayes was being sought for the murder of Jo Ann Bain and her daughter Adrienne Bain. Mayes kidnapped Bain's other daughters, 8-year-old Kyliyah and 12-year-old Alexandria. A tip put authorities on Mayes' trail in Alpine, near Guntown, Mississippi. It was the MDWFP's SAR team that closed in on the suspect. Mayes shot himself and later died. The two girls were rescued bruised and dehydrated but otherwise unhurt.
"Those members were trained right here," said Street. "We take pride in having been a part of that."
The facility Wednesday was a place of constant activity despite the rain. In one area officers from various law enforcement agencies and who are part of a response team system to quell riots, trained in getting control of a crowd situation. A short distance away firefighters were battling a fire, rescuing victims from a multi story building, and zip lining the injured to ground crews. Next to the burning building were crews going into a simulated collapsed structure searching for victims. A tripod for hauling the injured out was erected to facilitate the extraction.
All the while the SAR team was slipping silently through the nearby woods trying to locate the "suspects" who had committed the bombing. Separately they did their individual jobs but collectively they were all on the same team.
"We have to do this periodically so that if something like this happens we have the background training to deal with it," said Street, as he watches a "victim" get carefully roped down from three stories high. "We hope this never happens but if it does, I believe we will be ready."