AUSTIN (KXAN) - Texas has more natural disasters than any other state. Add to the hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and wildfires, are the everyday search and rescues on land and in water.
That's where the all-volunteer Texas State Guard Maritime Regiment comes in, all 250 of them. They assist local and state authorities with whatever needs to be done.
This week they are undergoing their annual rigorous training drills, training that could make the difference between life and death. They've practiced land searches, which can be tricky, on rough terrain and in rough weather.
"Hypothermia, cold, lack of water, they have to get into the minds of the people they're looking for to figure out where they might be," said Capt. Ken Rigoulot.
Land searches are often conducted in the dark, on unfamiliar ground, and no two searches are alike.
"The search and rescues vary and the planning is fairly complex. Those skills have to be taught and practiced," said Greg Pyles, CEP of Texas Search and Rescue. His group helps train the unit.
The maritime regiment also trains on bulldozers to build wall breaks against wildfires.
At The University of Texas Jamail Swimming Center , they've been practicing underwater searches. They learn 360-degree and 180-degree searches methodically mapped out.
There may be surface assistance, but down below divers usually work alone, sometimes inside downed planes, boats or cars, searching for criminal evidence, or perhaps a body.
"This practice is very important for us," said Kate Whitby. "You can't go out and help anybody if you don't know the details of all the things you need to know."
Because they work along the mucky, murky bottom, the divers train with blackened-out face masks. It's the toughest part of the job.
"Everything we do is in complete black," Mark Wilson said. "Underwater where we work there is no light. You have to be able to do this by touch.
Asked if it sometimes it gets a little spooky, Wilson replied, "Can be." With a grin.
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