NEAMS volunteers train for search and rescue

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From left to right on horseback Lynn Cash, Ed Jackson, commander, Angie Freeman, Carol Cash, Karen Jackson, Mandie Weber, Ponda Jones, Chad Jones, Suzanne Terrell and Eric Terrell. In the front: Nita Page and Rick Page. Photo courtesy of Ponda Jones.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

Late July brought a beneficial event to Camp McClellan horse trails in Anniston, with ties to Etowah County. Volunteer search and rescue organization Northeast Alabama Mounted Services hosted a training session on the equestrian campground, preparing its members to answer the call whenever the need for assistance arises.

Following the disbandment of the Etowah County Sheriff’s Office Mounted Patrol Unit, unit members were inspired to continue acts of service throughout their county and surrounding areas. Alongside fellow officers, former Etowah County Mounted Patrol Unit training officer Ed Jackson developed a coalition of volunteers – Northeast Alabama Mounted Services (NEAMS) – with the vision of working alongside law enforcement in various circumstances to aid the community. As with the county’s mounted unit, NEAMS volunteers incorporate their horses as beneficial resources in search and rescue situations.

“The advantage of having a horse in search and rescue is that [on horseback] you’re in an elevated position,” said Jackson. “You’re higher above the ground, looking down upon the ground instead of across it. With that said, you can actually see better. The only place you really can’t see from horseback is right under your horse; and with the search patterns we use, we ride in such a manner that each rider is able to see the horse next to them, under that horse, so no clues are missed.”

NEAMS training integrates different terrain to acclimate the horses to a variety of landscapes and environments, exercising both the horses and riders in the most efficient methods to provide the best assistance. Practice scenarios include a collection of search patterns, educating riders on recognizing evidence and preparing themselves for any possible occurrence.

“There are many aspects of training,” said Jackson. “It’s about being equipped and prepared for the search. Preparation is a big part of this. You’ve got to have your water and saddle bags; you need to be prepared for foul weather. In hot weather, you have to stay hydrated. In cold weather, you’ve got to stay warm [and know how to do that]. You might have to stop and build a fire if needed to warm a victim or if it comes down to it, be out overnight.”

The NEAMS training at Camp McClellan featured a missing person scenario, where Jackson placed a manakin behind a large tree near a creek on the grounds. The scenario depicted a five-year-old, wearing red shoes and a red cap, a white tee shirt and blue jeans who wandered off from his family. Jackson dropped one shoe in one spot, the ball cap in another and led the group in the simulation.

At each point of evidence, NEAMS members would stop and mark what they found with GPS, mirroring a criminal investigation where NEAMS members would not touch any potential leadings, but heed to law enforcement officers as they undergo a specific process for gathering evidence. With Jackson developing the simulation in the most realistic manner possible, the training proved a success – with members following breadcrumbs to retrieve the manakin in the end.

While NEAMS envisions a future enriched with further opportunities to serve, it remembers one of the organization’s board members who laid the foundation for its success, encompassing the heart of NEAMs – Lynn Cash, who recently passed away. As a generous and caring individual who treasured any occasion to help, Cash proved a loyal and enthusiastic person whose passion for bettering his fellow man inspired others to follow in his footsteps.

“If you called Lynn, he was there,” said Jackson. “He was a really good friend – if in any way he could help anybody, he would do it. It did not matter. He was a dedicated member of NEAMS, he was ready at a moment’s notice and he was always prepared. He was a big part of the organization, coming to every search. He took his wagon and mules to McClellan for the Sassy Tails event to ride the children around…he was just a great, wonderful guy. He will be missed.”

Members like Cash embody the purpose of NEAMS. Dedicated to preserving the safety of the region and serving their respective communities, NEAMS members understand the importance of lending helping hands when needed most. Its efforts span far and wide, aiding in investigations statewide, including searching the Tuskegee National Forest during the 2019 Aniah Blanchard case.

The volunteer group’s mission emerges as one of absolute commitment, from supporting law enforcement in the search for missing individuals to performing presentations at schools, to partnering with Sassy Tails to create a fun and enjoyable environment for children with disabilities. Through its partnerships with other local organizations like the McClellan chapter of Back Country Horsemen of America, and its willingness to support its region at any turn, NEAMS emerges as a group devoted to uplifting communities, one effort at a time.

“When you start looking at missing children and young adults in Alabama alone, there are two or three people a day listed that have gone missing,” said Jackson. “There are people out there that need to be found and families that need closure.”

“I’ve always been involved in some form of public service. I was a volunteer fireman for over 20 years in Glencoe. When I moved out to the country, I still felt a need to serve the community. Once you’ve served and helped people, it’s a blessing you have that most don’t understand. You get a good feeling when you can help somebody in need. Anything we can do to help our community is what we want to do. We try to do our best to help any search organization, any law enforcement officers we can. We’re here to serve the public – that’s our main goal.”

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