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Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue
published in the September 2015 issue

The warm season here in the Rio Grande Valley stretches from May through September with average daytime temperatures exceeding 90° F. Add in high relative humidity values and heat index values can consistently reach over 100 °F during these months. Put this in conjunction with arid brushland covering hundreds of square miles and you have a recipe for disaster. This potential disaster is faced weekly by hundreds of undocumented aliens making their way into the United States along the Texas - Mexico border. Not only by them but by the men and women of the US Border Patrol whose duties include patrolling these hot, dry areas and responding to calls of distress.

In the year 1998 the RGV Sector BORSTAR (Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue) unit was established to provide assistance to anyone who was lost or otherwise in distress. The RGV BORSTAR unit is a well disciplined and well equipped group of specially trained agents who face the reality of the Rio Grande Valley's harsh environment on a daily basis. Whether they are responding to a call to search for lost individuals or groups, or they are assisting in disaster relief efforts, BORSTAR agents are always prepared and ready to face the challenge of whatever lies before them. It takes specialized training to become a part of the RGV BORSTAR unit. Qualifying agents must complete a rigorous five week training course at the Special Operations Group (SOG) Headquarters in El Paso, Texas.

Elements of this training include:

• Physical Stamina - Building physical endurance for coping with high stress situations.
• Land Navigation - Utilizing maps and navigating through rough terrain.
• Swimming - Learning survival swimming and rescue techniques.
• Swift Water Training - Coping with the dangers of rescuing in flooded areas.
• Air Operation - Learning Helicopter Rope Suspension Techniques (HRST).
• Incident Command - Setting up and maintaining communication during a mission.
• Tactical Medicine - Learning to stabilize a subject for transport to a medical facility.
• Search and Rescue - Utilizing all aspects of their training in actual circumstances.

A Day in the Shoes of a BORSTAR OPERATOR
by BORSTAR operator Daniel Reyes

Most undocumented aliens risk their lives for the opportunity to work and provide a suitable living for themselves and their families. What many don't know is the danger they subject themselves to. Crossing the ranch lands of Falfurrias, TX, is one of the many obstacles these UDA (Undocumented Aliens)'s face on their journey. Hiking anywhere from 15 to 40 miles through sandy, hilly pastures in an attempt to avoid detection and capture by Border Patrol Agents. Many of these people are unprepared and are unable to carry the amount of water needed for the voyage.

As BORSTAR operators it's our job to locate and treat these people in distress so that they don't become casualties. In June of 2014, I was dispatched to a remote region near Falfurrias, Texas. Local 911 dispatchers provided BORSTAR agents with a callback number and GPS Coordinates of a woman in distress. Our first action was to call the victim. During the interview, she mentioned that she had not had anything to eat or drink in over two days and was on the brink of passing out. As I attempted to gather information, she interrupted me and said, "My battery is about to die, please save me." That was the last I heard from her before the connection was lost.

We immediately began our search. The GPS coordinates led me to a remote ranch approximately 14 miles from the nearest road. Phase 2 coordinates will normally get you within 100 meters of the caller, but that day only Phase 1 coordinates were obtained, accurate up to 3 miles. I began driving the perimeter fences looking for footprints or disturbances within the environment that would lead me to the victim. Minutes turned into hours as my team and I searched for any sign of the female in distress. Finally, I came across a single running W shoe print with concentric circles within the heel, and I knew that we were in the right area.

My partner and I gathered our large medical bag, collapsible litter and began tracking through the sandy mots looking for a possibly unresponsive victim. A mile into the brush we came across a small female shirt and in the distance we saw a silhouette of a person leaning up against a tree. We ran to her location to find her sluggishly alert to our presence. "Ayudame" she cried as we began our assessments looking for the signs and symptoms associated with heat exhaustion and dehydration. We gave her cold water and began treating her while simultaneously communicating with other agents to assist in a litter carry. After determining that this person was severely dehydrated we began intravenous therapy with saline solution and began extraction to a hospital for definitive care.

In this case, our patient, a Honduran mother of three did not fall victim to the elements. We as BORSTAR Operators uphold our motto daily and will stop at nothing to find those that are lost, treat those that are injured, and save those that need rescue.

Border Patrol Search, Trauma and Rescue Operators live by a motto
"So Others May Live"

This motto is shared by many Search and rescue entities to ingrain the character needed to perform the tasks at hand. You must be competent, dedicated and selflessly devoted to the preservation of life to stand up against the elements and timely physical demands presented on a daily basis. We work in hot, isolated environments with limited resources. Off road doesn't properly describe the deep soft sand we patrol, pushing our 4x4 vehicles to their absolute limits at times. When regular patrol work turns into emergent medical assistance, we quickly change our hats from Border Patrol Agents to a highly trained rescue unit capable of responding to almost any emergency.

The human body is very versatile. It is capable of compensating to overcome the elements. When exposed to hot temperatures the body begins to produce sweat at the surface of the skin. The circulatory system then begins to circulate blood to the dermis in an attempt to cool the core temperature and maintain a level of homeostasis within the body. In order for these compensation mechanisms to be of use, one needs to be hydrated and well-nourished with an adequate balance of sodium and potassium electrolytes. If insufficient, the body will no longer be able to compensate. The body will start to cramp, begin to overheat and if not treated in a timely fashion, kidney failure and death will inevitably follow.