Paul Branaman would like to see teenagers walking through the woods to help people rather than walking the streets getting into mischief.
Branaman, a Craven County Sheriff’s deputy and former U.S. Coast Guard special agent, has brought his experiences in search and rescue to the table to form the Vecino Verde Search and Rescue organization.
“I work for the Craven County Sheriff’s Department and I would see a whole lot of kids who had never been out in the woods at all running the streets of New Bern, running the streets of Havelock, with nothing to do,” Branaman said. “The name Vecino Verde is Spanish. It means Green Neighbor, so the goal was to be a good neighbor to them and to get them out to see some of nature.”
The group formed three years ago and has taught about 600 Cub Scouts how to live in the woods.
Branaman is trying to attract teens to join the group.
“You have many, many fine rescue organizations in Craven County, but there’s not a whole lot of people who do ground search and rescue and actually go in the woods and look for people,” he said. “Most of the time it’s older people, law enforcement, fire professionals who start the searches and everything like that and then they try to get as much manpower as they can.
“When you’re our age, it’s very hard to break away and go out in the woods and look for somebody, so who’s the most logical candidate. It’s a bunch of trained, motivated teenagers.”
Branaman would like to coordinate growth of the group through existing law enforcement, fire and rescue departments and Community Emergency Response Teams.
“We are wanting to work with local agencies so that local agencies are familiar with us and they realize that these guys can be counted on,” he said. “They’re not just running around Rambos in the woods. We’re trying to do something that is not just a bunch of kids stomping through the woods. They are going to be a professional organization. They are going to get out there and train with other local agencies so that they can make a difference in their community. We’re not trying to compete. We’re trying to compliment.”
Branaman said he started his search and rescue training as a teen.
“I grew up here. I was a Havelock kid. I got here in 1968 and graduated from Havelock High School in 1976,” Branaman said. “When I was 15 years old I was introduced to an organization called the Civil Air Patrol. I was a cadet in the Civil Air Patrol and we used to go out and rescue folks all the time, so I know what teenagers can do if they are properly led and properly motivated.”
Later, when a Coast Guard search and rescue helicopter flew over, he was inspired to join the Coast Guard.
“That’s how search and rescue got in my blood,” he said.
So far, he has had only a small number of teens show up at the meetings, but one of them, Alexander Messmer, is a regional Young Marine of the Year, and will be a leader in the group.
“We’re the official starting group, if you want to say that,” Messmer said. “We’re hoping to expand and have us lead. The adults would basically be there to guide and direct when needed. It’s a work in progress and we’re still figuring out the organization status.”
Another Young Marine, Jared McLeod, also joined the group because it sounded interesting.
“These guys have some very interesting ideas that they would like to do,” Branaman said. “If there is a natural disaster and the roads are blocked because of the debris, we would like to form a mountain bike team so that we can go and knock on neighbors’ doors and help their neighbors, say hello, are you all right. If not so, we can get them help.”
They would also like to get experienced enough to do water rescues.
But for now, the core training will be the basics.
“Every one of them is going to be trained in ground search and rescue,” Branaman said. “From there, we’ll go in different directions.”
Branaman said the group is looking for any one, teen or adult, who would want to assist.
“Once we get trained in how to look for people in the woods, we’re going to try to expand depending on the amount of people that we have,” Messmer said.
For more information on the group, contact Branaman at 220-4577 or 229-6368, email email@example.com or go online to www.vecinoverde.org.