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Elite Training Preps Native American Game Wardens For Rescues

Officers from 18 Native American law enforcement agencies from across the country met at the Santa Ana Star Casino last month to do a week-long training. It's designed for conservation officers who do things like police remote areas and protect wildlife.

It was an unusually cold spring day in Bernalillo. The casino parking lot was full of law enforcement vehicles from tribal nations including the Jicarilla Apache from New Mexico, the Southern Ute of Colorado and the Hopi nation in Arizona. Around 70 officers milled about. 

“They can be involved in any situation that any officer could be out in the country,” said Joe Early, the Native American Liason with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He helped put the event together.

“Sometimes they also are just general tribal police, or they assist the highway patrol in patrolling traffic. So, they are doing things like applying tourniquets, evacuating a wounded officer to a vehicle and carrying them properly. Things of that nature,” Early said. “You know, you have game wardens that literally have hundreds of miles to patrol by themselves, with little to no back-up.”   

This tactical medical training is for situations where someone gets injured. Officers learned how to get a wounded colleague, witness or suspect to a safe place for evacuation.

“Some of these officers. They’re street cops. But they are out in the mountains patrolling during hunting season, around fishing season,” Early said. “They come across a marijuana field, or a meth lab. They are having to deal with something totally out of their normal, daily job. There is a shooting in a nearby neighborhood. They have to respond to that.”    

Officers learned how to treat gunshot wounds in a casino ballroom turned classroom. A gunshot to the chest can be very painful. As the patient breathes, air goes in and out of the wound. So, officers practiced applying chest seals.

“Basically, if you take anything that just does not allow air through, you will be good to go,” said one instructor. They're are from the Department of Homeland Security and they wouldn’t give us their names. This one was serious behind his glasses, animated, and a little older than the others. He demonstrated how to apply plastic to a gunshot wound as a trainee lay on the floor. 

“I see a bag of Doritos. Can I use a bag of Doritos?" he asked the trainees. "I rip it up and can I put a bag of Doritos on there."

Credit Celia Raney/KUNM
An instructor uses plastic and tape to cover a simulated wound. He seals all four edges with medical tape given to all the trainees in emergency safety kits.

Then the group went out to the back parking lot, where refrigerated trucks unloaded produce for the casino’s restaurants. The instructor wiped his glasses and showed how to get someone who’s wounded into a vehicle, an extended cab pickup truck.  

First, he leaned up against the truck, hugging a trainee as a wounded person under their arms from behind. Then, he fell backwards into the extended cab, with the trainee on top of him. 

“So, I’m right here, and I start to shimmy,” he said. Like a caterpillar, the instructor squirmed on his back onto the seat, inching his way, until he was in the truck. “I’ve got to shimmy myself from out underneath him. So, I’ve got to shimmy out however I can.”

Credit Celia Raney/KUNM
After first aid classes inside, instructors took the students outside to demonstrate the safest and easiest ways to load an injured person into the back of car in the event that they could not be reached by emergency medical responders.

Then we went into an irrigation ditch where there was a patch of soft, green grass. Here, the group learned how to do what is called a two-man carry. 

“So, I’m taking all the weight. And we are moving. So, if at some point I get tired, hey partner, partner I’m getting tired,” said one instructor holding the legs of a trainee, one on either shoulder.

“Okay, go ahead and stand up. Now, I’m taking all the weight,” said a second instructor who was holding the trainee's head. 

As the training wrapped up, officers chatted and headed out. This event only happens two places in the nation and Bernard Inez, Jr. has been coming every year. He’s Chief of Conservation with the Jicarilla Apache Game and Fish department and he's passionate about his job. 

“Long hours are a must. You are away from your family a lot. Countless hours of training,” said Inez, “but educating everybody what conservation is is important because we are in the business of protecting wildlife. Wildlife cannot protect itself."

That’s their goal and mission, Inez said, to protect wildlife for future generations.

Celia Raney contributed the photos in this report. 

Bryce Dix is our local host for NPR's Morning Edition.
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