Commander’s Notes

This page is my personal doodling of opinion, notes & thoughts

My notes update 4/14/17

Attached at the bottom: Tonya Hensley Board of Supervisors statement


In 2009 our team was at its operational perfection in skills, professionalism, success and to our surprise recognition. We were Nationally accredited receiving attention from all over. Just to name a few we received a Proclamation honoring SSAR for our service and achievements from Jan Brewer, Volunteer Service Award from President Bush, #1 rescue team Lacy Peterson Foundation, County Public Safety award, over 2000 lives saved, Lost Dutchman Days Grand Marshal and many more. Requests were coming in from Good Morning America, the Katie Carrick Show, Discovery, NBC, ABC, TV, radio stations and magazines all over the world.  We even did a sizzle with the Outdoor Channel and they asked us for a 10 series contract which we didn’t have time for. We were not only the busiest but the most successful rescue team in the nation with a count of 160- 180 calls per year with a 100% success rate. We had a certified Rescue Dive Team, a Rescue 3 Swift Water Team, a DPS Helicopter Technical Team,  Mountain Rescue Team,  MT2  Man Tracking Team, Quad Team, Level 3 CERT Team and a Wild Fire Red Card judi bola Team.  Medically our members all strived to be certified in WFR, EMT or Paramedic allowing us to treat fatal injuries, administer fluids, oxygen and more.   NASAR SAR Tech,  NIMS ICS, ANSI SAR, NFPA,  OSHA, MRA and others were our foundational standards. We worked with the USAF CAP, FBI, Boarder Patrol, Secret Service, Governor’s Office, Core of Engineers, PADI, AJPD, and all Arizona County SAR teams when requested.


Back in the 90’s there weren’t any real SAR standards so we began with building a strong foundational platform then searched out and created and fathered many of todays accepted standards for what we did and what we needed to accomplish. We constantly researched and tested programs and equipment and kept raising the bar physically and mentally. We trained hard, prayed together and treated each other with respect as a family. Each member was trained from day one as if they were next in line to take command, this assured that each had the same skills and knowledge to be safe, protect the team and save lives.


In the late 80’s I had a mountain climbing fall injury that left me barely mobile with no food or water. Thanks to my wife I was located by a K-9 handler and his hound dog, then rescued by AMR, a volunteer climbing group that stokes lowered me to a safe area and loaded me into a helicopter. It took a couple years for my injuries to heal but when they did I became a SAR volunteer. When I first joined, we worked with 2 PCSO Range Officers under Sheriff Reyes and they would call us out when ground searchers were needed. Our only requirement back then was to carry 48 hours of food and water. We had no communications and typically when we were called the individuals were missing for several days which resulted in many searches lasting several days. The Range Officers would give us what information they had and we did the best that we could. I remember my first callout as commander, we were asked to search for two overdue hunters whose camp was reported 6 miles in the mountains. The RO – asked me if our team could hike 6 miles to the PLK, search the area then hike back out. This one question is what got me thinking and what sent me down a path that changed SSAR forever.


A couple years later with our team growing and our skill levels improving a new Range Officer was assigned. Deputy Brian-M made it very difficult to retain members and to accomplish anything. Everything was about him and what he could gain from our accomplishments. He had a huge power trip ego thing going on, treated people very poorly and squandered everything that he could. His thing was to insult everyone and everything around him to make himself feel mightier, this had my team bickering at times and was difficult on moral. I was forced to protect our team from Deputy Brian M. by keeping him away from the search scene and covering for him. I would tell him to stay home, and I’d run the operations keeping him updated.  For years he milked the county on time sheets, overtime claims and time off. Even under these conditions we continued to improve our skills and dedication to helping others. Sheriff Vanderpool and Sheriff Vasquez were both made aware of the Brian M. problem, and both offered me a paid coordinator position, but I had to many other responsibilities, so I just dealt with it.  I was told they didn’t know what to do because Brian M. never worked patrol or any other positions in the department.  Because of my good working relationship with the Sheriffs, Brain M. treated me as his enemy, always complaining and threatening but always quick to take credit and recognition for our successes.  Around 2000 things improve when Pinal assigned another Deputy to SAR named Louie P.  He was born for back country operations, and he did his liaison duties very well.  He was a little rough on our victims but he loved his job and supported us in every way he could.


September 11 was a bad day for our nation but a blessing came to SSAR.  Range officer Brian M. was promoted and informed us that he served his time and would do no more, from then on he was rarely seen.  Replacing him was Ben C., we loved Ben from the beginning because he was very kind to everyone and wanted to learn and be productive. He had no clue of what we were about but he cared and within a very short time he was not only our liaison to but he became a SSAR member certified in all our skills.  He and I together took many SAR courses and became Az State and NASAR instructors.  He was the first deputy to ever take interest in incident command and he was very good at it. With his dedication to SAR and position in the Sheriff’s Office opportunities and doors opened up all around us. We got involved with the AEM SAR Coordinators, the Pinal County Emergency Management,  DPS , AZ Homicide Investigators. FBI, Red Cross, Pinal Health Department, FEMA, CDC and others.  He also obtained supplies from vendors, stores, corporations, military, hospitals, ambulance companies etc.  Our team was so highly trained and supplied that we became Pinal Counties FEMA RSS for the distribution of pandemic drugs. This brought FEMA grants into our county for disaster preparedness and training.  Because of all this and our organizations achievements our phone rang from counties all over the nation requesting copies of our framework, SOP’s and Guidelines.


The pride and brotherhood that Superstition Search & Rescue achieved will always be special and remembered by all.  No matter the weather conditions or the calendar holiday when we paged out our 35 member team they all responded.  Without question they all remained in the field for days, hot or cold while never complaining. Our needed gear weighing in at 35lbs was nothing compared to the extra gear they all voluntarily carried for our victims because they wanted to assure their comfort.  With no air support these men and woman also carried in our rescue technical gear and medical gear.
We were always prepared for short hauls if needed but our victims had to meet several conditions to call air support.  Non-mobile was not enough, their medical condition had to be critical.  Because very few met the requirements we mostly carried our patients out from very long distances in the wilderness, our longest took us 18 hours.  On our very last rescue with PCSO we carried a very big man that barely fit in the stokes 4 miles to a trailhead. We laughed the whole way because it sucked so bad.  To this day all the men and woman that served SSAR that I have kept in touch with are blessed with happiness and success.  I am forever thankful for these men and woman that served with me and I will always pray to heaven to love, guide and protect them.


When Sheriff Babeu got elected he immediately attacked us because we did not endorse him for Sheriff. He went after our teams bank account and equipment stating it all belonged to him because he was Sheriff.  After several months of school yard bullying, attacks, lies, false trumped up charges, safety, communication concerns and Sgt Brian M. pointing his swat rifle at us and Chief Henrys threats at a joint meeting while wheeling a knife at us,  we took a team vote and unanimously decided enough was enough and walked away from a 30 years of successful and loyal service.  My first responsibility as commander is the safety of my team. PCSO’s unprofessionalism, poor communication and safety concerns forced my hand.  Sheriff Babeu then fired the deputies with SAR experience because they supported our team, eliminated their range officer positions and replaced them with 6 inexperienced deputies. Operations now for the first time fell on deputies without a clue.  Five members of our team joined a small county k-9 team to create the new PCSO posse. They butchered our SOPs, dropped all standards and certifications, in-house trained themselves only to be identified as a  “Basic SAR Unit”” as was told to me by DPS. I today don’t even know what that meant. Just a few years later none of the PCSO SAR posse remained.


Sgt Brian M was soon appointed back in command which proved to be horrifying . It was very difficult to sit back and watch the failures of the sheriffs office and people dying. We had to accept going in after them and other SAR teams only to locate dead remains, and we did this usually within just a few hours. Brian M was eventually removed for his failures. Babeu’s new coordinators were taught Brian M bad skill sets, laziness, hatred for volunteers, poor search tactics  and arrogance that today has trickled down to the volunteers. In a effort to cover up their failures and incompetence PCSO went on a media campaign taking credit for our historical successes, releasing false statements, covering up their mistakes and attempting to discredit our team which  failed.  In an attempt to make amends and support PCSO we began calling in the locations and information to assist PCSO find victims but never once did they thank us or acknowledge our assistance. Sheriff Paul made many threats to arrest us if we did not stop our operations but our response was always the same “we do not need the Sheriffs permission to save lives”


Victims are either vocal/mobile, vocal/not-mobile or not-vocal/not-mobile.  Statistically 50% of all calls solve themselves before any rescuer can be fielded.  95% of the remainder callouts are what we call courtesy calls because little assistance is required.  The remainder 5% requires more manpower because of an injury or its a extended search which needs a trained and experienced SAR team.


Sheriff Babeu as all evil leaders, surround themselves with weak, incompetent and corrupt loyalists that are easily controlled.  His command had to prove their  loyalty and make him look good or they were replaced was his controlling force, I know this because it was demanded of me.  To gain position and eat at the table of Babeu you did what was asked and you looked away. This organized crime syndicate created will take years to uncover because they enjoyed its fruits and are all dirty now.  Under this bad leadership and dark environment this administration controlled with threats and fear. All the good commanders of PCSO either quit, early retired or was fired.  Sadly the patrol deputies, the good guys, the gun packing badge carrying men and woman that are licensed to protect us suffered under this hostile environment and in my opinion should all receive compensation.  Deputies and employees that I knew and worked with avoided me because of fear of retaliation, they all were witness to one of their own being chastised and fired for only speaking supportive of us.   This black cloud still remains over PCSO today.


If you came home and your living room was full of pigs, you would get out the broom, chase them out then clean up the mess. PCSO needs cleaning, new managers, then a good leaders direction. We the voters replaced the wagon master in 2016 but he has yet to replace any of the staff. He focuses on being a star on television shows and in his off duty is a sexual deviant chasing woman. Many times during Lambs campaign he expressed the need for SSAR to return to PCSO.  We’ve maintained our skills and have been optimistic that one day Pinal would meet our standards so that we could return, but they have not. Unfortunately the conditions at PCSO have only gotten worse since we walked away in 2009.  PCSO never built a SAR organization, only a helicopter program staffed with a handful of helicopter volunteers.  These volunteers self train and follow no industry standards or pursue any industry certifications. This unsafe program will not work for me, the liability and risk are to high.  No one will ever understand the many years of study, effort, training and hard work that went into creating a program guaranteeing the safety of our patients and team. Safety will always be ongoing and will not be ignored.


My experience is that Pinal wont change anytime in the near future. My foresight is that with expanding cell phone coverage, improving cell triangulation, GPS technology, county operated helo’s and drones, that men on the ground are probably a thing of the past.


Let history show that Superstition SAR,  a non-profit organization, proudly served Pinal County Sheriffs Office for 30 years with unselfish and dedicated service.


We have reorganize and move toward a new direction maintaining a mix of both Urban/Wilderness skills to continue serving our community as a CERT /SAR Unit under the direction of the Apache Junction Police Department. God be with us.

“Do Right, Fear Not”

Commander Cooper,


This is one of the Pinal County SAR operation stories that supports our position…

This is the text of Tonya Hensley’s statement at the Pinal County Board of Supervisors’ meeting on April 24, 2013. Her husband Chris Hensley went missing April 15h, PCSO searched for 4 days – PCSO didn’t follow any clues given by Tonya, which included a texted photo on the intersection were he started the hike. SSAR found Chris’ body on April 19th, after a two and a half-hour search:

My name is Tonya Hensley. I live in Mesa, Arizona.

I am the widow of Chris Hensley who went missing on Monday, April 15th and was found on Friday, April 19th at the bottom of a 200 foot cliff at Superstition Mountain.

At 10:00 PM last Monday, I called the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office to report my husband missing as of 5:27 PM that evening. I was assured by the deputy that he had “400 phone calls to make to get a search and rescue team and a helicopter out.” On Tuesday I was informed that no helicopter had gone out nor had a search team.

On Tuesday four members from PCSO Search and Rescue team went on a several hour hike to look for Chris. After coming back, they sat around for four hours and after I asked why they weren’t searching, they told me “I know there seems to be a lot of sitting around but this is the process.”

I told the PCSO crew leader that Chris hiked the area one time before and made it to the bottom of Flat Iron in 1 hour and 30 minutes. His goal was to get to the top. I had told the deputy which intersection Chris left from as he entered the park.
The search team assured me Chris wouldn’t have gone that far and that it was too dangerous to get their team that high up. For four days they were searching the WRONG area because they said they don’t have the insurance coverage to go to where I TOLD them Chris was going.

They said it was too windy to get a helicopter in the air. Why wouldn’t they go look?
I was lied to and treated with disrespect. The Sheriff’s Office personnel acted like Chris was a bad person because he had a rough past. I felt they didn’t care about my family.

The early press releases by the Sheriff’s Office were wrong. Not only was I lied to, the public was lied to in these releases. PCSO was wrong in saying it was Chris’ first time in the Superstitions. PCSO was wrong is saying he was not familiar with the area. PCSO was wrong to say he didn’t tell anyone where he was going. PCSO was untruthful with me and with the public throughout the week.

Those PCSO phrases were repeated verbatim in most media reports. PCSO press releases made false claims as to the amount of time they had been searching.

I called the Sheriff’s Office several times to get details and information. I rarely got a call back. I had to drive up to their search camp numerous times just to see what was going on.
If the Sheriff’s search team would have only listened to the information I was telling them, my husband wouldn’t have been lying at the bottom of a canyon for four days. The group that was in charge of this search didn’t know what they were doing and they didn’t care about the families that were waiting in agony to hear some answers and to get their loved one back.

All they had to do was go where I told them Chris was going. Chris told me EXACTLY where he was going and exactly what route he would take. The PCSO team didn’t care what I had to say because they knew better than I did. They said they have to follow a so called “system.” They were in the wrong. My husband’s case was different. He deserved a fair and thorough search and they should have listened to the details I was giving them.
On Wednesday I called Deputy Love and told him I didn’t trust his team because of all the misinformation. I can remember three times they told me there were helicopters out. Not one of those three times resulted in a helicopter going out.

I was also told there would be 50-60 people out on the field looking but I came to find out there were only three. They also said they would send dogs out. They didn’t when they told me they would.
Not every case deserves the same typical routine. Every case is different. There needs to be a different person in charge of Search and Rescue. The teams that looked for my husband didn’t do their job right. That resulting in him lying in a canyon. His body was so decomposed we couldn’t even say our last goodbyes.

On Thursday my family was told about Superstition Search and Rescue. We gave that group the same information that we had given to PCSO Search and Rescue earlier. Within a mere 2 hours in the field acting on our information, SSAR successfully located my husband’s body. This proves beyond a reasonable doubt that PCSO completely disregarded the reliable information that I had given them.

Thank you

Tonya Hensley