Search and Rescue Receives State Commendation

By Jill Jones
Gold Canyon Today

Superstition Search and Rescue (SSAR) held their annual Christmas party on December 5, 2009 at the Gold Canyon Golf Resort where SSAR Commander Robert Cooper announced that he had been called to the State Capitol on Tuesday December 1 at which time he was presented with a joint commendation for SSAR from the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate for SSAR’s contribution to the citizens of Arizona.

The commendation was signed by Senator Thayer Verchoor District 22 and Representative Laurin Hendrix District 22, which read as follows:

We do commend and congratulate Superstition Search & Rescue. Your 30 years of service to the citizens of Arizona is a remarkable achievement. Your hard work and dedication on behalf of others is deeply appreciated. The Arizona House of Representatives and State Senate commends you for your service.

This is a time of change for SSAR who for the past 30 years has worked in conjunction with the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office (PCSO) and is now in the process of reorganizing the team and will no longer be affiliated with the sheriff’s office. Instead, SSAR will be broadening their capabilities to include urban search and rescue in addition to the skilled wilderness search and rescue services they have provided in the past.

In this new, broadened capacity SSAR will be using their skills to search for children and adult individuals who are reported lost; have been abducted; or are suffering from medical, physical or mental challenges; in addition to wilderness search and rescue. To achieve this goal, SSAR is seeking to partner with the Apache Junction Police Department (AJPD) to provide these expanded services to area residents and will be meeting with the AJPD command staff on Tuesday in hopes of finalizing an agreement.

After a wonderful dinner of Prime Rib, chicken and sides, Commander Cooper gave a recap of the top 10 rescues out of their 60 for the year, not counting the approximately 130 assists or walk-outs they participated in this past year – including the attempted rescue of a horse, that despite heroic efforts, eventually succumbed to exposure in the desert.

Unbeknownst to Cooper, or the rest of the SSAR team, VIP guest Curt Fonger presented Cooper with letters from Arizona DPS Director and former Pinal County Sheriff Roger Vanderpool and former Pinal County Sheriff Chris Vasquez, which Fonger read to attendees.

Director Vanderpool wrote, “I have personally been on searches involving SSAR and they are some of the most dedicated, talented, professional, caring people I have ever witnessed, providing a service of love to individuals in need. God bless you and all the members of SSAR, each of you are heroes.”

Former sheriff Vasquez also praised the efforts of SSAR recounting their recognition and grant from the Lacy Peterson Foundation and their multiple achievements under his term as sheriff saying, “I saw the precision in the team as you handled each rescue, always putting safety first and achieving your goal; bringing the victims home alive to their loved ones. I count it both an honor and a privilege to have known and worked with the Superstition Search and Rescue Team.”

“My most sincere desire is that one day soon the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office will once again restore the relationship between the department and SSAR, for without you the PCSO’s responsibility for search and rescue will be costly and not as successful. They and the county need you to save lives. You are my heroes. God blesses each and every one of you.”

Fonger echoed the sentiments of the former sheriffs, thanking them for their service and pointing out the “honesty, integrity, leadership and empathy” of SSAR. “Tonight we are here with the best,” said Fonger in closing.

Marta Saint James read a letter from the Gold Canyon Business Association and Genevieve Bricker, President of ADOBE read her letter, which she said was a “tribute to Robert Cooper and all the magnificent (SSAR) members.”

Guest Speaker Jerry Monahan, AJPD Chief of Police, recounted his experiences with SSAR as a member of PCSO and also with AJPD. He expressed his appreciation for the professionalism and skills that SSAR possesses, which he said will be a foundation for a partnership with AJPD. “What you bring to the table is huge,” said Monahan. “Thank you so much for your willingness to partnership in this new venture.”

Cooper retook the floor and recognized the VIP guests that were invited to the dinner thanking them for their behind the scenes support. He then introduced the SSAR Executive Board consisting of Vice Commander Candice Hesson, Director Richard Wilson, Treasurer BJ Schroeder and Secretary Joyce Wilson.

He then recognized the SSAR Team Leaders made up of Training Officer Shelly Shaw; TRT Team, Candice Hesson and Rick Carpenter; Dive Team, Albert Moreta; Swift Water, Steve Tremonti and Sam Garnett; Quad Team, John Swain and Roger Barrientos and Friends of SSAR Eileen Tremonti and PJ Howell.

Ten-year pins were presented to SSAR team members Jim Ballard and Mike Wallace and five-year pins were also presented to Jeremy Schmidt and Dave Thompson. Additional five-year pins will also be presented to other members who were not in attendance.

Traditionally the SSAR Commander’s Award has been bestowed upon one individual SSAR team member chosen by the commander; however, Cooper said that he could not choose just one person and instead recognized three people to receive the coveted award, which went to BJ Schroeder, Shelly Shaw and Rick Carpenter. The winners’ names will be engraved on the SSAR plaque and will receive $100 gift certificates.

Gold Canyon Ledger Editor Thomas Preiss spoke recalling the contributions that SSAR has made to the community, followed by a solo performed by his wife Mary Lynn who sang You Raise Me Up.

In conclusion Cooper said, “It was a tough year – a lot of changes. I see nothing but good changes,” adding, “We touch the lives of about 200 people a year, now we will touch the lives of even more.”

While these may be the final days of SSAR’s 30 years of working in conjunction with PCSO; SSAR will still be active in the area and can be called directly for assistance 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week at 480-620-0299.

SSAR relies on donations from individuals and/or corporations and fund-raising activities to support the training and equipment they need to continue serving individuals who find themselves in a situation in which they require assistance. All donations are tax deductible and no matter what the amount, provide the group with valuable equipment and resources necessary to do their job – saving lives.

If you would like to donate to the unsung heroes of Superstition Search & Rescue, please send a check or money order payable to SSAR, P.O. Box 1123, Apache Junction, AZ 85217. For more information on SSAR or to make on online donation visit SSAR at