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Camera crews documenting search and rescue activities of Kodiak's Coast Guard

Posted: June 29, 2011 - 8:18pm

KODIAK — For the past six weeks, camera crews have been filming the Coast Guard in Kodiak and elsewhere for a television pilot episode that captures not only the attention-grabbing search and rescue work, but also the everyday training and preparation indicative of the military branch that takes “Always Ready” as its motto.

The pilot is being prepared for the Weather Channel by Al Roker Productions.

The nature of Coast Guard activities being documented by the television crew has meant more training time and potentially working at any hour of the day when an emergency call comes in. But the production company producer, who goes by Saladin, said the payoff should be stories that are moving to watch.

“One of the things you’ll see that I think people will be interested in is the degree to which the base out here is always training new personnel,” and also maintaining that training in current personnel, Saladin said. “That’s been a big part of what we’ve focused on, as well as the individual rescues, is how they keep everything ready.”

Through the courses of training the camera crew has focused on people who succeed and go on to become rescue swimmers or pilots, and also on those who have not succeeded.

The training has been emotional to watch, Saladin said.

“And that’s why when the missions, which you’ll see when the show comes out, have gone well,” he said. “We’ve definitely had situations where we’ve been able to get people out of the water who would have otherwise not survived because of that amazing training that they’re always doing.”

The production crew didn’t have to wait long to begin filming the kinds of Coast Guard missions people on Kodiak Island take as routine.

The very first night, after their initial meeting with personnel at the Coast Guard base, Saladin was awakened at about 1:30 a.m. in his room at the Comfort Inn Kodiak near the state airport by the sound of helicopter readying for a medevac.

Saladin assembled the rest of the crew and headed toward the Coast Guard base to interview the returning pilots and emergency personnel.

“It was a kind of cool just to jump right in,” he said.

But the production crew hasn’t just been limited to just seeing rescue helicopters come and go.

“We had to do quite a bit of training and testing to get the ability to go on some of the cases and be involved,” Saladin said. “We all had to get in the water and do a lot of water training.”

The first couple of weeks involved safety training to the high standards of the Coast Guard’s aviation assets and also included testing the crew’s equipment to make sure it wouldn’t cause conflicts with the Coast Guard’s electronics and communications equipment.

But after those initial weeks of testing and training the camera crew was allowed a great range of access to accompany the Coast Guard on search and rescue cases.

For the past six weeks the television crews have been living with the reality that a page could go off 24 hours a day and they would need to be ready to start filming. While not every page turns out to be a full-fledged mission where a helicopter launches, Saladin said the response from the Coast Guard is always to be there in gear.

“They’re ready to go just like that,” he said. “They stand down — and that happens with some frequency — but they’re ready no matter what.

“It might be one person, Saladin said. “That’s been kind of amazing to me, One individual 500 miles away is in trouble and they’re going to go and get them. That’s pretty cool and I think the country would be proud of that when they see it. These guys and gals care about every life.”

There are a few cases when it’s been too complex for the Coast Guard to consider taking extra personnel, Saladin said

“It’s OK when they’re real complex cases. We are still able to interview everybody and talk about it and watch them leave, watch them come back.”

But access to the Coast Guard base itself has also been instrumental for the camera crews as they attempt to tell a wider story of how the Coast Guard functions on the public’s behalf.

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