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When I began my service in the Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) field back in 2014, I had joined for all the wrong reasons. I thought I’d be some kind of a cross between G.I. Joe and Indiana Jones. I imagined myself hanging off the back of a Chinook helicopter and smiling, serving America but mostly serving myself. I had a lot to learn. During my time working as a Structures Specialist attached to the State of Florida’s US&R Task Force, I’ve been privileged to deploy on rescue operations for four hurricanes and most recently the Champlain Towers collapse in Surfside, Florida. I’ve carried my gear in the whole series of 5.11 RUSH packs, starting with a big RUSH72 (55-liter size) and eventually working my way down to the RUSH12 (24-liter size) — a small and lightweight pack. I like it because it forces me to carefully consider everything I’m bringing, discouraging overpacking.
The RUSH12 is my “12-hour pack” used for the 16- to 18-hour shifts that we actually end up working during a deployment. I grab this if I think I’ll be walking all day (or in a helicopter, where space is at a premium). It’s intended for supporting myself in an urban or suburban location that has been hit by a hurricane. My loadout is mostly just to make myself more comfortable, with minimal outside support. It’s not intended to be a wilderness or desert setup — I assume I'll have access to food and water at some point. Normally, when we arrive somewhere that’s been hit by a hurricane, it’s not hard to find food or water. What most everyone wants is ice because it's hot and the power is out.
There’s a lot of empty space in this RUSH12 bag to start, and that’s intentional. As the conditions dictate or change, I may add mission-specific items, and I want room to add without overstuffing the bag. When it comes to contents, my personal priorities center around maintaining communications and carrying appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) — not just for my eyes and hands, but also for my skin. That includes things like Vaseline and sunscreen, for example.
I also do my best to stay comfortable and clean in an environment that’s usually anything but. I carry some items that might be deemed non-essential — things that smell good and help me clean my body. My specific indulgence is MALIN+GOETZ travel-size soaps and moisturizer goodies. Yours might be a pair of earphones, to listen to music on your phone and be transported somewhere else for a little while. Or it could be a special snack that’s impossible to find in the field. Whatever it is, use that indulgence to transport your mind somewhere else, even if it’s just for a few minutes. Go to that space where you can recharge and gather your senses — or simply make sense of what you’ve just seen and experienced.
Seven years after joining Florida’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force, this RUSH12 pack has held up its end of the deal. I can think of a dozen things I would’ve suggested to my FNG younger self. Thing number one would’ve been to pack light — and the best way I know to pack light is to use a small pack which forces me to comply.
Leave a few cubic inches and ounces for indulgences in your own pack. Never underestimate the positive impact of taking the time to clean your face, or laughing with a buddy about a morale patch, or simply stashing an extra set of socks to be able to switch out to something clean and dry. I’ll see you out there.