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Unit makes waves during end of summer training

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Members of Vandenberg’s water rescue team, Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, pose for a photo at Wall Beach here Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Satran)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Members of Vandenberg’s water rescue team, Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, pose for a photo at Wall Beach here Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Satran)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, rides a watercraft during a training session with Vandenberg’s water rescue team at Wall Beach here Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. The team trains to handle a variety of incidents and safety hazards.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Satran)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, rides a watercraft during a training session with Vandenberg’s water rescue team at Wall Beach here Friday, Aug. 19, 2011. The team trains to handle a variety of incidents and safety hazards. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Andrew Satran)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The day's first rays of sunshine penetrated through a thick marine layer hanging above Wall Beach here. The wake of the Pacific Ocean glistened with emphasis as a specialized team donned wetsuits and prepped personal watercraft before heading out into the deep blue.

Once the wetsuits, helmets and bright red vests were securely fastened, Marissa Halbeisen, Vandenberg's water rescue team program manager, along with the 11 other team members headed into the Pacific's cold, salty water.

Today, they train because tomorrow could be the real thing. The day's training would incorporate the execution of a pickoff technique performed by a two-man rescue team with waverunner-maneuverability.

"During the monthly training, we practice pickoffs, which is a technique used to pull someone out of the water by locking hands and using the momentum of the watercraft to sling the person onto the back of the craft's skid," said Halbeisen, a Lompoc native who has served with the Vandenberg Fire Department for six years.

Vandenberg's water rescue team, comprised of both active duty and civilian personnel, is responsible for ensuring the safety and protection of personnel and watercraft along the base's more than 40 miles of coastline and parts of the Santa Ynez River. Continuous training is a critical facet of the job. Like all members of the water rescue team, Halbeisen has to be ready for a multitude of varying circumstances that challenge her physical endurance to include combating riptides, off-shore winds and rescues during the presence of sharks.

"Marissa has been a hard charger since she arrived at Vandenberg," said Phillip Lacey, Vandenberg Fire Department assistant chief of operations. "She maintains her fitness for water rescue by swimming 5,000 yards each day, running five miles, biking and lifting weights. She is one of our true professionals."

Two people who can appreciate the proficiency of the water rescue team are Col. Richard Boltz, 30th Space Wing commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Michelle Sobel, 30th SW acting command chief, who spent the morning participating in the unit's monthly training here Aug. 19.

"This group of people is unbelievably professional, and I'm glad they are on our team," said Boltz.

There is no typical day for the men and women of Vandenberg's water rescue team. Knowing this, the team continues to train and improve upon the contributing competencies that have saved numerous lives over the years.

Over the course of Halbeisen's tenure at Vandenberg, she has responded to two water rescue missions and two vessel wrecks in which she searched for the missing boaters.

"Each day you never know what's going to happen, what you'll learn or what call you're going to go on," said Halbeisen. "But I love it. I couldn't have asked for a better job."