The United States ambassador Scott Brown and his wife Gail dropped into Tauranga for the first time this week, and they made some special time for four local teenagers and two instructors from the Tauranga-based Youth Search and Rescue volunteer group.
The YSAR group has just returned from the USA, where they joined a major search and rescue exercise at Yosemite National Park in California. They left just days before deadly wildfires closed parts of the park. Their American hosts included a senior firefighter who is currently battling the blazes.
The YSAR students showed Ambassador Brown photographs of them learning rope climbing skills at Yosemite, searching for a missing person at Yosemite Falls, visiting the local sheriff’s office and fire department and training around the Golden Gate Bridge.
They quizzed students Sophie Wardell, Jack Niles, Laura Degas and Tom Hoffart and volunteer instructors Neil Penniston and Mark ‘Dingo’ Noack about what they had learned in the US, and how the YSAR programme worked.
The ambassador also wasn’t above a story or two at his own expense, telling the students about his wayward teenage years.
However, the self-confessed rebel did become a prominent political leader, attorney, National guardsmen and diplomat. He was also a model who won Cosmopolitan magazine’s ‘America’s Sexiest Man’ award and he remains a keen athlete.
Ambassador Brown also presented each of the YSAR students with a personalised “challenge coin” designed by him to reflect his 35-year military history, former US senator role and dual ambassadorial posts in New Zealand and Samoa.
An American contingent from Marin County SAR is expected to make a return visit to Tauranga in April next year. They will stay with local families and participate in a joint exercise with YSAR. The initial visit happened as a result of a social media connection after a Marin County Search and Rescue leader found YSAR on Facebook.
“They liked what they saw and wound up asking if we’d be willing to do an exchange,” says Neil Penniston. The exchange also attracted interest from information technology company Eagle Technology and the US Embassy in Wellington, both of whom offered sponsorship.