North Newton Deputy Chief of Police Jim Bethards is taking some vacation time — not to relax, but to assist in rescuing those stranded by the floodwaters on Hurricane Harvey.
Bethards decided to join in the rescue efforts when he saw a request from his friend, Darrel Schenck, who was asking to borrow a boat to take to Houston.
"I heard reports that the Cajun Navy were getting shot at...and that really ticked me off," Schenck said.
Schenck, who serves in part-time roles with the police departments of Sedgwick and Caldwell and the Doniphan County Sheriff's Office, also works with the National Rifle Association as an instructor for members of law enforcement. He is also a native of Louisiana and worked as a police officer in New Orleans.
Schenck was working with Blackwater USA in Baghdad when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
"After a few weeks, (my wife and I) found out that our house survived," Schenck said.
He was able to spend two weeks in New Orleans after the storm subsided, then was sent back to Iraq. Now, he and Bethards are determined to make a difference in another city hit by a hurricane.
"In my whole life living down there, I've never seen this much rain with a storm — it's historic," Shenck said.
They both have family and friends in the Houston area.
"I know for a fact that if that were happening here, they'd be on their way with a truck and a boat, so I think it's only right that I do the same," Bethards said.
Within two days of his plea being sent out, Schenck was loaned a 16-foot jon boat with a motor. He and Bethards have been coordinating other resources as well.
"It was definitely a lot of people pulling together and a lot of last-minute logistics," Schenck said.
"That has surprised me, more than anything else, the support we've gotten," Bethards said. "Our truck is full; our boat is full to the point where we can't take anything else."
The Kanza Coop in Andale provided fuel and Cabela's donated waders, life vests, first aid kits, fuel tanks, battery packs, camp stove, spotlights and a rescue flotation device.
"They hooked us up with a lot of water and food and gear," Bethards said. "It looks like we'll be eating a lot of dehydrated biscuits and gravy and chili macaroni."
Bethards said it is important that they are prepared for any eventuality.
"We're going to show up and be ready to work," Bethards said. "We are loaded. We're carrying as much stuff as we can. We're trying to be self-sufficient so we don't have to rely on anybody when we get there."
The men plan to be involved in both rescue and security operations.
"I think it helps a lot that Darrel and I both have the training and background from the Marine Corps, as well as our law enforcement experience," Bethards said. "They don't want rescuers running around at night because it's getting very dangerous. People are getting shot at because the looters are out there, but we're kind of able to do it both. I think we can go down there and do it safely and help some people, so that's what we're going to do."
Bethards and Schenck plan to spend at least eight days in the affected area before returning to Kansas.
"It's going to be interesting, heading south from here, to watch the gas prices rise," Bethards said. "They further south we get, the more it's going to cost."
Bethards said they may have a chance to work with the Cajun Navy, who are dispatching boats to those who have been stranded by floodwaters.
"Fortunately, they have good maps with updated information, because things change so fast," Bethards said.
The men will navigate the boat through floodwaters and around debris to pick up people who need to be moved to shelter.
"This isn't about me or Darrel — it's about the 7 million people that are stranded and lost their homes," Bethards said. "I just can't see not going down to help. It wasn't even an option."
Bethards said anyone wishing to donate to their efforts can do so by going to https://www.facebook.com/donate/508897929451613 or by giving to the Louisiana Cajun Navy.