Aviation Unit Works with Funds Provided by Dale County Commission and Houston County Sheriff's Office

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OZARK -- The Region 2 Sheriff's Tactical Response Unit is a joint aviation unit funded by both the Dale County Commission and the Houston County Sheriff's Office.

The Dale County Commission provides $40,000 from the budget to the sheriff's department.

The Houston County Sheriff's Office invests $25,000 in addition.

Within the budget, $14,000 covers fuel costs for the fiscal year while $12,000 is used to pay for insurance.

The remaining money is used for maintenance of the aircraft fleet. The aviation unit includes three helicopters and one airplane. The two helicopters were provided by the 1033 program, a program that gives law enforcement agencies retired military equipment and machinery, in 2002 and 2004.

The third helicopter is a retired U.S. border patrol aircraft and was given to the department by the General Services Administration.

The airplane is a former FBI aircraft paid for through donations collected over the years.

The aviation unit is cared for in part by a number of volunteers. The volunteers include two mechanics from Ozark who volunteer their service for maintenance on the aircraft.

Eight volunteer pilots are also reserve officers with Dale County Sheriff's Office who use their skills as instructor pilots.

Chief Deputy Tim McDonald considers the volunteers the program's lifeline.

"The volunteerism that we have with this program is overwhelming, it is second to none," McDonald said.

In addition to money from the Dale County Commission and the Houston County Sheriff's Department, the department receives some help with specialty maintenance from Bell Helicopters. They also received a donation in 2004 from Homeland Security that allowed them to get the cameras with moving map systems and infrared capabilities.

"They have afforded us equipment that we could not afford on our own," McDonald said.

The aviation unit is called out to assist agencies on an as-needed basis.

The aircraft are kept in a hangar provided by the City of Ozark.