Cayln McLemore dead in woods at Camp Blanding.
A massive search for missing National Guard soldier Cayln McLemore over about 1,000 acres of Camp Blanding’s woods and swamp ended Friday evening with the discovery of his dead body. He had been missing since Wednesday morning while partaking in a routine training class at the base near Starke.
The Clay County Sheriff’s Office said he was found in the woods and that the cause of death hasn’t been determined.
Roughly 450 military, police and civilian searchers on foot, horseback, helicopter and other vehicles covered the area coordinated by the Clay County Sheriff’s Office looking for the Alabama Army Reserve soldier.
McLemore was taking part in a land navigation training class and did not return as scheduled at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Keith Smith said. He was equipped with full uniform, a navigation tool, a map and some basic food and water. Searchers have found some of his cast-off gear, like paperwork and a tool used to find navigation points, and are concentrating on a 1,000-acre area near there as well as elsewhere in the huge 70,000-acre camp.
“The conditions are very tough these last few days, especially the conditions right now,” Smith said.
Camp Blanding Joint Training Center is the primary military reservation and training base for the Florida National Guard’s Army and Air National Guard divisions. Located about 10 miles east of Starke, it was opened in the 1940s as an active-duty military training center. McLemore was with about 70 other soldiers on a course designed to test their navigation skills through heavy vegetation. Participants are given a map, compass, protractor, pencil and coordinates, according to National Guard information about land navigation courses.
Smith said the soldiers work the course individually, although they may come across each other as they navigate the grid. The terrain can be grueling, he said.
“And with all the rain that we have had, and it’s a kind of swampy area anyway … waist-high to chest-high swamp, mud and water,” Smith said. ”… It’s taken [our searchers] a lot to get through there and we have to make sure we keep our guys hydrated. It is a meticulous and methodical search.”
The Sheriff’s Office said “there’s nothing that gives us any indication” that McLemore might have just run away, nor that any foul play has occurred. It was still believed the Alabama soldier got off course. They were also concerned about some of the wildlife he might encounter, said Smith, who has trained at the camp himself.
Search and rescue teams on horseback and all-terrain vehicles were part of the efforts, using canines and other larger rescue vehicles. Helicopters from the Jacksonville and St. Johns County sheriff’s offices along with U.S. Customs were flying search grids. Fresh searchers and volunteers arrived Friday afternoon to help after a large area had been covered, somewhat hampered by rough terrain and heat, Smith said. That search continued on a smaller scale Friday night, then was scheduled to resume “full bore” Saturday, Smith said.
A Clay County sergeant was working with McLemore’s mother in Memphis to keep her updated on search efforts, Smith said.
Staff from sheriff’s offices in Putnam, Baker and Marion counties, plus emergency management from Clay and Pasco counties, St. Johns County Sheriff’s Urban Search and Rescue Team and other state and local groups joined the effort.