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    Gary Becks: To the Rescue

    Gary Becks met his wife-to-be doing relief work for victims of December’s tsunami. The day after they married they took off for Louisiana to help hurricane evacuees.

    That should give you a hint of what drives Becks.

    The former firefighter is president of Rescue Task Force, an Imperial Beach-based nonprofit relief organization he founded in 1988.

    “Without apologies we are a Christian organization,” said Becks. “We’re not preaching the gospel in words, but we do hold up a candle [in the darkness]. What we do will shed light, maybe not in my lifetime but eventually.”

    RTF has brought light and a lot more to Afghanistan, Albania, Burundi, Cambodia, Honduras, Iraq, Kosovo, Mexico, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and Thailand.

    “We’re unique because we’re small,” said Becks, 60, who also is a special assistant to U.S. Congressman Duncan Hunter. “We can go to areas typically overlooked by bigger [outfits, such as in] villages of 2,000” in contrast to cities of two million.

    The agency is indeed small, consisting of Becks, vice president Wendell Cutting, Becks’ daughter Andrea Stone, and his new wife, Benyapa Mahapanit Becks. But because of the hundreds of volunteers, both American and in-country, the impact is undeniably large.

    Just last month, for instance, the group ministered in El Salvador, which was reeling from the Oct. 1 eruption of the Llamatepec volcano and from the massive destruction caused by Hurricane Stan on Oct. 4. In Pakistan, RTF helped provide shelter and hygiene supplies after the Oct. 8 quake that left more than 51,000 dead, 75,000 injured and millions homeless on the eve of winter. A container of wheelchairs arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, earlier in the month.

    On home turf, in October RTF delivered hundreds television of sets, DVD players, Play Stations, movies, games and books to wounded Marines at Camp Pendleton. And the group was active after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, most often in out-of-the-way places that TV news cameras — and government relief — hadn’t yet gotten to.

    RTF also works in projects not tied to the latest disaster du jour. For instance, Becks is excited about the four schools for women RTF has built in Afghanistan.

    But meanwhile, disasters can’t be rescheduled, and sometimes things like honeymoons have to be put on hold.

    The Becks were married four days after Benyapa arrived in the United States, Sept. 18, from her native Thailand. State Assemblyman Jay LaSuer performed the ceremony in his backyard. The next day the couple departed for Louisiana. They were planning to head next to Honduras on a RTF project and then add a bit of time for themselves. But Hurricane Rita swamped that plan.

    “It [the honeymoon] has been postponed to December,” said Becks, who explained the Honduras project will be the fourth jungle medical clinic RTF has built, giving Miskito Indians their first ever medical care.  “We’ll have a team of doctors and volunteers with us, along with 300 village kids.”

    That should make Gary and Benyapa Becks feel right at home.

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