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CO Training Academy: Week 14 - Oct. 14-18


Twenty-four recruits reported to Camp Grayling Sunday for week 14 of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officer Academy. They would learn a variety of survival and emergency responder skills that they will use as conservation officers, demonstrating their new skills throughout the week in remote and difficult environments.

Robert “Skip” Stoffel and Brett Stoffel, founders and owners of Emergency Response International, traveled from Washington to train the recruits. Robert and Brett are U.S. Air Force veterans who use their experience in outdoor skills and training to instruct first responders in wilderness rescue and emergency situations.


Monday morning the recruits learned a series of knot-tying skills. Rope is an important item COs carry with them during search and rescue situations, as it can serve many purposes. Examples include: knotting ropes together or securing an improvised shelter or a makeshift litter (creating a bed to transport an injured person using limited resources found in nature).

It has been proven that a person can effectively search a landscape if they have learned the proper techniques. The ERI instructors taught the recruits about different characteristics a lost person might display, basing the lesson from a guide book, “Lost Person Behavior.”

“Using proven techniques from past searches can help reduce the amount of time of future search efforts and end them successfully,” said Brett Stoffel.

The book analyzes cases of lost individuals and their behavior, categorizing them into groups that include age, activity and mental status. Knowing these traits about a lost person can help emergency responders coordinate and deploy resources to narrow the size of a search area.

Monday afternoon the recruits navigated the woods with the emergency response gear they will carry as conservation officers. The recruits were tasked with gathering tinder and wood to start a fire and build a shelter to protect themselves and a potential victim from weather elements.

“Conservation officers represent the front-line defense for unprepared individuals in Michigan’s wilderness, simply by virtue of their assigned work and work areas,” Brett Stoffel said.

recruits, search-rescue-graylingsearch-rescue-grayling

Monday photo 1: The recruits learn how to use various search and rescue tools they will carry with them as conservation officers.

Monday photo 2: Robert Stoffel and Brett Stoffel, founders and owners of Emergency Response International, trained the recruits in emergency preparedness and search and rescue.


Tuesday morning the recruits worked in teams to navigate a 100-meter outdoor course while locating hidden items. ERI instructors taught the recruits a technique called “searcher’s cube.” Searcher’s cube is a systematic methodology of searching a space, 360 degrees – under objects and above the searcher’s eyes. The concept instills the importance of continuously being on the lookout.

Instructors setup a “clue walk” through the woods – hiding several items along a trail. The recruits had to navigate the trail and identify the items based on their new search techniques.

Tuesday afternoon the recruits conducted several aircraft extraction scenarios with members of the Michigan State Police Aviation Unit and the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City. Pilots from the two units flew helicopters while the recruits completed search and rescue exercises. In the first scenario, the recruits communicated to the pilots via radio to guide the aircraft to a mock rescue scene.

During another scenario, recruits communicated with the helicopter pilot to guide a rescue basket from the helicopter to the ground. Guided by an instructor, when the basket was on the ground, recruits alternated riding in the basket and being hoisted into the helicopter – giving them an understanding of what it’s like to be a victim extracted by an air unit.

helicopter-search-rescue helicopter-search-rescue

Tuesday photo 1: Recruits communicate with a Traverse City-based crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station to guide the helicopter to a mock rescue scene.

Tuesday photo 2: Recruits had the opportunity to be hoisted into the helicopter while simulating a mock rescue scenario. The scenario gave them an understanding of what it’s like to be a victim extracted by an air unit.


Firearm instructors introduced the recruits to the Smith and Wesson Model 640 .357/.38-caliber revolver – the backup firearm used by the DNR Law Enforcement Division. Recruits learned the capabilities and features of the firearm, then practiced target shooting. Every recruit successfully qualified with the revolver.

The recruits continued firearm training with their close-quarter optics that were placed on their M4 patrol rifles. This continued the firearm training from week nine of the academy.

rifle target practice

Wednesday photo: Firearm training using an M4 patrol rifle with an aimpoint optic.


Thursday morning the recruits increased their confidence and shooting abilities with the Sig-Sauer P229 DAK .40-caliber pistol. Instructors helped recruits work on marksmanship, timing, sight picture, alignment, stance and trigger control, as well as emergency reloading drills.

pistol target practice

Thursday photo: Recruits practice target shooting using their issued Smith and Wesson revolvers.