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Recruit School #11: Week 14

Oct. 9-13, 2022

Author: CO recruit writer 

13 people stand in front of a helicopter

Photo caption: During search-and-rescue training, recruits took turns communicating to a Michigan State Police helicopter pilot and navigating the pilot to their location.

Earlier on Sunday, we reported to the Department of Natural Resources’ Ralph A. MacMullan Conference Center in Roscommon to start Week 14 of Recruit School #11. This proved an early start to the week since we usually don’t check in until Sunday night.

After quickly settling into our housing, we started basic search and rescue (BSAR) training. We began in the classroom, learning the anatomy of a BSAR mission. We also learned about the legalities behind BSAR missions. Some of these legalities include volunteer limitations, the responsibility of government agencies and whether or not government agencies need to search private property. There is a lot that goes into a BSAR mission, and it was very eye opening. After BSAR training, Conservation Officer Jeremy Cantrell, who is a local conservation officer near Roscommon, took us to the edge of Higgins Lake, which he routinely patrols. He shared with us some of his experiences in real-life encounters while on the lake. It was neat to hear Cantrell talk about how he patrols the lake, since each officer has their own patrol style. We bonded as a team in this amazing outdoor environment, while learning from an officer with a great deal of experience.

Monday morning began with a short run and then a Yogi Bear workout, which consisted of a series of pushups, flutter kicks, dips and step ups on the picnic tables along the shoreline of beautiful Higgins Lake. It’s called a Yogi Bear workout because it involves a picnic table. Following physical training, we reported to breakfast and then headed to the classroom. Monday's classroom BSAR training consisted of learning how to recover a lost or missing person. We learned that it’s important to evaluate a lost or missing person’s behavior, which can determine a successful recovery. For example, if someone is showing signs of hypothermia or if they are unable to walk, rescuers need to accommodate those conditions and determine the best plan of action to get the person to safety.

Later in the day, our class setting moved to a nearby public wilderness area to learn how to build a shelter and about the distinct craft of fire making. We learned different techniques to build shelters and in what situations we would build each shelter. The shelter you build could vary based on the weather and existing environmental elements, such as tree coverage, if you’re near a large body of water or slopes in the land. The training was very enjoyable because I love spending time outdoors. I also understood how pertinent this training is for conservation officers because they often respond to wilderness emergencies. I will remember these techniques and utilize them when the situation occurs during my future career as a conservation officer. In the academy, we’re trained that it’s not if a situation will occur, it’s when it will occur.

three people put a person on a stretcher in a helicopter

Photo caption: During search-and-rescue training, recruits took turns placing a person on a medical stretcher into a helicopter. 

Tuesday was the final day of BSAR training. We returned to the public wilderness area to learn about search methods. We performed a scenario grid search looking for a bow hunter who needed help. This consisted of splitting into squads and looking for land clues to determine where the bow hunter may have been – such as freshly snapped branches and marks on the ground. After completing the grid search, we worked on directing a Michigan State Police helicopter. This training helped us experience a rescue mission that requires air assistance. We used our radios to communicate with the helicopter pilot, directing them to our location. In BSAR events, this allows pilots to mark the location of the emergency responder positioned on the ground. Vectoring in the helicopter was one of the most memorable and coolest training experiences that I’ve been a part of so far during the academy. It was exhilarating!

Six people stand a distance away from a helicopter, watching the helicopter prepare to take off

Photo caption: Recruits watch a Michigan State Police helicopter prepare to take off. Each recruit had the opportunity to conduct the helicopter by communicating by radio with the pilot, providing the pilot with directions. 

After lunch, we started compass training. We were assigned a starting point and had to use a set of coordinates to navigate out of the woods. I had some previous knowledge of how to use a compass, but this training taught me a lot of new information that I’m sure I will use in the field. Later in the day, we paired up and were tasked to build a shelter and fire by utilizing the training we learned throughout the week. I grew up in the northwest lower peninsula of Michigan. This training was another highlight for me because as a child, I safely built many fires and forts in the woods. My partner and I were easily able to build a shelter and fire using the training we learned throughout the week. This experience was super fun and a day I will always remember!

Four people use a compass to find their way through the woods

Photo caption: Recruits were provided with a starting location and had to use their compass to navigate out of the woods during search-and-rescue training.

Wednesday morning began with a ruck march (walking or hiking with a weighted backpack) through the trails in the public land across from the RAM Center. Michigan’s autumn rain created a wet morning. Since physical training begins at 6 a.m. and it was still dark, the moon guided us during this early morning excursion through the outdoor muddy wilderness. The class each had our assault bags heavily loaded with our BSAR essentials tools inside during the ruck march. Assault bags are durable pieces of luggage commonly worn by military and emergency responders. They allow the person to carry essential gear in times of combat or remote missions. Conservation officers patrol remote locations and need to be equipped with essential supplies that they or an injured or lost person might need.

Six men aim unloaded pistols at a wall while practicing firearm drills with an instructor watching

Photo caption: A firearms instructor watches recruits practice dry drills with their unloaded pistols in a classroom before heading to the firing range. 

After breakfast, we reported to the classroom for our first day of firearms training this week. We ran through dry drills with our department-issued pistols. Before lunch, we went to the range and practiced close combat shooting drills. This allowed us to become comfortable with our grip and stance while precision shooting. After lunch, even throughout a drenching rain, we reported back to the range for more pistol drills. Our practice focused on our shooting stances, having the same grip every time we drew our pistol, and focusing on pulling the trigger smoothly. These key essential skills, through much practice, will ensure proficient pistol use so we will become more accurate shooters.

A instructor uses a marker to draw lines on the hands of a recruit holding a pistol

Photo caption: Sgt. Jason King, recruit school commander, marks a recruit’s hands using a permanent marker. The hand marks indicate the point of alignment where the recruit felt a comfortable, secure and stable handgrip on their pistol. 

Thursday was the final day of training at the RAM Center. We began the morning with a run around North Higgins Lake State Park. I would love to return here on my own time for recreational purposes in the future. It is a very pretty area. After breakfast, the class reported back to the classroom for more firearm dry fire drills (meaning practicing with no ammunition) that we would practice at the range later in the day. After completing the dry fire drills, we reported to the firing range and began marksmanship shooting. We started on the four-yard line, then moved further away from the target to the seven-yard line, and continued moving backwards. This drill showed each of us that the farther we moved back, the harder marksmanship became. The slightest error in our shooting had exaggerated greater effects the further we progressed from the target.

recruits stand in a line shooting their pistols at outside firearm targets located near the woods

Photo caption: Recruits started their live pistol training by shooting at targets positioned in close proximity. As the training escalated, recruits backed further away from the target, which increased the range of difficulty for acute shooting.

Later in the day, we repeated the same marksmanship course. We showed improvement after thoroughly practicing throughout the day. During the final drill of the day, we practiced moving while engaging the target with both our pistol and M4 patrol rifle. We practiced shooting on the move with our pistols, then later with our rifles. Shooting at the target while moving through the course was challenging for many of us.

I personally believe the entire class became more confident in BSAR and firearm training throughout the week. The skills we learned throughout the week are going to be essential tools that we will use during our career as conservation officers. Our team confidence is growing each week, helping us feel more than ready to tackle the next week ahead.­

Read Week 15.