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It's Worth The Effort

A Girl and Her Gun: It's Worth The Effort

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

It's Worth The Effort

Last Tuesday I woke up to a breaking news alert that a young boy in our area was missing and that the police were asking for volunteers to come help in the search.

On Sunday, he wondered off from his father on a hike in the woods and due to the mass amount of ground to cover, the police decided they needed help.

Even though I had never been a part of a search and rescue team before, I decided to get ready and go.  I took a shower, put my hair up, grabbed some old tennis shoes, 2 bottles of water, some trail mix , some cotton gloves, and a flash light.  As I was heading out the door, my husband suggested I grab a hat.  I don't wear hats, but he is smart man, so I said ok, grabbed one and left.

I drove about 40 minutes south to the staging area, parked and stood in line.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I did not anticipate waiting for 3 hours in the hot sun.

The original set up was for people to come, fill out paperwork, get a badge, sit through a 45 minute class, then be assigned to a group of 65 and head out.

What do they say about best laid plans???

The fine folks who organized this search were completely overwhelmed by the number of people who showed up to help.  History tells them that not many people show up and even less show up in bad weather and even less in difficult terrain.  So, when nearly 900 of us showed up, they were not prepared to deal with us.

I got there at 8:30 in the morning and did not get on to a search site until 230, but didn't really do much searching because I was in a group of 119 people.

One can not lead an effective search line in the woods with a group of 119.  We were very ineffective that day.

Tired and discouraged I wasn't sure I would return the next day.  I felt like this poor boy was in a heep of trouble if he was depending on us to find him, but I woke up the next day, got ready and headed out again.

This time with a bit more gear.  The hat my husband suggested was the second most important piece of gear I took with me, the second was gloves.  The first day I had a pair of cotton gloves.  I am not even sure why I picked them to take.  I think because it was chilly and I thought my hands might get cold, but in the environment I was in, a good pair of gloves was essential.  I fixed that by day 2.

We were in the Virginia woods.  Woods without trails and full of thicket and briar.  We went under barb wire and over downed trees.  We wadded through swamp and in and out of sludge.  My cotton gloves were not making the grade.

 The brown gloves off to the left were the ones I took from day 2 on and the were invaluable.
 Sad cotton gloves
Life saver hat

When I arrived on day 2, no one was there.  I zipped through the line partly because I was trained and didn't have to wait for registration and partly because no one else decided to come, but a few hundred of us.  Fortunately, they put out an alert for more people to show up and they respond.

Whatever had gone wrong the first day was corrected by day two.  The entire operation was streamlined and revamped. I went through the check in tent.  Showed my badge, got water if I wanted it(I brought my own everyday), got an MRE(I never ate mine), sprayed with bug spray and then got in line to board a bus. I was on a bus by 8:30 and on my way.  This time a team of 30 with 3 guides.

Again, the area we were searching was rough and not to far into our mission we had a significant injury.  One of the team members popped her knee out of place and she had to be carried out on a stretcher.  My job was to cut through the extremely dense woods to make a path for the stretcher.  The only cutting tool anyone had was a pair of scissors found in a small first aid kit.  I had to cut through the trees with scissors. Mostly I used that for the small briar branches and used my arms and body to break the branches off the trees.  We got her out and went back to the search.  The first part of the search we went 3.1 miles and it took us 4 hours and 5 minutes.  It was slow because we were being very thorough, looking not only for the little boy, but also for any signs that he might have been there.  Anything that might help direct us to where he was.

That was a very good day in terms of searching.  We covered a lot of ground and had an excellent to team to work with.

The next two days were wet and cold, so I brought more gear.  First and foremost my knife.  I have no idea why I didn't bring it, in the first place, but I quickly learned I should have.  I also brought extra socks because my shoes got wet, often.

More gear

In the wet and cold layering is important, but also just being in the forest it was important.  I wore 2 thin long sleeved shirts everyday, even when it was crazy hot, because of the environment.  I was very thankful for this and wish I would have had the same kind of foresight for my legs.  By the end of the week, I was covered in ticks, gashes in my legs, scrapes up and down my body and I am covered in some kind of fungus rash that itches like a son of a gun.

That week left me tired and emotionally drained.  I tried very hard to stay focused on my mission and not think about how scared or hungry or wet or cold this little boy might be and I tried very hard not to think about my own kids in that kind of situation, but it was draining.

I was fortunate to have met some amazing people that week.  People who lead my well and those who worked beside me were dedicated, uplifting, helpful, and fun.  It's a strange kind of bonding.

Due to the fact that many times these kinds of events turn out for the worst and often times have the family involved, many people asked me why I kept going back.  My answer was simple...

"I think that most of us believe the outcome will not be a good one and we are aware of the odds that someone isn't telling the truth, but I show up because I think this boy deserves the effort and if he is out there, then he deserves that I care enough to not care about the odds".

And it is a very good thing that I and the others had that kind of attitude because on day 6 of the search, he was found, alive, no foul play involved. 

He is still in the hospital recovering.  Physically, he will be fine, but mentally, this will be an experience, I am sure, he will never forget. 

Nor will I.


At November 2, 2011 at 5:14 AM , Blogger JustSumStuff said...

I'm glad they found Robbie too. I've been following the news, but your account of one person has the detail that the media lacks. Thanks for posting. You gave Robbie his chance.

At November 2, 2011 at 7:39 AM , Blogger Secret Squirrel said...

If you're interested in continuing with SAR, there are plenty of teams in VA -- check out As you found out, it can be a physically and emotionally demanding job, but it's ultimately very rewarding.

It's also quite a different experience working with small teams of well-trained professional volunteers than a hundred-person cluster.

At November 2, 2011 at 9:23 AM , Blogger agirlandhergun said...

Secret Squirrel, I am very interested in that. Thank you for the resource!!

At November 7, 2011 at 10:17 AM , Blogger JustSumStuff said...

There is also a program named CERT, Citizens Emergency Response Team.


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