If you’re silly enough to get yourself lost or stranded in the mountains in Linn County, Oregon, then you just might find yourself being rescued by a 15-year-old kid. But it would’t be just any kid, it would be a hardened, tested and qualified Search and Rescue team member.

Each June since 1992, a select group of volunteers, most of them just starting high school, undergo training to qualify for what is arguably the most high speed and squared away wilderness search and rescue team in the Western United States. And Maybe only in rural Oregon would kids go through a military-style boot camp to condition themselves and qualify for the team. 

We decided to pay a visit to the training camp, near Mill City, to watch the fun as the recruits got off the bus, and stepped into the most insane 10 days of their young lives. 

Roughly a quarter of the class of 25 kids will not make it to graduation, and their training cadre are made up of Linn County Sheriff’s deputies who were not only SAR recruits themselves when they were kids, but most of them are prior service military, bringing an impressive level of authenticity to the training. 

The recruits learn drill and ceremony (marching), as well as how to function under extremely chaotic conditions. They run everywhere, and participate in physical training each morning. They also learn land navigation, first aid and wilderness survival skills, all capped by a three-day field training exercise.

At the end of the 10 days, those who make it have earned the right to wear the coveted red T shirt, an honor everyone who has ever gone through the training counts as the most hard-earned privilege of their life. And that’s coming from people who have gone on to actual military service.

Both male and female recruits are welcome, and once on the team, they could be called at any time to aid in a search.

So the next time you’re out hunting, hiking, or just kicking around the woods, and if you think you’re tough, take a minute to think of these kids, who sign up for a brutal training camp that turns them into an instrument of rescue in a harsh wilderness.

So, what did you do for your summer vacation?

Photo credit: Neil Zawicki