2014 Tracking Academy Update (Or, How to Tell If a Subject Is Near)


By John Banuelos

The 2014 Tracking Academy has added 11 new members to the ranks of Contra Costa Search and Rescue searchers who are considered track aware/trackers. This brings the total number of current SAR members who have passed the Tracking Academy since 2006 to 58 (15 from 2006 to 2009; 44 from 2011 to 2014). Seventeen are on the MRG and 20 are presently on the Hasty squad.  

Please congratulate the newest members when you see them:

1.    Boyce, Michael
2.    Field, Cynthia
3.    Garcia, Linda
4.    Levenson, Kathryn
5.    Rodrigues, Itales
6.    Rutherford, Pamela
7.    Sutter, John
8.    Tseung, Kerrie
9.    Walton, Claire
10. Wilson, Steven
11. Witul, Janice

Tracking Academy Class of 2014 – A Success Story

You never know when the skill of tracking can be of value. Janice Witul arrived late for a July 16 tracking training held at Shell Ridge. While the end of Marshall Drive is an oft-used tracking locale, the actual training site had not been announced. Our location was hidden away by the ridge itself, a good distance from the entrance, and conducted at a location we had never used before.

Janice, however, was resourceful and apparently well trained. She knew my shoe print by sight. She proceeded to cut for sign on the possible trail paths and found my tracks. She followed my prints on terrain that did not take sign well, plus they had been trampled by a host of runners, hikers and dogs.

She found us. Her first words were, “ I tracked John’s shoe print.” Points go to Janice for her excellent memory and the find. It seems Corporal Leslie Borquez’s demanding training program has shown a dividend.

Tracking means you can always be found. Ask Janice.

Semper Terra-
Inveni, Persequere, Exsequere!

Always the earth 
Find! Pursue! Follow to the end!

Notes From a Newbie (Or: Rookiedom Rocks)

By Wilma Murray

wilma murray

Four years ago this October I was a little shell-shocked. I had just come through the Type 3 Academy and was still reeling from the experience. So much input, so little time (and, as it happens, so little brain space to accommodate it all).

When the dust settled, I sat down and wrote about the experience. Below is what I wrote (edited somewhat for clarity). When I came upon it I thought it might be a good time to share it as a kind of “here’s what you’re in for” tale for the new candidates, with a dose of encouragement for what lies ahead. 

The last evening of the Type 3 Academy has ended and I am stunned not to have heard “Who let you in?” even once. (I’m still thinking it was an unspoken query, but nobody was impolite enough to voice it.)

As it happened, the Academy was not how I thought it would be. And, that’s a good thing.

Pumped up by my apparently overinflated sense of adequacy, I charged into this task with an I-can-do-anything attitude, only to find that boastful bubble burst from th

e get-go. Looking around me after that first session, I thought, Who are all these people and why do they already seem to know so much?

Four weeks later (eight night classes, a night of service, plus two full weekend days, not to mention endless hours of shopping for all the “right stuff” – but who’s counting?), I stand ready and hopefully able to receive my badge and uniform. It has been one wild ride.

Through it all, the emotions ran the gamut. At one end was terrified, insecure, reluctant, overwhelmed and exhausted. On the other lay motivated, fascinated, excited, exuberant and proud.

And wow, have I learned some things. A lot of somethings, in fact.

Prior to the academy, the only orienteering I ever did was from one end of the soccer pitch to the other, and not always in the right direction (own goal, anyone?). Now I know how to direct myself north. Progress!

I also discovered what not to do. For instance, it’s not smart to borrow a school backpack, throw two 10-pound bars off a weight machine into the bottom, and attempt a two-mile hike less than three months after a partial knee replacement. Thank God for Epsom salts and patient proctors.

But, there was so much more learning going on, and I’m not just talking about compasses and first aid and cribbing and interviewing and tracking, et al … I’m talking about life lessons. 

Such as:

•           There actually ARE dumb questions, but you have to ask them anyway. If you don’t, then you won’t know the answer and then you’ll seem even less int

elligent. For example, I didn’t know what UNO stood for. If I hadn’t asked that “dumb” question, inevitably someone would have asked me what UNO meant, and I would have had to reply, “Er, well, YOU KNOW.”

•           You can have a lot of chiefs, but every chief needs to know when to step down from his/her chiefdom for the good of the whole. The instinct – if not the capability – of leadership is what ostensibly got us into SAR. We come in confident that we can do this and sure we are bringing something valuable to the table, only to learn that we won’t always get to use our particular skill sets in the particular way we choose to use them. Not only that, we may (horrors) have to listen to and submit to someone else’s authority. I’ve had to set aside my Boss of the World designation on many occasions during the Academy and I see that I will have to continue to do so for the benefit of all. Surprisingly, I can accept this.

•           You may start out feeling dim, but practice, practice, practice and amazingly, you start feeling brighter. It’s hard to be a “grownup” and not have all the answers. It’s even harder to be and feel more than twice as old, yet less than half as capable as fellow SAR members in their 20s – or teens. But I learned that everyone has to start somewhere, even us old folk, and now is as good a time as any. Which leads me to …

•           It’s okay not to know it all. The reason we have teams in SAR is because nobody can know it all – or do it all, for that matter. You bring what you bring and everyone else brings the rest, and it all, somehow, works.

            So, I’m bringing what I bring with all I’ve got and looking forward to experiencing what everyone else will be bringing, too. 

I joined this team hoping to find a way to be heroic. I came to the right place – there are heroic role models everywhere I turn. I’m excited to be their teammate.

            And now, I eagerly await the first callout.

            As Banuelos would say, “Bring it on!”