10 May 2006

Clandestine search and rescue

A photo on the front page of the local county newspaper caught my eye the other day. In it, a Search and Rescue volunteer was lifting his German shepherd search dog over a barbed wire fence into the arms of another volunteer.

They were preparing to search the mountains surrounding a fairly remote community for a missing 10-year-old foster child.

All this is well and good, and it made my heart warm to know that there are kind and caring people out there, willing to give their time to such good causes. Every year in these mountains people go missing, and sometimes the outcome isn’t so good. I've hiked the backcountry in these parts. Even in the summer, in some of the higher areas a lost hiker can be in real danger. The terrain can be steep, rough and treacherous. At night it gets downright cold. And there are cougars and bears in the woods, along with the occasional mental case.

What caught my attention about the photo, though, was what the volunteer lifting the dog over the fence was wearing -- camouflaged fatigues and an olive-drab-green baseball cap. It was one of those green, tan and brown camouflaged uniforms commonly worn by American troops stationed in Europe and the U.S. back in the 80s and 90s. Perhaps they still do wear them.

The dog, on the other hand, wore a little jacket in bright, day-glo orange, hard to miss. So did the volunteer on the other side of the fence, taking the dog into his arms. He wore a bright orange shirt. This seemed logical.

But why in the world, I wondered, would a SAR volunteer wear camouflage while searching for a lost child? Or anyone, for that matter?

Isn’t the idea that the lost person should be able to see the searcher? And that once the searcher finds the lost person, other searchers can easily find them both? Against a backdrop of a grocery store, an office or a residential area, you can’t miss those green camos. But put the wearer into a densely wooded setting and he just about vandishes. They’re very effective.

The story, of course, didn’t explain why the guy was wearing camouflage, head to foot. Maybe he was just having fun playing soldier. Or, maybe he never thought about it as he laced up his combat boots. Goin’ out into the woods, well, by golly, gotta blend in!

Fortunately, the boy was found by a local deputy sheriff the next day after having spent the night out alone. He was walking along a major road, in good condition and unharmed, simply wanting to go visit his sisters in a town about 20 miles away. He hadn’t gotten very far, and the deputy told the reporter that the boy hadn’t wanted to be found. According to the story, he has a long history of being a runaway.

All’s well that ends well. But I still wonder what that SAR volunteer was thinking.

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