ALBANY TWP., Pa. - Nearly 150 young people are now amidst a rigorous, nine-day training program unlike any other in the nation.
This year's Hawk Mountain Ranger School began Saturday, welcoming cadets from all across the nation as they work to become rangers and rescue ground team members with the Civil Air Patrol, the official volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force.
"They can go back and join their local squadrons' ground team and then be able to be called out on missions that involve missing persons, lost persons, downed aircrafts, ELT searches. We teach all that here," said Major Ryan Kelly.
Kelly said the ranger school is the only one offered for both adults and cadets (students under 18) in the nation, as well as the longest-running civilian search and rescue school.
"To be an actual ranger, you gotta come to this school," said Kelly. "It's invaluable. You can't put a value on it."
From 6 a.m. until the late-evening, students participate in a number of obstacles and training exercises.
Participants learn medical skills, survival skills, search techniques, disaster relief, land and aeronautical navigation, and more. For two and a half days, students hike the Appalachian Trail.
"It gets hot. It gets messy. It rains. We get wet, but we have a lot of fun," said Kelly, who started attending the school 16 years ago.
Cadets are able to join starting at age 13, as was the case for Zoe Horton of San Diego, now 17-years-old and a staff member.
"I really wanted to get involved in search and rescue, and I also liked the leadership aspect, so Hawk Mountain was a wonderful combination of both of them," Horton said.
Both Horton and Kelly told 69 News that the skills retained during ranger school can be applied day to day.
"The confidence that they gain here will show going forward in life," said Kelly.
"The Hawk Mountain experience and what I've learned here translates and makes me a much better person," said Horton.
Allentown, PA 18102