- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

ALBANY, Ore. (AP) - On Dec. 10, Savannah Sharp was in the middle of an Algebra II test at Scio High School when she got a page from the Linn County Sheriff Search and Rescue coordinator.

That call excused her from the test, because the 15-year-old Lebanon resident was needed on a search.

Just a few hours later, she would find herself at the bottom of a ravine, helping lost mushroom picker Jason Lee Key to safety after he spent a cold, wet night in the wilderness near Scio. Sharp was one of the first to reach Key, and it was her first real-life mission where her team conducted an actual rescue. Because of the terrain, it took Sharp and her team members more than four hours to help Key to safety once they’d found him.

“It was actually pretty crazy,” Sharp said. “It was a near-vertical hill and we were grabbing branches to climb out of there.”

Sharp joined the 75-member Search and Rescue team in June, when she completed the 10-day training academy, which she described as “intense.”

“It’s probably the most intense physical thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said. “And I’m a pretty physical person.”

The training program was designed by Linn County Staff Sgt. and SAR coordinator Joe Larsen. His Marine Corps background clearly influenced the academy’s conditions.

“We don’t want to be finding out that a team member can’t handle the conditions during an actual mission,” Larsen said. “From the minute they get there, we treat them like Marine Corps or Army Infantry basic training.”

Sharp described running with sandbags in her backpack, and carrying stretchers loaded with rocks across streams and up hills.

“We’ve had big football players quit during academy,” Larsen said.

Along with the discipline and physical training, Sharp and her fellow trainees learned wilderness survival, basic first aid and defibrillator operation.

Sharp, who in her spare time works with her family’s horses and plays the guitar and sings, said she’s always wanted to be a police officer and has plans to ultimately become a detective.

In the meantime, she’ll continue to be excused from tests to go out and rescue people in the woods under less-than-favorable conditions. But that’s no matter: She’s also a 4.0 student.

As an SAR team member, and in keeping with the rigors and tradition introduced by Larsen, Sharp is also learning the value of tradition and teamwork. At the beginning of the academy, each trainee is shown the trademark red T-shirt the team wears in the field, but none of them can wear it until they’ve earned that right by completing their training. Each team member also earns the right to carry a fixed-blade knife, a traditional piece of equipment they select and purchase themselves.

“I don’t have my knife yet,” Sharp said. “I’m getting it for Christmas.”


Information from: Albany Democrat-Herald, https://www.dhonline.com

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