Monday, February 21, 2011

Byron Kerns Survival School- more than I expected.

Why in Gods name would anyone want to go to survival school if you aren't in the Military. That's what a lot of people think and has been a common thread with those whom I discuss the events of last weekend. That and "You're crazy", but I hear that a lot anyway so what the hell. This all started when I read the book "Deep Survival "by Laurence Gonzales.(which tells me I have got to get back to reading more surfing magazines) It is a scientific look at why some people survive disasters and others die. There are some amazing stories and a real analytical look at the brain functions and decision made in each. It also looks at the way your mind will block out certain information that it deems unimportant to the task at hand and how emotion can over power the neo cortex and lead to mistakes. In this book the author goes to the hills of Virginia for survival training with one of the country's foremost authorities on wilderness survival a former US Air Force SERE instructor named Byron Kerns. When I told my wife about it she had already been looking at some camps/schools that we could do with our kids and she saw one offered by Kerns . It turns out he now lives in Florida and runs a school near the Ocala National Forest. We signed up. The school we chose was called "Safe Return" and is geared to teaching you how to survive for 72 hours, the point at which most rescues occur. We took three of our kids ,one niece and one nephew 3 hours south and into the woods. I have to say he was not what I expected. We did the typical Weldon trip, ran late, trusted Mapquest and got lost and came flying into the dirt parking lot kicking up dust on the others who were waiting on us. I imagined Kerns to be the hard assed , lantern jawed drill instructor barking orders and chewing me a new one because I couldn't be on time. I couldn't have been more wrong. What I found was a teacher. Byron will instantly remind you of that great High School teacher or coach that really cared about you and took a special interest in your success. He is a BIG and imposing guy, don't get me wrong but there is a special gentleness there and genuine desire to see you succeed. He cares and it shows. He wants you to learn this stuff because it could save your life. After a quick briefing he had us (15 in all) divide into 5 teams of 3 . I think this helps breakup the family dynamics and forces team work. Another thing he's big on. We had about a mile hike into camp and as I found out, everything is used as a learning experience. He gave each team leader a clear plastic bag and a strip of duct tape. I had two great boys in my team Josh and Austin and we were told to use this stuff (everything can be a tool) and devise a way to collect water without digging and we were competing with the other teams. I don't want to give away any of his teachable moments so I won't go into detail on those, but suffice it to say that practically everything you do has some educational component. Byron would get everyone around a fire circle and used a white board as he talked about the "7 Priorities " of survival. He discussed all of the fears and stresses involved when you are alone and stranded in a wilderness setting and how you must maintain a positive mental attitude or PMA. that is the #1 priority by the way. It was also a major theme in Gonzalez's book as well. Those that were able to keep it together and saw the beauty and wonder of the surroundings made it out...those that paniced or gave up didn't.At this point Byron became more quiet and emotional as he said you have to have FAITH and he underlined it twice on the white board. He looked hard at the kids sitting around the circle and said " you have to know that somebody loves you and they are frantically looking for you, they are coming and they will find you. You just have to stay put and take care of yourself and do what I'll teach you". You could see that he was teary eyed at this point and I don't know if there was a memory from his training or military experience that brought it out but it was quite profound. We continued our training , lectures and competitions and then watched as Byron had the youngest kid there (a sixth grader) started the evening fire. He was digging the experience . I was surprised to learn the 7 principles and what goes into each one and how to satisfy each. When I ask people what things they think are important for wilderness survival they are usually backwards. He points out that you can go 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. Everyone thinks you should start off eating plants and bugs but as Kerns pointed out...there are too many poisonous plants so why bother. Bugs are better or you can set snares for rabbits but again's #7 on the list. So with all of that said here are the 7 Priorities
1. Positive Mental Attitude
2.Wilderness First Aid

If you think about what constitutes a good survival kit you have to think about the area you will be in, what specific needs you have and above all else...never go into the wilderness without it and without letting someone know where you are going. Chose the things to go into it and be sure you cover something for each priority. There are a lot of "Chair-borne Rangers" out there selling everything "Survival" but I will assure you of this ...skills beat stuff. Knowing what to do and how to do it will save your life and there is no better teacher of that fact than Byron Kerns.