ELIZABETHTOWN — If today’s Bladen County students are tomorrow’s leaders, the future of the Mother County is in good shape, thanks in part to the efforts of the Paul R. Brown Leadership Academy. Cadets at the Elizabethtown school received training last week to further hone their leadership skills, as 13 upper-class cadets were chosen from among the school to take part in a training exercise at Turnbull Creek Educational Park on Friday.
The exercise is the brainchild of SFC Jerry Kellam (retired), a faculty member at Paul R. Brown.
“One day the sheriff’s personnel came to do an active shooter class for the faculty and I mentioned to (Sgt. Gary) Turlington that I was interested in doing this. I had done it at other schools in North Carolina, and thought it was something that would be good to do here,” explained Kellam. He asked Turlington if the Blacen County Sheriff’s Ofice would be interested in assisting them with a helicopter rescue exercise.
Turlington replied, “The Sheriff supports anything we can do to assist young people with their education, so we agreed to it.”
Having taught wilderness survival in the army, Kellam desired to pass those skills along to students at the academy as well and has been working with students on survival skills. Students have learned how to locate roads so that they could find people, basic land navigation, first aid, self defense, and signalling skills. Friday’s exercise was a unique opportunity for some cadets to put those learned skills into practice.
After hashing out details with Turlington, Kellam selected students to participate in the exercise.
“We have 13 cadets. There is a limited number because of the cost of fuel, so I selected the 13 cadets that showed the most interest when doing training in survival classes throughout the year,” informed Kellam.
Selected students were dropped off in Turnbull Park and were required to utilize acquired signalling skills to notify a helicopter of their need for rescue. Once an appropriate signal was received, students were extracted in pairs and taken to a location in Jones Lake State Park.
Not only were survival skills utilized, but, as Turlington sees it, another key skill was taught as well.
“Col. (Carl) Lloyd (commandant of cadets at Paul R. Brown) is teaching them how to be leaders,” said Turlington. “This exercise teaches them the responsibility of the placement of manpower and equipment and teaches them the responsibility to determine a safe landing site and helicopter approach, which they have to utilize leadership skills to do.”
The aviation team benefited from the exercise as well, as they were able to practice skills not normally used.
“The pilot and tactical flight officer will get opportunity to approach a landing zone under outside control. Fire and EMS use the same protocol. It gives (the aviation crew) the opportunity to reverse ground control without radio communication, relying strictly on hand signals from the ground,” explained Turlington.
The exercise was part of the cadets’ ROTC training and went towards obtaining a specialized training ribbon for their uniforms.
“We’re affording them an opportunity they might never have outside of the military,” said Turlington.
He added, “The students conducted themselves enthusiastically with learned professionalism, despite their youth and inexperience. Additionally, they got to experience with interactions with Sheriff’s Office personnel, park rangers, and a North Carolina state trooper in an instructional setting.”
Chrysta Carroll can be reached by calling 910-862-4163.