Craig Day, News On 6
BIG SANDY, TEXAS -- Even many folks in the piney woods of East Texas don't know about a special campus in that area, where young men learn skills that could one day benefit all of us.
These young men have helped us here in Oklahoma a number of times in the aftermath of our natural disasters.
At the International Alert Academy in Big Sandy, Texas, the days begin early - well before dawn.
Cadets are put through a grueling daily physical regimen: taxing their bodies, testing their endurance and trying their will and determination.
The training is a lot like boot camp. But these young men aren't preparing for the military.
"We want them to learn how to make a difference in the lives of others, by serving in times of crisis," said Colonel John Tanner, ALERT Academy director.
In this case, a "time of crisis" means during a natural disaster. ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team. Post high school young men voluntarily come to the camp to get disaster relief training.
"We all would like to participate in our communities to make the whole world a better place," said ALERT Cadet Josh Thomson.
During a yearlong training program, cadets learn skills they can use the rest of their lives to help others.
In addition to the physical training, cadets are taught, and become proficient in a number of other areas.
One of those skills is rappelling and high angle rescue.
"I thought it was a good opportunity to help out others," said ALERT Cadet Nathan Falkenstine.
Falkenstine is one of the young men going through the program.
"Basically, what I am hoping to get from ALERT is a lot of maturity, maturity being in the areas, physically, mentally and spiritually," he said.
The training doesn't end after rappelling to the bottom of the hill. There is paramedic training. They learn to fight wildfires. The ALERT academy even uses the lake on its campus to teach underwater recovery diving and other skills in its advanced aquatics program.
Aanadarko and Stillwater, Oklahoma native Joel Talley is an ALERT graduate, and is now an instructor for that part of the curriculum.
"In today's society, we don't see a lot of selfless acts of reaching out and helping those in need," said ALERT Instructor Joel Talley.
But that's what the ALERT academy hopes to instill in the 100 young men who go through the program each year.
"I believe there is a big need for young men of character - young men who have a desire to serve others, expecting nothing in return," said ALERT Director Colonel John Tanner.
While they're undergoing training in East Texas, the cadets also will put what they've learned into action. With a formal request from a governmental entity, they respond to about six natural disasters each year.
"We'll try to get them on the road either first thing in the morning or Wednesday. Depends on how quick you need them," Tanner said.
They've served in places like Haiti, Honduras, Russia and South Korea and have been active in about two dozen states all across the country.
That includes Oklahoma where they assisted with body search and debris cleanup after the May 3 tornado and the Oklahoma City bombing.
ALERT cadets also worked in Ft. Gibson after the '07 ice storm.
"We are able to help the elderly, the widows, those who just cannot help themselves," Colonel Tanner said.
Although the days are long, and the training is grueling, by improving themselves, each cadets knows they'll one day be able to improve the lives of others during their time of need.
The International ALERT Academy also has a special month long program for young women. They responded to flooding in Oklahoma City a few months ago.
Another interesting note is that their campus was purchased for them by Mart Green, the Oklahoman and owner of Mardel's who also bailed out Oral Roberts University.