The Air Force made history at 19 Wing Comox on June 12 when the first group of civilians recruited “off the street” to become military search and rescue technicians graduated from the Canadian Forces School of Search and Rescue (CFSSAR).
In the past, SAR Techs could only be recruited from within the Canadian Forces after serving a minimum of four years in another military occupation. The Air Force opened up the occupation to Canadians at large over the past couple of years on a trial basis. That trial was a success and Corporal Mike Neilson has the bright orange flying suit, beret and SAR Tech wings to prove it.
“This is my dream job,” says Corporal Mike Neilson, a career firefighter and volunteer searcher with the Coquitlam Search and Rescue team. “I’m a bit of an adrenaline junkie and I love helping people. I love being the guy they call when no one else can get there. As a firefighter, I was a problem solver and this is the same thing - we have to get in there and figure out how to solve the problem because no one else is coming.”
Cpl Neilson was among three civilians who joined the military to become SAR Techs – the other two are Corporal Scott Hoadley and Private Nick Nissen (he has yet to finish the course due to an injury – he will resume his training in a few months).
Like so many Canadians who are choosing to join the CF as a second career, having worked for a decade or so in another field, Cpl Neilson says the military offered him the chance to balance all the needs of his life – home, career and family. He says being a SAR Tech offers him excitement, job security, the opportunity to live closer to family and most of all, the chance to find special schooling for his son who has autism.
“My wife is a police officer and she comes from the east coast, so she kind of followed me to Coquitlam. She always regretted leaving her family so with my posting to 413 Squadron at 14 Wing Greenwood, we saw the opportunity to get back there,” said Cpl Neilson. ”We also had trouble getting my son into the right program and they’ve opened up a new program near where my mother-in-law lives, so all these things came together. Plus I was getting the chance to get paid for something I had been doing for free as a volunteer. This job totally fits the bill. I don’t think I could go any higher that’s for sure.”