On Monday, October 20, 2014, an assortment of Field Investigators descended upon the Arizona desert for MUFON’s first-ever Boot Camp. Our group was very diverse: scientists and technical “experts” with impressive credentials and resumes, seasoned STAR Team members, Board members, State Directors, Assistant State Directors, and a few general members--all certified Field Investigators with varying amounts of case experience. Scattered within our group were even a few newly-certified Field Investigators who had yet to work a case. We had all been drawn to the desert for two reasons: to learn more about UFO investigative techniques and to get hands-on experience working different types of cases…all under the tutelage of some of MUFON’s elite.
This event would not have been possible at all without Chuck Modlin and his wife, Vicki LeBlanc, who so graciously opened up their desert…er…(the exact term eludes me) estate? compound? fortress? hideaway? for our use. Out of respect for the Modlin’s privacy, I won’t divulge too much information about their “property” except to offer that when – and if – the apocalypse descends, I am quite certain that they will survive it…that is, if they aren’t at their primary residence in Wisconsin at the time – which makes for a very interesting conundrum. Chuck Modlin is MUFON’s Chief Technical Advisor and an expert on any kind of investigative tool, instrument, or related computer app. He is a brilliant man and an asset to MUFON. His presentations included demonstrations of tools and instruments (Geiger counter, magnetometer, etc.), as well introducing us to many computer apps such as STELLARIUM. During one of his presentations, I was the lucky volunteer who demonstrated the correct procedure for donning and doffing a HAZMAT suit. I found myself feeling much empathy for health workers involved with possible Ebola cases. For example, one finger placed wrongly in taking off a second-layer glove can totally contaminate – a sobering thought.
A real treat for us attendees was the presence of Marc D’Antonio, MUFON’s Chief Photo Analyst, who shared his expertise with us all week. His presentations included examples of actual photographs that had been submitted with UFO reports. As he dissected each photograph for us, we learned why he is so valuable to MUFON. For example, he debunked the first wave of one possible invasion as a snowflake that had gotten stuck to someone’s camera lens. Another double sighting turned out to be staple marks on the print. Marc’s anecdotes and unique sense of humor kept us all laughing, yet there was no doubt that he takes his job with MUFON very seriously. His demeanor was always friendly and laid-back, yet he demonstrated his technical expertise many times over. One of my favorite activities of the week was Thursday night’s Sky Watch. Marc, also an avid astronomer, “read” the sky for us. The cloudless Arizona sky provided the perfect book. I left Arizona very impressed that MUFON has someone of his caliber on board.
Also on hand were David MacDonald, a former MUFON Executive Director and current European Liaison, and his wife, Sharon McGee. David was available to answer our endless questions and to help supervise, while Sharon toiled endlessly with Vicki LeBlanc to make sure that we had fluids, good food, and lots of both all week. (I hate chili, but it was ambrosia after digging in the desert dirt all morning…yum yum! Vicki’s homemade brownies were awesome, too.) From Day One, the care and planning that went into this event were evident, and a mere “thank you” seems inadequate. I am certain that the other attendees would second me on this opinion.
Boot Camp began for me with an hour-long drive from the Phoenix airport, a drive that took me WAY far into the real desert – or so I thought. Boot Camp headquarters was at a motel in Wickenburg, a small town about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix, Arizona. Most of us fly-in attendees arrived a day early. I was tired from the trip and needed time to adjust to the three-hour time difference from South Carolina. FYI, I never did adjust. I was grateful for the 24-hour Denny’s next second glance as I ate my breakfasts at 4 a.m. Arizona time. Wardrobe was a challenge for this former owner of a ladies’ designer clothing/shoe salon. I bristled when Vicki told me to dress sturdily and simply for the desert. My Jimmy Choo’s were replaced with thick-soled sneakers, and my suitcase ended up full of jeans and long-sleeved tee shirts. As I found myself crawling around on my hands and knees in the dirtiest of dirts at one of the desert investigation sites later in the week, I (reluctantly) felt a wave of gratitude to Vicki for her “fashion” advice – but I digress.
Our first official day of BOOT CAMP was spent in the motel conference room. In an informal classroom setting, we were treated to presentations by the instructors. It was an all-day affair, with several breaks and a lunch hour. Each instructor covered several topics. I found myself thinking that anyone aspiring to be a better Field Investigator should have been there. Copious notes were taken, many questions were asked and answered, and the day ended with Fletcher Gray telling us what to expect when we hit the desert the next morning. I was (somewhat) relieved when Fletcher assured us that our desert investigation sites would be cleared of any lurking rattlesnakes, scorpions, Gila monsters, bobcats, coyotes, or mountain lions before our arrival each morning. (He left out tarantulas!) Nevertheless, we were all warned to remain vigilant. Did I say desert?
(Note: Fletcher wasn’t kidding. One morning, we arrived to find multiple coyote tracks near the trash cans. Marc D’Antonio, who was staying in the Modlin’s RV, was awakened in the middle of the night by howling. A glance out his window revealed a pack of coyotes milling around just outside the property’s fence.)
The next three days were spent at the Modlin’s. Each morning would find us piling into the various cars, trucks, and rental vans for the 45-minute trek into the desert, and either Chuck or Vicki would escort our caravan to their “property.” To say that they live in an isolated, remote spot would be a gross understatement. From our motel, we drove several miles farther into the desert on nice, paved roads. So far so good. However, when we turned onto the first of many unmarked, mostly-uneven, unpaved dirt roads, things got interesting real fast! These “yee haw” washboard roads and hills made for a thrilling organic roller coaster ride! The bumps were nothing, however, compared to the absolutely breath-taking desert scenery. This South Carolina girl had only seen a saguaro cactus on TV or in National Geographic, so I found myself awe-struck as we passed endless forests of the tall majestic cacti standing guard on adobe sands against an amazing backdrop of distant mountains. The cloudless sky was the biggest and bluest I have ever seen! A “highlight” of the trip was our dash down, across, and through a wide, (thankfully) dry stream bed. After passing the Boonies and You-Can’t-Get-There-From-Here, we finally reached our destination, Where-On-Earth-Am-I? I had heard rumors about barbed wire fences, bunkers, hidden cameras, motion sensors – even extreme security measures, but…WOW! (An aside: a lucky few of us wrangled a tour of Chuck's secret "stuff." Again…WOW!) I now have the answer to the question: What happens when you combine a brilliant scientific mind with technology? However, what happened (or was seen) at Boot Camp stayed, etc., etc.
Spread out across several acres of rustic desert terrain were four different UFO-related sites awaiting our investigation. We formed teams, and each team was tasked with the investigation of all four sites during the week. Scenarios included an abandoned car with magnetic findings and evidence of a possible abduction, a suspicious scorch mark on the earth with three round depressions forming a triangular pattern, an older (historic) site to be excavated – even a crash site with a disc! Each team was allotted four hours to complete their investigation of each site; however, the (unseasonably) 90+ temperatures led to frequent rest and water breaks, each increasing as the day progressed. Each site was designed to challenge all our skills as Field Investigators. Fletcher Gray role-played as a witness at one site, allowing us to practice our interview skills and techniques. One of my personal goals was to learn how to use a Geiger counter. I thought I was doing just fine until a passing Marc D'Antonio pointed out that I had the sensing side facing up. C'est la vie. I ended up doing it correctly, learning much in the process. At the various sites, we laid grids, checked for radiation and magnetic traces, and got hands-on experience collecting all types of evidence and samples. Imagine our glee when we collected (suspected) green ET blood/biological samples from the crash site! The instructors were always on hand to direct and motivate us. Everything was a simulation, yet my team, Team Black, worked as if the fate of all mankind was at stake.
The week was not without mishap, however. Chuck Modlin suffered first and second-degree burns on his lower legs when the gas tank on his grill exploded (BOOM!) as he was firing it up to grill hamburgers for our dinner prior to Thursday night's SKY WATCH. We were all for calling it a day, but, true to form, he insisted that we stay. Luckily, a Team Black member was a nurse and administered first-aid. A later trip to the ER determined that while he would have red legs and some blisters for a while, he would survive the ordeal relatively unscathed. Whew!
I could write pages about the challenges I faced, the knowledge I gained, the new friends I made, and the side-splitting experiences and stories we at Team Black shared. While I passed the written test that led to my Field Investigator status, I benefitted greatly from this extra, hands-on training opportunity. We Field Investigators need to be well-trained and equipped to face any possible case scenario. I am proud to have been part of MUFON's first-ever Field Investigator Boot Camp. I would like to thank everyone at MUFON who made it possible, and I sincerely hope that this was the first of many. MUFON, puhleeeze make Boot Camp permanent. Where do I sign up for the next one?