There is something that calls to the men and women who have served their country in the Armed Forces. It quietly gnaws at them from somewhere down deep where they can never quite understand it. From the beginning of time it was placed there, eons before their right hand was ever raised and the Oath of Enlistment sworn. Somehow it almost seems unfair that this group of fine folks was born with a feeling that leaves them unsatisfied outside the uniform, beyond the common brotherhood of a service. However “the outside” as most veterans soon discover is called that for a lot of reasons. It is difficult even to describe for me and I have been out for over two years. I think the military is the single biggest paradox in the world. When you’re in most of the time you want out and when you finally get out for some inescapable reason you want back in; or at some level of the human psyche you think you do.
So what are we to do but live our lives and learn the lessons? The only question that sometimes comes to me late at night is this; at whose cost and what price will this lesson be learned? I am thankful for my wife’s unending patience and encouragement through all of this. I say this all the time, but it can never be said too much. Without the love and support of my family and the good Lord I would not be where I am today! I think that for a lot of veterans like myself there will never be another real job. I think that it’s important to note that I actually have a real job right now. What I mean is this; after being in charge of millions of dollars of equipment and squads or even platoons of personnel the prospect of a conventional 9-5 job does not sit well with most veterans. Additionally, some lack skill sets and experience required for the career path they may want to cross over to. For myself it was never a question of finding another career; it was finding something that I love doing again. There is a huge gap that appears when you transition out of the military and generally speaking the longer the enlistment time the more deployments and therefore the larger the gap. Unfortunately most of the veterans I know are people in that gap. The key is finding something to fill the gap that has similar experiences with the military and that you will enjoy.
As part of my internship I was fortunate enough to become Red Card certified and sent out west with a Wildland Firefighting crew. While in Wyoming our crew was able to help contain two different fires. Remember that gnawing little feeling? Since transitioning from the Army in 2014 I have been feeling it grow stronger each month. When I got to my first fire everything just sort of clicked, like I was supposed to be doing this and nothing else…that feeling was gone. Part of the reason I felt so at home is there are a lot of similarities between Wildland Firefighting and the Military. Too many to mention, really. However one is significant to me: in the beginning of the Incident Response Planning Guide (IRPG), which is like the Wildland Firefighter’s bible, on page V you will find the Army’s 11 Leadership Principals almost word for word. I guess they figured since they have been around since 1948 they wouldn’t change them!
Being on a fire for 14 days pulling 16 hour shifts and sleeping in your tent is like this bizarre but mostly great combination of Basic Training, prison camp, and a resort in the Rockies. In basic training you meet a bunch of guys you don’t know, eat MRE’s, tell a lot of bad jokes and fart whenever you want. However by the end of it you all survived and bonded and it really developed you for the better as a person. Alright, so obviously I’ve never been to a prison camp…however at times (mostly cold trailing) fire was a toilsome task. Sometimes it was just downright punishing due to the sun and the smoke or just the grade of the slope we were actually standing and working on. However in fire just like anything else there is down time and for all that hard work there is rest. The money is better than prison camp too. Lastly, if you are lucky enough to land on a large fire as we did for our last 9 days out you will have a catering service, supply tent and hot showers; all the comforts of home. Not to mention we were looking at the snowcapped peaks of Yellowstone National Park!
For those of you interested there are a lot of opportunities, especially if you are in good physical condition and are willing to travel. Additionally if you are a veteran there are multiple programs to get you certified, including the one that I am currently in; http://www.mtadamsinstitute.com/programs/ As veterans you remember that no matter what happens in life you can always recall Basic Training, right? Wildland Firefighting has that same effect. No matter what, you will always remember the sound of the crackle and the smells…you will always remember your first fire. To the members of the CAC-1 Crew out of West Virginia if you are reading this I hope you enjoyed the post and THANK YOU! Especially to Bravo Squad and the crew Bosses who shared both nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of ridiculousness, not necessarily in that order. So here’s to always having a “Pirate Tuesday” and may none of us ever have to grid three miles of desert sage again!