I have served in the VetsWork GreenCorps AmeriCorps program for approximately one month now. Coming into the program I feel that I had an open mind and was ready for a new experience. I wanted to challenge myself physically and mentally. Having spent the last six years in an office environment, I wanted the challenge of testing myself in the outdoors. The program so far has met and exceed my expectations. The environment that we have worked and done physical training in is beautiful. This morning’s run was filled with snow and beautiful scenery. Sucking wind is a lot easier to tolerate when you can look up and enjoy the surroundings. This, along with the challenges that I knew were going to be presented within the VetsWork GreenCorps program was a main factor in my decision to move back to the PNW. Moving from the high desert of the Colorado mountains to the dominating water landscape of Oregon was something that I have yearned for ever since I moved from Washington to Colorado.
In the time I have spent in the VetsWork GreenCorps program, I have managed to learn new tree species, how to recognize the different dangers associated with being in the forest, and most importantly how to use a chainsaw to bring trees to the ground. Having been camping numerous times and having made many campfires, I felt that I would be able to tackle about any tree in the forest. But after sitting through a week of chainsaw class, I learned that there is so much more to falling trees than I thought. There are many types of cuts and techniques to falling a tree. In order to start cutting without direct supervision, falling three trees while under observation is required. Each of the trees that were cut were over 50’ tall. Having taken the class, and having an experienced sawyer next to me, I felt that l was up to the task of getting my certification to operate a chainsaw.
Once that portion of the training was finished, our crew continued out to the forest to utilize those new skills. Quickly I found out that cutting down three trees does not fully prepare you for the challenges that come with thinning a thicket of trees. But, I gladly accepted the challenge, waded in, and helped reduce the fuel that could allow a fire to ravage the area and local community.
So far the assembled crew is full of characters and interesting dudes. The common thread of military service is something constantly discussed and debated. Longwinded stories about exploits and conquests keep even the sourest of faces smiling. The “good-natured” ribbing is a constant backdrop of noise that I have missed being out in the “civilian” world. The shared attitude is one of accomplishment, and the willingness to work hard and do what needs to be done.
Upcoming is fire school and learning the practicality of wildland firefighting. I am super excited to learn the ins and outs of firefighting and the work that goes into fighting fires in the forest. I have some basic knowledge of the tools and foundation of how to attack a fire, but actually getting my boots on the ground and getting the experience of fighting a fire is something that I can’t wait to try. Luckily we have a good mix of experience and youth. We have strong leadership from our Forest Service supervisors, Hiram Rooper and Matt Weismann. Both have worked for over a decade in the Forest Service, along with returning members of the Umatilla Vet Crew. I am hoping to gain extensive experience and the memories that come from working on a wildland fire crew.