Oregon-based veterans crew fought wildfires and shared wisdom with aspiring wildland firefighters in Missouri

Piedmont Man Among Those Who Was Trained

A partnership between Mark Twain National Forest, Mingo Job Corps Civilian Conservation Center (Mingo JC CCC), and Umatilla National Forest (in Oregon) made it possible for a Forest Service crew staffed by military veterans to share on-the-job training and mentoring for high-performing Mingo JC CCC students based out of Puxico, MO.  Spring prescribed fire season can be a very busy time for wildland firefighters on Mark Twain National Forest, so having assistance is always appreciated—especially when it also includes training aspiring wildland firefighters.

Sherri Schwenke, Forest Supervisor for Mark Twain National Forest, stated, “Prescribed fire is an important element for managing the landscape in southern Missouri, and I want to thank everyone that helped out this year.”  She added, “I also specifically want to thank the Umatilla Veterans Crew and the students and the JC CCC trainers for creating these excellent opportunities and overcoming challenges this past year brought to the program.”

The partnership, which combines Mingo JC CCC students with more-experienced firefighters from the Umatilla Veterans Crew (based out of Ukiah, Oregon), has occurred for two years in a row now.  Cody Sly and Austin McClellan were the Mingo JC CCC students that joined up with the crew this spring.  These two students displayed their dedication to learning this year, as they voluntarily met the requirements to quarantine for two weeks before their assignment and for two weeks after the assignment so they could participate.  They were the first Forest Service Job Corps CCC students in the Eastern U.S. to be dispatched to an assignment since COVID began last year.  The veterans crew knew that Sly and McClellan were there to learn.

Off-Forest resources provided critical support to Mark Twain National Forest’s fire and fuels program this spring, suppressing multiple wildfires and assisting with thousands of acres of prescribed burning operations.  The Umatilla Veterans Crew did a lot more than boost staffing though. They brought years of wisdom to share.

Russel Harris, Mark Twain National Forest Assistant Fire Management Officer, coordinates the Mingo JC CCC’s wildland fire training program and its integration with the Forest.   He recruits, trains, and prepares Job Corps students and staff, providing them with basic wildland firefighting experiences.  This training prepares them for a career supporting national wildland fire management efforts.  Harris shared, “The veterans have the real-world experiences that helps them quickly build mentoring relationships with the Job Corps CCC students and really connect.”

Harris continued, “The students gain a lot of confidence working with these veterans.”  He explained that the students are at an age where they are very mailable and taking it all in.  Some of them are even considering going into the military.  “Something clicks in the students when working with the vets—they get to work with some real-life role models and think about their own future,” said Harris.

The Forest Service manages 24 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers nationwide. Each Center manages a wildland fire program, where students are trained in multiple aspects of fire management, from actual firefighting, to prescribed burning, dispatching, and other logistical support. This helps prepare the students for careers in fire and natural resource management. Typically, over 1200 students are trained annually.

The Umatilla Veterans Crew, through a partnership with the Mount Adams Institute, provides leadership and career development opportunities for military veterans interested in public lands and natural resource management careers.  Besides firefighting, the crew primarily works on hazardous fuels reduction and thinning projects.

Sam Bowen, the assistant crew supervisor for the Umatilla Veterans Crew and a U.S. Army veteran, was impressed with the students this year. “I could tell Cody and Austin were excited and motivated to be here and they integrated well with the crew,” Bowen said.

Austin McClellan hails from Independence, MO, and is in his second year at the Job Corps. He shared how beneficial he found the experience, stating, “Working beside the Umatilla Veterans Crew was eye-opening—to see how much pride they take in their work; and I am thankful they took time to help and mentor us.”

Cody Sly comes from Piedmont, MO, and is also in his second year at Mingo JC CCC.  Both he and McClellan plan to pursue professional wildland firefighting careers and are considering attending the Advanced Wildland Fire Training Program after graduation.

2021 has been an exceptional fire year on Mark Twain National Forest.  Personnel utilizing fire as a sustainable restoration tool were able to achieve record acreages of treatments.  Related to this achievement, Harris added, “Having Job Corps students from Missouri assisting on these projects gives them an opportunity to protect and promote healthy forests in the areas in-and-around where they grew up, and they gain a real appreciation for the natural world right in their own backyard.”

Everyone involved with the program looks forward to teaming up again next year.

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