Vets Go from Firefights to Fighting Fires

Oct 4, 2013 1:00 PM ET
Student Conservation Association Veterans Fire Corps battle a wildfire in Bighorn National Forest, Buffalo, Wyo., in August 2013. (The Student Conservation Association)

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The men and women I’m training know we’re about to confront a merciless enemy. We are all military veterans, and in the field we have an objective, a plan, and the flexibility to change tactics midstream — just as in the armed forces.

In this case our adversary isn’t al-Qaida or any of the other combatants I faced with the U.S. Marines in Afghanistan and Iraq; it’s not even human but it eats, breathes and grows.

It’s the nearly 32,000 wildfires that the U.S. Department of the Interior says have burned more than 3.4 million acres nationwide this year. These are not low-intensity ground fires, but “mega fires” created from lack of mitigation and irregular historic fire regimes.

I’m a crew leader for the nonprofit Student Conservation Association’s Veterans Fire Corps, which is tackling two seemingly unrelated challenges: giving veterans much-needed job training in the field of forestry as well as the opportunity to battle the wildfires raging across the western half of the United States. The Veterans Fire Corps ( is a 90-day training program conducted in partnership with the U.S. Forest Service that gives military veterans the chance to explore conservation-related careers, including containing wildfires.

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