A group of veterans is getting experience in forest maintenance and firefighting this summer as part of a cooperative program between the Forest Service, the Student Conservation Association, and Americorps.
The program called the Veterans Fire Corps offers an opportunity for veterans from all branches of the military to gain the skills necessary to be placed in positions with the Forest Service as wildland firefighters.
This summer, the Northern Hills Ranger District of the Black Hills National Forest is hosting four veterans who are taking part in the program. On Wednesday, the veterans were engaged in a thinning operation in the Big Hill area along Tinton Road.
Scott Stanton is one of the veterans taking part in the program. He is a 26-year-old veteran who spent six years in the Marine Corps infantry. He also spent seven months in Afghanistan.
“I’ve always been an outdoorsman,” said Stanton. “It seemed like an obvious choice to keep up an active lifestyle.”
Stanton said the veterans usually work about eight hours a day, five days a week. But they have also put in some longer days on several fires they’ve been asked to assist in fighting. So far this spring and summer, the veterans have been involved in fighting nine fires in South Dakota and Wyoming.
Matt Daniels is in charge of the group and is a trainer with the Student Conservation Association.
“We’re preparing them to be in the workforce,” said Daniels. “We want to help them make a smooth transition from the military. This is an excellent opportunity for these guys to make that transition.”
Trevor Papenfuss, who is the assistant fire management officer for the Northern Hills Ranger District, said the men have also been doing some other work such as trail maintenance.
“The program is good for the guys because it helps them with job placement. It’s good for the Forest Service because it helps with our recruitment efforts,” he said.
Veterans taking part in the program have been working in the Black Hills National Forest for the past six summers.
Read more in the Black Hills Pioneer…