Sunday, May 29, 2016
In his 29 years, Philip Dronet had never seen snow.
That changed on this U.S. Navy veteran’s travels to the Bitterroot Valley where he was scheduled to learn about the intricacies of fighting wildfire.
His crew of Student Conservation Association team members had stopped to spend a night in the Black Hills in South Dakota when the snow began to fall.
“Everyone was worried about our tents getting wet,” Dronet said. “I had never seen snow in my life. It might get old after awhile, but I really liked seeing it that first time.”
Dronet is leaning on his pulaski at the end of a freshly dug fire line on the West Fork District of the Bitterroot National Forest with his fellow veteran, Brooks Mitchell.
The 23 year old was just as enamored by the mountains he’d seen since joining up as a team member.
“I come from the Smokey Mountains,” said the U.S. Army veteran. “So I’ve been other types of mountain ranges. You don’t get peaks like this back there.”
The two men were taking part in a Trapper Creek Job Corps guard school learning about how to fight fire. The school was filled with veterans who had signed on with the Montana Conservation Corps and Student Conservation Association for a summer hitch of working outdoors and learning the skills that could eventually translate into a job with a public land management agency.
Matt Daniels is the SCA’s project leader who is leading that group’s contingent of veterans. After finishing their wildfire training, his crews will be stationed in the Black Hills and Bighorn national forests.
“This is all about getting real world experience for these veterans,” Daniels said. “We work to provide them with the skills they will need to transition into the civilian workforce.”
The veterans come from all different walks of life and from states that run the gamut from Florida to Arizona.
“They like being in a situation where they have that same camaraderie that they shared in the military,” Daniels said. “They embrace the new skills that they are being taught…This can open doors for them. Some end up hopping on fire crews when our season comes to an end.”
Read the full story in the Ravalli Republic…
Story and photo by Perry Backus.