What I Pack

When I first began my journey with AmeriCorps, I didn’t know what to pack, what to bring, what I would need, or what I would want.  Over the past four years, I have served as both a Corps Member and Team Leader for the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC), FEMA Corps, and the St Louis Emergency Response Team (ERT).  In the next couple months, I will be beginning my last year of service with AmeriCorps as a second year member of the ERT.

One of the biggest questions that I’ve always heard is “What do I need to pack/bring with me?”

I’m not a traditional packer.  While most of my teammates pack as lightly as possible, I bring everything I need in the event that we are called off our project to go on disaster elsewhere (after being put on standby to go to Alaska, I repacked and made sure I had enough cold weather gear even though here in Missouri it was nice and warm).  Not everyone will agree with me, but the following is a list of essential items that goes everywhere with me (read: this is part of my recommended pack out list for the ERT).

Please note that my lists for NCCC and FEMA Corps were drastically different than what follows.

Daypack.  I use my personal Fire Pack.  The AC STL ERT office supplies each of its members with a FSS Fire Pack, but I have my personal one that I am more comfortable with.  It is a True North Fireball Pack.  It’s smaller than the ones supplied by the office, so I have less space, but I keep it organized.

Water Bottles.  I carry 3-4 Nalgenes in my day pack.  More if we are on fire rotation or during fire season.  Hydration is a must, especially when it comes to fire.  I don’t use a Camel Back due to personal preference (I can’t see how much water I have left).  I have more Nalgenes and water bottles than I carry out on project with me.  At one point, I had 7 total.

I carry a personal first aid and repair kit.  I’m not going to go through whats in each, but knowing how to sew on patches to repair clothing has been invaluable (thanks mom!).  Duct tape works as well for temporary fixes.

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment).  Gloves.  Ear protection.  Safety Glasses.  All are important and required.  Hard hats, Nomex (fire resistant clothing), and Fire Shelters are all provided by the office, so you don’t have go out and purchase your own.  Also, fire boots.

Long sleeve shirt.  To use a chainsaw on Forest Service Land, you must have long sleeves (everyone in the ERT does this eventually).  I have a really light, running shirt that I use for this that is always in my pack (it’s also great if your working in poison ivy).

Bandanna.  I have gone overboard on this one, so I have plenty.  Useful for putting over your face bandit style so you don’t breath in too much smoke.  They are also useful in keeping hair out of your face (unless you also sport a beard).

Multi-tool.  Great to have.  It sucks when you need one and you don’t have it.  Also, a good, sturdy pocket knife is also useful (though they can also be extremely sharp and dangerous to your fingers if proper safety protocols are not followed).

I also carry a headlamp, flashlight, compass, personal saw kit, my IRPG (Incident Response Pocket Guide), my Fireline Handbook, flagging, and snacks (granola bars, trail mix, etc).

All of that is in my day pack.  I carry it around everywhere I go.  There are a few other odds and ends that I skipped over, but whatever.

People will tell you many things about what type of clothing is needed, and it gets a little confusing at times.  So let me try to help you make sense of some of it before it happens.

When on the fireline (fighting Wildland Fires or conducting Prescribed Burns) and/or when on fire rotation (actually, you should carry this at all times), you should not have any synthetic material.  Synthetics will melt.  Melting clothing sucks and is no fun.  This includes thermal underwear.  Bad things happen when your clothing melts and sticks to your skin, trust me.  100% cotton or wool is your best friend when you’re on the fireline.  And given the fact that we should always be prepared for fire, you should have some with you.

But, that being said, cotton kills.  Not really, but that’s what I’ve been told.  Cotton clothing does not keep you warm if it is wet or damp (or when you sweat).  Wool still keeps you warm (for the most part) and synthetics are known to dry the quickest, while still insulating you.

Many people rant and rave about certain brands, certain material, and/or very specific articles of clothing, but I’ve found that a good long-sleeve wool/plaid button up shirt, wool stocking cap, and gloves work wonders when you are cold.  And layers.  Multiple, multiple layers.  Nothing sucks more than being to hot and not being able to take off a layer because you don’t have another.  Or being cold and not having another.

With all this being said, other important things are warm socks, sock liners (or really thin socks that you can wear beneath your warm socks so you aren’t rubbing blisters into your feet), work pants (I tend to gravitate toward thicker work pants, even during the summer), and multiple carabeeners (sp?).

Each person you ask will have a different response to what you should have and bring with you, so figure it out for yourself as well.  What works for me may not work for you, and vice versa.


The Weight of Living

There’s an albatross around you neck,
All the things you’ve said
And the things you’ve done
Can you carry it with no regrets,
Can you stand the person you’ve become

Your Albatross, let it go, let it go,
Your albatross shoot it down, shoot it down
When you just can’t shake
The heavy weight of living

 – Weight of Living, Pt. I, by Bastille

The world is filled with people walking around as shells of who they once were.  Of who they could be.  People burdened by their own thoughts, actions, and haunted pasts.  It’s as if they are walking around in shackles made of regrets, promises, and fears of the dark of night.

Several years ago, while serving aboard the M/V Africa Mercy, I wrote about the joy of serving and working, and finding that in all things big and small.

For several years I forgot that feeling.  The joy of living.  I too was shackled by all those things that I’ve gotten wrong, all the bridges that had been burned, and words that were both spoken and left unspoken in the darkness of night.

Living is hard work.  It’s difficult at times.  Especially when things don’t ever go as planned.

We get frustrated when our plans get disrupted.  When our day starts off on the wrong side of the bed, we wake up late, or run late.  We get angry with ourselves and take it out in our actions and words aimed at others as well as ourselves.

I rediscovered those words I wrote almost four years ago as I was trying to find another piece of writing about my time aboard the ship, and it got me thinking; is it truly possible for us to have joy when we carry our past with us everywhere we go?

Joy isn’t some momentary feeling, it is a way we live.  It is evident in everything we do and in every word that comes out unfiltered.  It is evident in how we think, pray, and spend our time alone.  It is seen in the smile as we work, the laughter as we communicate, and the impressions that our actions have on others around us.

When we are burdened by the weight of living, we cannot focus on that joy.  So we must abandon all that excess baggage, shoot it down so it no longer follows us, and understand that we change the past just as much as we can stop the world from turning or the sun from rising each morning.  It is a futile gesture to drag ourselves down when joy, true happiness, is within our grasps.

Just some thoughts…



I’ve been writing a lot lately.  Not as much as I had hoped, but more than I was expecting to be able to.  I’m attempting to complete the first draft of a book that I am working on, an autobiography of my adventures.  It’s probably the most difficult thing I have ever done.

Words are fickle.  They slip in and out of our thoughts, echoing in our heads, but we (or at least I) cannot seem to grasp them long enough to truly capture their essence.

I found myself writing about my time in Africa today, about my stay with Mercy Ships aboard the M/V Africa Mercy.  It scares me that I cannot seem to dictate the thoughts in my head, to tell my own story.  Every time I look at the words, the feelings, the emotions are not there.  They are only words.

Is that all that we have become:  Words on a page?

Oh, but the stories are all there.  I can spend hours talking about my journey, the path that led me to find a home away from home and a family that extends beyond the edges of these United States, that circumnavigates the world.

I can write it all down and spend hours finding the correct phrases and words, but there will always be something missing.  There will always be a part of me that cannot be captured on the page.

It is the smile.  The laugh.  The sly look that was given.  The stutter as I struggle to find the words.  The sorrow and the tears that are shed in the dark of night when the memories come back to haunt us again and again and again.

Oh, words can be quite powerful.  I’ve been told that I know how to use them well, to convince others to feel some emotion.  But those words can be difficult to find at times.

It’s like a relationship.  You give and you take.  Compromise.  And in the end there is something on the page that you yourself could have never fully written because you never knew that those words existed in your heart.

And you learn to love them.  To embrace them like a child.  Protecting them from your edits and the eyes of those who you feel would rip them apart.  But in the end, you let them out into the world to fly.  And people rant and rave and make a fuss, but you know that there is and will always be something missing.

So we smile.  And hide behind the mask of words created as our shield and our armor, our story that binds us to one another.

At this point, I know I’m ranting (and quite possibly raving), but I’m just trying to speak the truth…

The Voice of Love

A couple nights ago, I had the opportunity to catch up with a great friend over dinner.  We spoke about our adventures and the opportunities that God had placed in our lives.  We shared our struggles, hopes, and fears.  Listened to one another with open hearts as the other told of their journey with God, the Father.

Much of the night I sat in silence, listening as the words flowed forth freely.  I smiled as our conversation wandered from our time together at Anderson University to our jobs and journey after graduation, artwork and graphic design to missions trips, friendships and coworkers to God’s movement within our lives.

As I listened, I heard her say something that has echoed in my head the past several nights as I lay awake trying to sleep.  It was a simple statement that has opened my eyes (and ears) to so much.  It all seemed to click the instant she spoke, and I knew in my heart that she was right.  Even though I didn’t want to believe it.

She stated that if the voice does not remind us that God loves us, will always love us unconditionally, then it is most likely not the voice of God, but of the enemy.

The Adversary.  The Angel of Light.  Prince of Darkness.  Serpent.  The Corrupter. The voice of our enemy has many names, but the truth is that he whispers lies and half-truths in our ears, confusing us more than we know.

He is pitted against God, and when we stand before the truth, he is pitted against us as well.

When God speaks, He constantly reminds us of His love for us.  When He challenges us. When He gives us strength.  When He tells us ‘No’.  He always tells us that He loves us and that He has a plan for us.  He has called us His own.

So many times I hear whispers in the darkness of night that I want to believe are from God.  Words that tell me to take the easy path.  To make and follow a plan that will make me happy.  To be safe.  Secure.  Out of harms way.

That is what the Deceiver wants: for us to be out of the way.  Content.  And not to take a stand for what’s right.

When God speaks, we don’t always want to listen.  His plan is never easy.  It’s not always convenient.  But, if we listen, He provides us the strength, courage, and/or audacity to chase after His path in our lives.  But He loves us, no matter what.

When my friend spoke those words, something inside my head clicked.

Her words caused me to pause and realize that I had been listening to the wrong voice in my head.  I had been listening to the one that did not remind me day after day that God loves me.

So, I was laying there last night, reflecting on the words that she said, I started to remove every voice that didn’t remind me that God love me.  It left me with one voice.

That voice told me over and over again, stating:  “I love you.  I love you.  I love you.  No matter where you run, no matter how far you go, I will always love because I have claimed you as my own.”

Everything else went away.  And for the first time in a long while, I felt the stillness of His presence.  True peace that comes from Love.  Unconditional love.

I look back on that conversation a couple nights ago and I find myself smiling still.  To have a beautiful conversation about God and to walk away learning something that opens our eyes.  To spend time with a friend and know that it has been blessed by God.  To walk away and know that God has been speaking and continuing to whisper into my life.  To remember that Christians don’t have to be perfect, but God accepts us broken as we are.

I walked away knowing that God loves me and will continue to love me.  And that I am His and His alone.  Nothing can change that.