Another Year of Service Past (A Look at ERT Year 20)

I heard it a couple of times before that when a group of individuals come together for an extended amount of time, they become family.  I’ve seen it happen with my various teams in the National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) and again with my close-knit team in FEMA Corps, so I shouldn’t be surprised to find it difficult to say good-by to this family that has formed over the past year of service.


We started out the year as a bunch of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed individuals looking for an adventure.  Well, glad to say that we found one.  We didn’t know each other at first, but as we began to dive into this journey, we soon discovered how lucky we were to stand beside one another.


The journey was one of intense beauty, as we soon discovered ourselves in the midst of the Beaver Head / Deer Lodge National Forest in Montana, surrounded by mountains of bright lights and explosions of color.  For one who has never seen the mystery of the northern mountains, it was like a shock and awe campaign.


We found ourselves growing closer together due to the spacious living quarters and huge cabins that we stayed in (please, note the sarcasm).  We slept almost twenty in the Yurt that leaked while the rest piled into the tent city that sprang up around our headquarter just south of Butte.


It wasn’t always that beautiful or easy.  For the majority of the winter, we were gripped by the chill of ice, snow and wind that pierced through all the layers that we piled on as thick as we could.  When I say it got cold, it got cold.  And I don’t think any of us were truly prepared for it.


To be honest, none of us were truly prepared for what we were to face in the next couple weeks and upcoming months.  We had all heard stories, but in the back of our minds was a constant voice, that fear that kept us alert.  The fear that kept us alive at times.


Oh, we messed up a time or two.  We got ourselves into pickles, wedged between a rock and a hard place, but somehow we were able to keep moving forward.  And we learned.  Sometimes, we learned the hard way.


And as we learned, we began to experience things that changed us.  Looking back, none of us are the same individuals that walked through the doors of the Urban Activity Center that first day to complete paperwork.  We became something more.  A family, yes.  But as individuals, we became leaders, tree fellers, and trail builders.


We also became cowboys and cowgirls, road-hands, rough-necks, firefighters, and friends.  We embraced everything that was thrown at us, from the chainsaw to loppers.  We embraced the culture of the ranches, the mountains, and the woodlands of the Ozarks, becoming one with our teams and with ourselves.



A lot of what we do is based around conservation.  Felling hazard trees and snags.  Preparing fire line.  Spraying invasive species.  It’s not always glamorous work, but we love it.  Anyone who says otherwise is lying.  We love it because of one another.


We also got the opportunity to get down and dirty with wild fires.  While a lot of what we did were small prescribed burns and mop up operations, we were glad of the change of pace.  You can only spray so many plants with chemical before you start questioning your sanity.


We also got the chance to work side by side with the USFS on fire rotation.  I got to go on two large (4,000+ acre) prescribed burns and a handful of wildfires where we got to follow the dozer and conduct burn out operations.  It was a mix of excitement, fear, and confidence that allowed us to persevere.


And besides, we look like complete bad[edit]s doing it.  Where else would we even get the opportunity to wield a chainsaw like a BAMF?  Admit it, we look awesome.


Another bonus, facial hair.  That’s right, we don’t always shave, and there’s nothing wrong with it.  No-Shave November has nothing on us, just ask some of the ladies who I got the opportunity to work with.  Razors can’t touch us.  But when they do, nobody can recognize us afterwards.


And somehow, we find the time to smile, laugh, and have fun while we save the world (okay, we may not be THAT important, but it sure feels like it).  We play games, give one another a hard time, and stay up late laying under the stars, in tents, or cabins talking and sharing our love with one another.



And now, our paths diverge.  We have come to the end of our year of service, and I can honestly say that I am proud to have each and every single one of these individuals standing beside me on this journey of life.  They are more than friends.  Deeper than blood.  And I smile because I know that I will see them all again in good time.


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