Routt National Forest work helps veterans transition to civilian life

Craig Daily Press
Thursday, July 25, 2013

Skills, certifications and experience that prepare vets for a post-military career

— After spending a year deployed with the Army in Iraq, Elder Pyatt had to adjust to civilian life when he finished his service in 2008.

Life in the military moves much faster, said Pyatt, who served to earn money for college.

“There is an adjustment period,” he said.

In the Army, Pyatt used mechanic’s tools to work on large military vehicles. This summer, he is removing limbs from beetle-killed lodgepole pine trees near Stagecoach with a chain saw, which he never really had used before.

“Not in this capacity,” Pyatt said. “Like yard work kind of stuff.”

Pyatt, whose goal is to earn a master’s degree, is joined by three other veterans and a crew leader. The group is working through next week on U.S. Forest Service land to help create a 350-foot buffer between private land and the forest. By removing the dead timber, the Forest Service is trying to help protect nearby homes and property should a wildfire start. Fire mitigation work is nothing new in the Routt National Forest, but this is the first time the crew of veterans has been called in to help.

“We’re glad to have everyone, and we’re definitely glad to have this crew,” Yampa district ranger Jack Lewis said on his way to meet the crew, which is staying at the Oak Creek Fire Protection District’s Stagecoach fire station.

The veterans are working this summer for the Veterans Fire Corps under the Student Conservation Association. Although they are being paid only $280 per week, the veterans are learning skills, earning certifications and gaining experience that will prepare them for a post-military career in forestry or wildland firefighting.