Armed simply with chainsaws, a corps of military veterans has arrived on the Jersey Shore to help Sandy-stricken residents trapped by a maze of downed trees and debris.
The team members, whose previous tours have included Iraq and Afghanistan, arrived in New Jersey this week from Arizona, where they were serving in the Veterans Fire Corps, a program that helps recent-era vets prepare for careers in conservation. Their recent training in chain saw operation and wildland firefighting made them perfectly suited for the mission at hand.
“We volunteered right away,” says Joseph LiCausi, a former Navy petty officer from Queens, New York. “Cleaning up roads, getting trees out of the way, helping displaced people get food. It feels good to help out.”
The Veterans Fire Corps is part of a U.S. Forest Service saw crew under the Student Conservation Association (SCA) program currently stationed at Fort Dix. Last week, the SCA team was cutting down Ponderosa pines in a national forest to eliminate potential fire fuels. Now they are clearing felled trees from Jersey streets to open access for responders and vital supplies of water, food, and fuel to reach those most in need.
Following Hurricane Sandy and Wednesday’s Nor’easter, Corps members may also assist Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) logistics facilities, local emergency response agencies, and community command and control efforts.
SCA and the Forest Service launched the Veterans Fire Corps in the summer of 2011 as a pilot program. Since then, nine corps alumni have advanced to employment with the Forest Service or other resource management offices and 20 have returned to school to obtain degrees in environmental studies.
Fire Corps members are trained and/or certified in Chain Saw Operation, Fire Ecology, Wildland Fire Fighting (Red Card), and Wilderness First Aid, in addition to general conservation skills, environmental education, and the Forest Service’s history and hiring procedures. The program also helps federal land management agencies meet the 2009 Presidential Executive Order that directs agencies to assist veterans in securing employment and helping with their re-entry into civilian life.
Since 1957, 70,000 Americans have participated in the SCA’s non-profit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C. Learn more at www.thesca.org.