Military veterans convened at a ranch in Agoura Hills recently to train in order to take on another enemy combatant. One, however, for a change, wasn’t human or even machine.
Rather, it’s combustion.
Fire. Wildfires. Incidents that decimate the American West’s landscape each and every year.
“It can’t be hotter than the sands of Iraq,” said John Patrick, 38, a United State Marine veteran.
He would know. He was part of the invasion of the country formerly ruled by Saddam Hussein back in 2003.
“I think it’s an awesome opportunity. It’s an opportunity to give back to the community.”
“Growing up in Southern California, you grow up with fires around you — and not being able to do anything about them,” said U.S. Army vet John Ward, 35.
“This offers me a chance to assist.”
Patrick and Ward were just one of about 50 vets and first responders tapped by nonprofit organization Team Rubicon to participate in the four-day training event at the Paramount Ranch, orchestrated by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
“Building a highly skilled team of first responders is critical to preserving these places for future generations,” Sant Monica Mountains National Recreation Area Superintendent David Szymanski told the Los Angeles Daily News.
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Each vet was trained in wildland fire suppression tactics, from communications to fireline construction, from using hand tools to pumping water into firehouses from local streams.
Their training ends today along the valley oak savannah of Paramount Ranch, the film location for Hollywood productions from Bob Hope’s “Caught in the Draft” to “The Cisco Kid” to the latest HBO hit, “Westworld.”
“It’s great. It just makes sense,” said BLM Veterans Program Manager Chuck Russell, who oversees training in four western states, including California. “Veterans come with the experience they’ve given serving their country — their work ethic, leadership qualities and determination — that they can use to fight fires.”
On Saturday, the veterans left their camp upstream of Medea Creek to gather among the oaks and willows to employ gas-powered water pumps to send water through fire hoses. Such training is needed to join federal, state and local fire crews.
“Our motto is, Kick ass and get (stuff) done,” said former Navy Corpsman Patrick Mishler, a team leader for Team Rubicon, which has recruited 50,000 veteran volunteers across the nation, which responded to 80 disasters last year worldwide. “Disasters are our business, but veterans are our passion.”
So far about 500 vets have been trained to fight fires through the program.