On duty, one of their jobs is to provide security around the missiles scattered across thousands of acres in Montana; off duty, they’ve donated hundreds of hours toward the maintenance of public lands and the safety and comfort of its visitors.
Their outstanding volunteer contributions earned the 341st Security Forces Group from Malmstrom Air Force Base the BLM’s annual Making a Difference national volunteer award. Colonel Steve Asher and Chief Master Sergeant Larry Wilson accepted the award on behalf of the entire group during a special ceremony in Washington, D.C., on May 8.
The successful volunteer partnership started as a tailgate brainstorming session. In 2006, Chief Wilson attended the National Public Lands Day event at Wood Bottom in central Montana. While visiting with Mark Schaefer, BLM park ranger and retired Air Force security forces manager, and Wade Brown, BLM river manager, he learned of other needs along the river. At the time, the Fort Benton River Management Station had a particularly limited budget and sparse seasonal staff.
Chief Wilson recruited some of his troops – enough to double BLM’s workforce – to conduct patrols on the Upper Missouri River. They accompanied BLM park rangers on river patrols and cleaned facilities, provided visitor contacts, registered boaters, conducted Wilderness Study Area surveillance, and performed campsite maintenance. In addition, they erected campsite identification signs at 19 remote locations along a 149-mile stretch of the river, dismantled livestock exclusion fencing, and assisted with seasonal closedown operations in primary developed campgrounds.
The partnership continued and expanded in 2007, again doubling BLM’s seasonal workforce and allowing BLM to maintain a visible presence on the river. Further, 124 members of the unit pulled down and removed unserviceable barbed wire fencing to improve the habitat at Wood Bottom Recreation Area. A project that was expected to take several more years was nearly finished in just four days.
While this partnership was initially a windfall for the Fort Benton River Management Station, other offices in the region are now capitalizing on its success. The BLM Butte Field Office recruited Malmstrom volunteers to paint administrative buildings and otherwise spruce up Log Gulch Campground on Holter Lake, a popular recreation area near Helena. They have also helped build a fence in rough terrain to keep livestock out of the Humbug Spires Wilderness Study Area.
Colonel Steve Asher is the commanding officer and Chief Master Sergeant Larry Wilson is the security forces manager. They command more than 1,200 men and women assigned to the 341st Security Forces Group, whose primary function is to provide security and law enforcement protection to the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Systems located throughout a 23,000-square mile portion of Montana, as well as Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls. It should be noted that some of our volunteers from this group are now serving in various locations throughout Iraq and Afghanistan.
Chief Wilson was one of the original members of that first tailgate brainstorming session, and Colonel Asher personally led the volunteers in the Wood Bottom fence project and conducted river patrols. His leadership by example was crucial to the success of this entire effort.
Colonel Asher, Chief Wilson, and the 341st Security Forces Group’s volunteerism and willingness to make a difference on our public lands have been extraordinary. Both the Fort Benton and Butte field offices look forward to their assistance in the years to come.