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Eastern Montana - Dakotas District
Release Date: 06/06/13
Contacts: Eastern Montana - Dakotas District    
News Release No. 130606A

BLM funding supports veteran employment programs

BELLE FOURCHE, S.D. --- BLM Montana/Dakotas personnel, Rapid City’s mayor and fire department heads, city council members, congressional staffers, property owners and local media will be turning out to mark the start of the Rapid City Fire Department Veterans Crew Program in Rapid City June 14.

The event will commemorate the beginning of Rapid City’s veterans program which was made possible by a grant provided by the BLM South Dakota Field Office. The bureau’s Montana/Dakotas Community Assistance Program facilitated the grant through assistance agreements with local governments and is part of the “Firewise” program.

The Firewise Communities Program is carried out under the direction of the National Fire Protection Association and intended to encourage local solutions for wildfire safety. It involves homeowners, community leaders, planners, developers, firefighters and others in the effort to protect people and property from wildfire risks. The program is co-sponsored by the U.S. Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters.

The City of Lead is a recent beneficiary of the program and has started their own veteran-centric operation. The Lead “Veterans Crew Program” has employed returning vets for jobs in their local fuels reduction and fire suppression work.

“The goal is to help vets who are having trouble getting employed by giving them the skill sets that will allow them to have a better opportunity at some jobs, including firefighting and chainsaw operation,” said Lead City Administrator Mike Stahl in an April interview with the Black Hills Pioneer.

According to Stahl, Lead City received $125,000 in Federal grant money from the BLM to kick start their program. The grant will help pay for wages and supplies for the city to hire veterans, as well as to pay for a supervisor for the program.

“It is a great thing,” Stahl said. “We will use them (veterans) around the community.”

These local programs are tailored to the needs of the sponsoring communities, yet follow roughly the same orientation and education regimen.

“Participating vets receive training in several areas including basic wildfire and basic structure firefighting, S-212 basic chainsaw operation, mapping and GIS, public relations, home assessments and basic FIRESAFE principals,” said BLM Fire Management Specialist Travis Lipp. “These crews will also be provided presentations on other career opportunities.”

Meade County vets are already at work locally in the wildland-urban interface; where private property and development mingles with BLM and U.S. Forest administered lands in the Black Hills. Meade County’s “Veteran in the Woods” initiative, also funded by the BLM, falls under Meade County’s current Firewise program. According to the county website the primary goal of their Community Wildfire Protection effort is to reduce wildfire risk to life, property and critical infrastructure.

Meade County Fire Mitigation Specialists Travis Ugland, a former soldier who served with the U.S. Army 3rd Infantry Division and Jimmy Adams from Whitewood formerly of the U.S. Army 19th Engineer Battalion’s 502nd Engineer Company (Multi-Role Bridge) were interviewed while carrying out hazardous fuels reduction work in Meade County last February. The small crew thinned out stands of ponderosa pine from among private property holdings, reducing the fire threat.

Ugland, who had been looking for work previously to getting hired in the program, was glad to find something in the outdoors and close to home and community. Each of the vets had been trained and was busy employing their skills cutting, thinning and removing live trees.

Meade County Fire Mitigation Coordinator Dan Campbell, who had previous experience fighting fire, said he found the program to be a good chance to get back into the field and to get his qualifications and experience up to date.

Campbell, a former Soldier in the South Dakota U.S. Army National Guard 842nd Engineer Company headquartered in Spearfish, spent a year-long deployment in southwest Afghanistan as a heavy equipment operator in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. As a coordinator, he keeps the crew in work, makes sure they get their training and monitors project progress.

Providing returning veterans an opportunity to pursue a career in natural resource management while allowing them to put their prior-service experience in operations, communications, map reading, first aid and planning seems a natural fit for communities who continually need these skills in their public employees. The Meade County Firewise Program website features a quotation: “Hire a Veteran, train a Veteran, and you will help a Veteran on a mission toward a career path.”

“Through the Montana/Dakotas BLM Community Assistance Program, the bureau was able to provide funding through assistance agreements to get these programs started,” said Lipp. “The training and experience gained as a result of this employment opportunity will provide access to several new career paths for these former service men and women.”

Note to readers: Since their interviews last February, Dan Campbell and fellow vet Shawn Dempsey have found permanent jobs and moved on from the program. Campbell credits the Veterans Initiative with providing him with the opportunity to support his family while gaining skills and training to assist him in his career goals. Travis Ugland has since been promoted to Fire Mitigation Coordinator, filling Campbell’s boots. Meade County is currently in the process of hiring additional vets to replace those who have moved on to permanent careers elsewhere.

For more Firewise information go to: For the latest BLM news and updates visit us on the web at: and on Facebook at:

The BLM manages more than 245 million acres of public land, the most of any Federal agency. This land, known as the National System of Public Lands, is primarily located in 12 Western states, including Alaska. The BLM also administers 700 million acres of sub-surface mineral estate throughout the nation. The BLM's mission is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of America’s public lands for the use and enjoyment of present and future generations. In Fiscal Year 2015, the BLM generated $4.1 billion in receipts from activities occurring on public lands.

Eastern Montana - Dakotas District   111 Garryowen Road      Miles City, MT 59301  

Last updated: 06-12-2013