"Overall, the responses from the Forest Service are unintelligible and come chillingly close to the bureaucratic 'Doublespeak' we were warned about by George Orwell in his classic book 1984. I have rarely seen better crafted non-responses to straightforward questions."
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As Merv made clear, we all know that fire needs to be returned to the forest landscape. The RRSNF is on pace to have a record year with prescribed fire. But it does NOT need to be there in summers of record low fuel moistures and record high fire danger. These fires must be put out early and fast. If they're not, then you end up facing August with exhausted crews scattered all over the West, people from other areas and maybe even agencies working fire on your turf, and skies filled with smoke so that air resources cannot be used effectively.
On May 24, 2021, I received the phone call every firefighter's spouse dreads and hopes will never come.
At the time, no Drill Sergeants were allowed for combat duty as we were needed more at the training centers. One evening I talked to my wife and said that I had to go and do my duty in Vietnam. I felt that if I went and was able to save even one life, it would be worth it. At the time, my wife was expecting our 5th child and had four children at home, but she agreed.
Many people are opposed to any harvesting on national forests. They often point to the overcutting that occurred in the 1970s and 80s. That overcutting led to a shutdown of logging on forest service land, a shutdown that for the most part is still in place today. One main reason for the excessive harvesting was that the allowable cut quotas were set in Washington, DC, or by the regional forest office, not by local foresters.
We immediately started building line down one side of the fire, but due to its steepness, every time we tried to swing the line across slope and below the flames, burning material from above would roll down across our line and ignite the abundant dry fuels below.
Air America, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, and a secret air base in Takhli, Thailand, known as "The Ranch," have a storied history that merged during the Vietnam War. The U.S. military operated overtly and the CIA operated covertly from 1960 to 1975 at "The Ranch." Over 50 of the 100 former smokejumpers who worked for the CIA saw duty at 'The Ranch." Ten lost their lives. This is a disclosure of operations and events that killed some of those ten, plus others.
When I was in the eighth grade back in West Virginia, I became interested in forestry through my involvement in the Boy Scouts. I was further encouraged by my 8th grade teacher, Mrs. Baughman, whose husband attended West Virginia University School of Forestry. He was killed in WWII but left all his books and papers. Mrs. Baughman, knowing of my interest in forestry, gave me those books, some of which I still have. Sometime thereafter, I read a book titled Hank Winton-Smokejumper. That did it! I resolved to apply when I was old enough and had some woods experience.
I enquired about the nature and circumstances of Walt's purple heart. That can be a forbidden question, but among Marine veterans, it is acceptable. His story revealed the "First time I Met Walt Smith."
As smokejumpers work heroically to extinguish remote wildland fire starts, we all search—yet again—for answers to why is so much area burning, and how can we better manage the growing threat of wildfires?
The Mann Gulch Fire is not just about tragedy and the burnover of 12 smokejumpers and one fireguard. It is also about trying to do everything right and having everything go wrong, and maybe a few things about that pot-holed trail called life.
We can save a billion dollars a year in the expense of fighting wildfire using common sense. What would you do if presented with a problem and options to solve that problem?
The Camp Fire that destroyed the town of Paradise, CA, on Nov. 8, 2018, illustrated the need to revamp the thinking regarding the evacuation of communities threatened by wildfire.
After the description above, I went to Roger Savage (MSO-57) and asked him to check his records for fire jumps made in this "super steep and rocky terrain." The list started with Ed Courtney (MSO-58) and Robert Wilson (MSO-57), who jumped a fire (August 1961) surprisingly named Lolo Peak. Then Dan Roberson (MSO-75) and Steve Straley (MSO-77) jumped another fire, same name, same place, September 1979.
Congratulations guys. I know for sure that three of the above are still alive as they get this magazine——you survived a "suicide mission."
This historic firestorm started on Thursday, November 8, 2018, in the early morning hours. By that evening it was within three miles of our home in Chico. It was contained 17 days later at over 150,000 acres. There were at least 86 fatalities and about 14,000 homes destroyed. Paradise, a town of 27,000, was wiped off the map in a period of hours.
In response to the number of NSA members inquiring about the safety of my wife and myself, I started sending out daily “blurbs.” What follows is my view of the Camp Fire as it happened.
A district ranger north of us at Dubois, Wyo., told me years ago that an old forester came in to visit and see some of the 1,000-acre clearcuts they had planned and harvested in the 1960s.
The forester felt remorse at the size and scope of the cuttings. It bothered him throughout his career. Now he was back to see the effects.
Upon returning from the field, he told the ranger, “Forget about what I said. Those clearcuts are beautiful.”
Sure, there have been many practices in the past that have not been environmentally sound. But, at the same time, does that mean that we give up and go completely the other way? There has to be a middle ground reached. We cannot allow the radicals to rule the roost.
As I looked out at the raging flames, I had serious thoughts about whether or not we were going to survive. I wondered exactly why I was there? I thought of my family and that my wife had no idea where I was.
In the year 2017 we, as Americans, saw account- ably in many forms, from cabinet officers being fired for using less than $1million of private air travel, to Navy Captains and their bosses being relieved from command for accidents at sea. Where is the account- ability in the US Forest Service for spending $32 million dollars on a fire that should have had the same aggressive initial attack as three other nearby fires that cost less than $400,000 each?
In the West, wildland fire is a regular threat to populated spaces as well as the rugged back- country found in forests and wilderness areas. In an effort to improve response time on fires in remote areas, the U.S. Forest Service began to experiment in 1939 with dropping firefighters from aircraft. These early parachute tests conducted in Washington state were so successful that they spawned a new type of wildland firefighter that still serves today – the smokejumper.
However, 1939 was not the first time the Forest Service tested the idea of dropping firefighters by parachute.
Stephen Ambrose about Bruce Egger: 'There is no typical GI among the millions who served in Northwest Europe, but Bruce Egger surely was representative. He served at the war in almost continuous front-line action. He never missed a day of duty.'
Combining my time as a smokejumper, Air America kicker, and loadmaster in Peru, I spent about 15 years accumulating extraordinary experiences.
I realized almost immediately that is was a highly unorthodox landing – tumbling bodies in the fuselage and chunks of tundra flying past the window.
The man in the middle would have experienced life at the awkward intersection of race and pacifism.
Unbelievably, this throwback to men who broke trails for wagon trains a couple hundred years ago, worked for the CIA with its Harvard men and persuasive boardroom thinkers.
My hero, my father, and his brother both served in segregated Army units during World War II.
'What the hell did the general do to get me all these people? - He shot the lieutenant.'
'See that last cow? When it goes out of the gate, I'm history. I'm going with the smokejumpers.'
The round parachute has served the Forest Service well.
Smokejumpers are firefighters with an unusual delivery system. Is it a good move to go away from something that has provided safe and efficient delivery of the jumpers for 75 years?
Smokejumpers have had a special working relationship with the CIA for over 35 years beginning in 1951. Over 100 jumpers have been involved in overseas operations including the Taiwan Project, Bay of Pigs and the Secret War.
Operation Firefly was a political smokescreen over which the Triple Nickle had no control. However, when history is changed, someone needs to challenge those changes. Books will continue to be written on this subject based on myth and inaccuracies and the Forest Service will continue with press releases based on sources 70 years removed. Let’s examine the record based on official documents.
In early 1942, Melvin L. "Smokey" Greene (MSO-42) started jumping out of airplanes to fight forest fires. A couple years later his jump training helped save his life when his B-29 was rammed by a Japanese fighter.
To most of the world, Bob Sallee was merely the last living survivor of 1949’s Mann Gulch Fire, a disaster that took the lives of 12 smokejumpers.
Long Cheng has been called the “Most Secret Place On Earth.” During it’s peak the CIA base was one of the world’s busiest airports and had a population of approximately 50,000.
What is the basis for determining that seven pull-ups is a correct measurement for being a smokejumper?
We wanted to be up North, where the action was, where the MiGs were. We were fighter pilots; we were trained for air combat. That was our job.
Luke was born in Susanville, California. He did it all. It's no surprise that he ended up pursuing the adrenaline-filled career of smokejumping. He was a machine-it didn't matter if he was on the 25th rep of the 25th set of push-ups-he still had that smile and easy manner. His personality and over-sized grin were infectious.
There was a time when “smokejumping” was a foreign term to me. My introduction came through Tall Timber Pilots, a book about the Johnson Flying Service whose aviators flew smokejumpers for many years. The book, published in 1953, eventually found its way into the library of the high school I attended in South Carolina.
First and foremost, I would like to recognize Stan McGrew for his vision of a turbine-powered DC-3. His persistence extended the operational effectiveness of the aircraft for at least 20 more years.
When she came through the door for the first day of smokejumper rookie
training, everyone saw she was tiny. When she went to the weigh-in, the
foreman rolled the heavy metal fireproof door shut so no one could watch.
Outside the door they didn’t need the scale to know she was tiny.
It was a busy fire season when I rookied at McCall, Idaho, in 1967. I was fortunate to have 14 fire jumps, which included four in Oregon. It was jumper number 13, on a small Oregon blaze, that was most memorable.
I am sitting here, in my home in Southern California, poring over a map. The map is a product of the United States Department of Interior Geological Survey. It is a 7.5-minute (topological) titled “Pungo Mountain, Idaho.”
On Jan. 3, 1967, I was the Air America airline station traffic manager at Danang, South Vietnam, for just over a year. In 1964 I spent the last of my five years as an Air Force lieutenant as commander of Detachment 5 of the 8th Aerial Port Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, doing essentially the same kind of work.
I woke in the sterile hotel room at 6 a.m. - day five of a boost and sore after a three-day fire on the Lewis and Clark. By seven I stood in front of the box for roll call.
Often on a fire jump I would stand looking over the country and tell myself that I was standing on a spot where no one had ever stood before
while no smokejumper of whom we’re aware has been an Olympic athlete, three of them have had children who have not only competed at the Olympic level – but have excelled.
The bags were unwieldy, uncomfortable, bulbous and heavy. Our task was to put these monstrosities on our backs and carry them five tortuous miles back to the jump base in one hour; the trainers, of course, slipped rocks into everyone’s bag.
When the sick scientist heard the Skyhook plan, he said, “You’re gonna get me out of here, how?!? No way am I leaving like that!”
Well…the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes turn to rat #$%& !
I was mistaken in my initial opinion of her. Tikina finished the school perfectly well and turned out to be the best female jumper in forest aviation.
In the fall of 1939 a group of "barnstormers" dropped into timbered areas near Winthrop, Washington to determine the feasibility of dropping firefighters by parachute to combat forest fires. The experiment proved successful and the program continued in 1940.
My heart began to burst from the realization of my own weakness and helplessness, from my inability to do what seemed necessary: to get to the fire faster, encourage the people, to give them help.
In Part One (April 2009) Makeev told of his efforts to develop a smokejumper program in the Soviet Union in 1934 and to convince the Head of Forest Protection that it could be done safely and effectively. The project was approved for further experimentation in 1935. In spite of negative reports from his superiors, Makeev was given approval to further develop the smokejumper program in 1936. Thanks to Bruce Ford (MSO-75) and Tony Pastro (FBX-77) for their translation of this historic document.
I remember that with pleasure I let go with my tired left hand and then came to my senses hanging by the risers of an open parachute in full silence and solitude in the midst of the sky's expanse. The wind rocked me strongly. I flew over the aerodrome. This minute of parachute descent was one of the happiest of my life.
In the fall of 1971 the North Vietnamese Army launched a full-scale attack on all the fire bases. I had a chance to talk to Jerry Daniels (MSO-58) at Long Tieng. He said, "We aren't making it down here. I don't think we can hold out much longer. If it goes bad, I'm going to have to walk out of here." I would never see Jerry again.
Cave Junction seemed like the Camelot of smokejumping. It was a classy place with lots of big trees.
Many did not believe that Jerry Daniels was dead. They wanted to believe that he was off on another assignment and that this was only a cover.
The following account of a tragic plane crash is an excerpt from the personal journal of Doug Baird written during his rookie year at NCSB.
After reading the critical comments by Gene DeBruin's family, it is clear that Werner Herzog went beyond the bounds of "literary license" into what amounts to mean fiction.
He entered the army as a paratrooper at sixteen, as he was big for his age and had documents saying he was older.
One historic mission that Fred flew was the dropping of the 101st Airborne troops at 0115 on D-Day the 6th of June, 1944.
Troop, Jerry and The Pirates vs. Chinese Slave Traders
Veteran smokejumper Yuri Yushkov first strapped on a parachute at age 18 in 1943 as war raged against the invading Nazis.
Out of the 6,000 dropped, "Only a handful of us survived."
Arriving at an intersection of several trails, I checked to make sure it was clear and started to run across the clearing. Halfway across I heard someone yelling, "Yute, Yute!" I turned my head and met the cold steel gaze of an M-1 rifle, pointed at my face."
I climbed out first, followed by the others. The guard was still snoring loudly. I moved to the outside fence, pulled in wide enough to squeeze through and signaled for my friends to follow.
At its height, AFPS was the largest aerial fire service in the world, employing thousands of smokejumpers and rappellers and hundreds of aircraft. Its history parallels and often anticipates developments in the West.
An Interview With Stewart S. "Lloyd" Johnson (McCall '43)
Queuing up to the door of an airplane is all in a day's work for a smokejumper. But it's January and minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The jumpers in front of you are 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls, many on their first jump. The 17-year-olds already have several jumps under their belts and sit nonchalantly waiting their turns. That's because this is Russia, and being tough is all part of growing up.
Because the smokejumpers represented the most advanced parachute technology in the world at that time, with elite men like Jim Waite (MSO-40) and Frank Derry (MSO-40) pushing the state of the art with their innovations, the CIA turned to the smokejumpers for help with a secret mission after the war.
Former Jumper Made History Aboard Apollo 14
The pilots spoke of colleagues who had vanished into the highly classified operation codenamed the 'Steve Canyon Program.' Insiders who worked with them knew these pilots as the Ravens.
As the war dragged on, so the myth grew. Apparently, there was another war even nastier than the one in Vietnam. The men who chose to fight in it were handpicked volunteers, and anyone accepted for a tour seemed to disappear as if from the face of the earth.
"I was wounded February 14, 1971, at General Vang Pao's secret base, known as Long Tieng, or Lima Site 20A. I always felt it was a Valentine's gift from Ho Chi Minh."
Lt. Sisler realized that two of his [men] had been wounded and left behind. Racing back alone into the jungle, Sisler picked up one man and was running with him when the NVA launched a second assault, headed directly for him.
Tackling the West Ridge was an enormous undertaking. Dodging avalanches and contending with 100-mph winds, the climbers set up camp at a biologically brutalizing 27,250 feet.
A member of the first smokejumper force in 1940, Jim "Smokey" Alexander is a true pioneer. Alexander recently sat down with James Budenholzer (Missoula '73) to share his recollections of that first season—and what it was like to make history.
I was kind of wild then and often had one wheel spinning loose in the sand. I guess I was telling myself to get serious. Somebody took a picture while all that was in my head, capturing what, for me, was an important moment in time.
The enemy was at the gates and thousands of Hmong expected to leave, a repeat of Vietnam the month before. By every account, Jerry was the glue that held things together until the final bitter moments when he and Vang Pao had to pull the plug...On the last airplane out of Sky, Hog broke out a case of Olympia - a true blue smokejumper.
One of my fellow jumpers was a Southern California boy. He had a can of Spaghetti-O's and was in the process of eating them with a plastic spoon, when in walked a young native man armed with a lever-action 30-30 rifle.
True ecologists and proponents of chaos theory will say everything and everyone is connected. With a gentle half-smile, they will explain how the slight air movements made by the flitting wings of a butterfly in China will have effects around the globe. Pondering such fundamental connections, I know with certainty that a man I never met influenced the course of my life.
In the following interview with John Maclean, NSA Historian, Steve Smith talked with Maclean about the October 28th History Channel special, which is not to be missed.
As we all know - one of the more enjoyable sports pursued by second-year and older jumpers is badgering new jumper candidates (NEDS). Scare stories of all types are passed around. Most of these stories center around various types of parachute malfunctions all the way from line-overs (Mae West's) to full blown streamers, etc.
Everyone was invited! If you didn't make it, you missed one hell of a good time. On December 7th and 8th the women of smokejumping, their friends and families came together in Sun Valley, Idaho for their 20th reunion.
I woke up this morning at 6:30, looking forward to my first day of Rookie Training at the California Smokejumper base in Redding, Calif. I didn't get much in the way of sleep last night, mostly tossing, turning and second guessing.
"Get Ready!" The spotter's hand came down on Dave's shoulder and he threw himself into the wind stream. Seconds later he pulled the green handle from his harness, sending his parachute to the sky with a loud crack.
The armed man had not seen Ridgway come down the staircase behind him. Operating under the premise that it was a military coup, Jack retreated quietly up the staircase to the flight deck where he opened one of the cockpit hatches to see if there were any vehicles and activity by the military. There was no activity on the ground outside the 747!
On July 27, 1996, I made my 37th jump on a fire in Northern California that turned out to be my last as a smokejumper. This 52-second ride should have put me in a pine box six feet under.
We all made it to the ground except Bill Weaver. Bill had a Mae West and had to deploy his reserve. Naturally he landed in the top of one of those huge sugar pines.
A little voice told him things were not right when the spotter said, "Oh, just spot yourself." Maybe we weren't supposed to hear that but we did, and it definitely gave us all pause to think.
When we arrived at Missoula, we were trucked to Nine Mile Camp and joined a large group of trainees in what looked like Civilian Conservation Corps barracks. Most were vets, many from airborne outfits.
Streamers indicated no more than a breeze, but when I went out, a strong wind took my chute at a 90 degree angle from the ridge and away from the fire. For the first and only time, I pulled down lines on one side until my canopy collapsed, then fell free for about 1,000 feet.
There was a time when certain jumpers coming back in the spring for another fire season were greeted with, "Where ya been? Secret mission for the CIA?"
Remarks of Keynote Speaker Bob Sallee, last living survivor of the Mann Gulch Fire, at the 50th anniversary of that fire, commemorated on the Helena, Mont. Capitol lawn, August 5, 1999
The idea of conscientious objectors serving as smokejumpers was suggested by a young man named Phil Stanley, a Quaker.
At the start of the war, upon reading that the pool of forest fire fighters was drying up, he wrote to the Forest Service suggesting that the men of CPS be given an opportunity to do this work.
They report to Spring Training, ready to take part in the conditioning and drills that will prepare them for another season. The winter break has allowed them more time to spend with those closest to them. Each knows too well that during the heat of the summer time comes sparingly, and in miserly small amounts. The break has also given them a chance to get stronger, and to heal some of the small, yet nagging injuries that were suffered the year before. They have dissipated in the off-season, like smoke in the swirling wind, exploring, exploring...
It was at this point he realized his addiction with fire. As strong as any compulsion for gambling or alcohol, he needed fire, and only by being away from it did he realize just how powerful this need really was.
Jimmy's idea of a good deal was rolling down the road in his Mercury convertible to pester the waitresses at the Beacon Coffee Shop in Alturas after the jump season was over in Alaska.
They stand out, not due to their strength in numbers, but rather, just the opposite, because of their rarity within the smokejumper group as a whole.
Many smokejumpers and pilots do not know that Canadian Smokejumper history dates back to days at Prince Albert, Saskatchewan , around 1942-1949, and that those Canadian jumpers trained at Missoula.
The criteria for an "approved" smokejumper aircraft were developed and are maintained by the Smokejumper Aircraft Screening and Evaluation Board (SASEB).
Willi's great love was mountaineering. At the age of 12 he was climbing mountains and through 1946 had scaled peaks in the Washington and Oregon Cascades, Yosemite Valley and the Tetons.
the Smokejumper project was first developed at Winthrop, Washington (Region 6) in the autumn of 1939. Still, I believe that the Smokejumpers were born through tragedy on a hot August day in 1937 near a stream called Blackwater.
At that point, I turned the canopy, facing the direction I was being blown and drifted over the power line. Then I noticed a big picture window ahead of me, coming up fast.
The other twelve jumpers had been "gridding" the area where Davis' tracks were last seen. An unusual incident occurred when the second campfire Davis had set was found on a Saturday night by search hounds. The man's shirt, a glove and his gun were located.
He had visions of a fireball and became convinced that they were all going to die momentarily. He remembers thinking, "I really don't want to die today." He had to get out of the Volpar! With all of his will racing overtime he still was welded, unmovable, in the doorway. Staying in the plane would be suicide, but if he could jump, did he have enough altitude, would he miss the propellers? What about their airspeed later determined to be 140-150 knots at the time?
Several people at homesteads along the Middle Fork of the Salmon River saw the B-17 flying along erratically, with lights on-not knowing that the crew had left it some time earlier.
He said that many of the Mongolian jumpers had at least 800 parachute jumps to their credit--many of them free falls performed during non-duty time.
We received an urgent message at 2100 hrs. from dispatch that a search plan was in place. The plan called for "Fixed wing at 0600, choppers at 0700, and search dogs at 1000 hrs.
Asa Mundell, MSO 43, published a book in 1993 with the title Static Lines and Canopies. Stories from the Smokeiumpers in Civilian Public Service Camp No. 103, Missoula, Montana 1943. 1944, and 1945. Asa gave us permission to reproduce one of those stories concerning Earl Schmidt. Asa lives at Beaverton, Oregon.
On the day of the crash, Greg's wife had told him to take some leave time. She had had a dream about a plane crash, but the plane didn't bum. In her dream she had called repeatedly, "No fire, no fire, no fire." . And in her dream she had put the fire out.
I adjusted the headphones and picked up the radio's microphone to call the dispatcher. We were passing through an altitude of 400 feet as I depressed the button and started to speak. It was then that the engine quit!
I realized there would be a need for helicopter evacuation a I remember turning to the new dispatcher and saying, "Don't ever blow the whistle unless you have a confirmed request. However, I'm going to break that rule because our jumpers and pilots are leaving the base and I know YNP's second helicopter isn't in place for its contract."
Dr. Martin had trained at Missoula under Frank Derry and had also taken some training in parachuting at Moose Creek in the Nez Perce National Forest. He was not a smokejumper, but had taken parachute training on his own so as to be jump-qualified for rescue operations. (Medical journals in the United States referred to him as the only "Jump Doctor" in the nation at that time.)
She also said that one of the biggest thrills in jumping is during the first few seconds out of the door of an aircraft, a time of free fall, and a sort of out-of-control feeling, and then the opening of the chute, followed by the challenge of getting down to the jump spot.
A unit officer, now-retired Lt. Col. Bradley Biggs, recalls the mission, dubbed by the War Department "Operation Firefly."
The first Smokejumper fatality in the history of this elite organization did not take place at Mann Gulch north of Helena, Montana on August 5, 1949. Instead, the scene was in the Payette National Forest of Idaho.
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