news and events » smokejumper magazine

Smokejumper Magazine Header

Smokejumper Magazine Article

return to Smokejumper Magazine

Have Smokejumper Magazine delivered to you with an NSA Membership

Rookie Training 2001-Day by Day

by Michael Blinn (Redding '01) |

Day 1-All business, all PT
April 23, 2001

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. We walked over to the base at 0800. For those of us who didn't show up early, this was our first introduction to the base. The first order of business was our introduction to the base manager, Arlen Cravens. He seems like a no-nonsense sort of guy, intense and businesslike. Josh Mathiesen, the trainer who called me at home to check on my physical training (PT) progress was introduced to us as well. He seems like a straightforward character. Talking to the guys who came down earlier, I got a pretty good idea of what he's about. All business, all PT. He said the same thing to us as a group that he had told me on the phone. "This is not a mistake. You guys are here for a reason." After all the questions were answered, we went to do our PT test at Shasta College. It went well, with the exception of my pull-ups. When they say go all the way down, they mean all the way down!

We were issued our gear this afternoon. It was a strange feeling putting on jump gear. It started to sink in that I'm about to begin something I've dreamed about for a long time. No matter how much trash people talk about jumpers when we were in different capacities as firefighters, this is the pinnacle, the place most of us wanted to get. It is hot down here, a factor that Montana did not prepare me for. It was in the 30 to 40 degree range and snowing when I left Bozeman. It's 80 to 90 degrees down here. The heat is going to add difficulty to this training. The rookie class seems strong and there are a couple of guys from the Idaho-Montana area. I'm glad that Kyle Dornberger is here with me; it's good to have a partner from my old crew. It's only going to get harder and hotter, and I think camaraderie will be an asset that will become indispensable.

Day 2-I tried to throw in the towel!

Today we put our issued gear into use for the first time as we were introduced to the "units" and the obstacle course. This is the training ground for smokejumpers. Each facet of the units prepares you for a different aspect of the job. The Mutilator works on PLFs (Parachute Landing Falls), the tower works on your exits, and there is a letdown station where you learn how to rappel out of trees if you happen to "tree up" on a jump. The O-course is a series of exercises consisting of a gravel pit, PLF ramps, exit ramps, rope climb and monkey bars. Agility, strength and repetition are stressed in order to further prepare us for smokejumping. We thought we were pretty cool yesterday when we first put on our jumpsuits. Today we were HOT when we suited up outside. The units went all right. I hope to excel in this area. I am not the strongest guy here, so the technical aspect is very important.

We went for an afternoon run of five miles after the units. When I got back to the base, I felt dizzy and disoriented. When I tried to walk back to the barracks I was staggering and felt like I was going to pass out. In the locker room I tried to throw in the towel, but my rookie bros wouldn't let me. They gave me water and Gookin-Aid until I got my wits about me. Afterward I felt I had let the guys down, but they assured me we'd make it through.

I probably singled myself out a bit by tipping over on the second day so I'll have to get on top of my game tomorrow. I can't imagine going home and telling people I couldn't hack it. We've already lost one guy to blisters on the bottoms of his feet. This is definitely going to be a war of attrition, requiring as much mental toughness as physical exertion.

Day 3-My body hasn't acclimated to the heat here

This morning on the units I overheated again. I'm still behind the hydration curve and my body hasn't acclimated to the heat here. If I can't get it together soon, I'm sure they'll wash me out. On the O-Course this morning I ripped three calluses off each hand on the monkey bars. They didn't seem to hurt that bad on the next couple of trips through the course. Others did the same thing, so we are going to tape our hands up tomorrow. Two more guys dropped out today during the units. I'm not sure if it was because of injury or other reasons, but whatever the case, it was their decision. Although I don't feel 100 percent, I will not quit.

I felt better on the afternoon run today, and I'm drinking water constantly. Hydration is the key to making it through this training. After work most of us went to the Olive Garden for dinner. The intensity of this experience forms fast friendships. We all look a bit haggard, but people still joke around a lot.

Day 4-I feel like they're expecting me to throw in the towel

The heat wasn't as much of a factor today. I had to take my helmet off for a bit during exits but I made it through all the phases. At the pace I've been drinking water, I think I'm finally rehydrated. My body is starting to realize that I'm not just here for a couple of days. If I so much as step outside, I start sweating. I cannot believe how hot it is! My trouble with the heat has caused me to focus mentally. I feel like people are watching me, expecting me to throw in the towel. That adds to my resolve and makes me push myself a little harder. The trainers act disappointed in our performance, and I can't tell whether it is an act or not. Regardless, I'll give it all I have. It's their job to train us and our job to learn. You can't dislike someone for doing his or her job.

The double PT sessions are tough. Sometimes it seems like I'm getting stronger, other times I feel weak. We run in the morning and do calisthenics in the afternoon, or vice versa, depending on which group you are in. We are split into two groups due to the large size of our class. One group does units in the morning and classroom in the afternoon, the other half does the opposite.

Day 5-Tree-climbing is another challenge

I have completed the first week of rookie training, an accomplishment in itself. Today was our introduction to tree climbing. We arrived at work an hour early to take the classroom portion of the course. Then we went to Crystal Creek to test out our new-found knowledge. In theory it doesn't seem like a difficult concept. It turned out to be a totally different story when I put on the spurs. To make a long, sad story short, I am less than proficient at the western roll, I am not fond of heights when relying on a seemingly unsecured rope for safety and I am slower than death when climbing. Yet another challenge in the road to becoming a smokejumper.

Our run was at the project site today which was a nice change of pace. It was much cooler in the hills and we were running on dirt. It actually began to rain a little bit while we were running. Although I might complain if that happens in July, it was a Godsend today. Tonight all the rooks are headed out together to get a steak somewhere and maybe, just maybe, a beer.

Day 6-Redding seems like a Southern town

The weekend of rest helped out a lot. I drank water and rested. Dornberger and I went and checked out Redding. It's not exactly your stereotypical California town. It seems almost Southern. Not Southern California southern. More like Alabama, south of the Mason-Dixon Line southern. The units and PT both went well today. I felt a little more confident in all areas. The only problem of the day was when Tim Lum noticed that I had a shroud-line necklace holding my cross. Apparently it was a safety hazard which he suggested I remove post haste. The urgency of the situation was reinforced with a round of flutter kicks. It would be easier to dislike somebody if they asked you to do flutter kicks, push ups or leg lifts and stood over you, but these guys do them with you. And they smile while they do them.

This afternoon we had a class on parachute manipulation and also got our first turns on the simulator. It seemed awkward and touchy, much the same as learning to drive or fly a plane. I asked the instructor if the resistance on the toggles were similar to that of a real parachute. He smiled and replied, "Gentleman, it doesn't matter. When you jump out of that airplane, you will have the strength borne of desperation." I suppose he was right.

Day 7-Three times around the O

Another good day today. We did three laps on the O-course this morning, followed by a five-mile run. Amongst the rookies our energy seems to ebb and flow. Each day there are a few folks who are down and a few folks who excel. Mentally everyone is on the same page and remaining strong.

I had been having trouble with backwards PLFs until today. It seems I had been throwing my legs the wrong way. That was corrected and now I feel very confident in all aspects of unit training. My hands have healed up so I no longer have to tape them. The heat isn't much of a factor anymore and I am better able to focus on task. We are tentatively scheduled to jump on Thursday. This afternoon Mathiesen gave us a little talk about coming together as a team. He said we still have a million miles to go. I hope we don't have to run all of those.

Day 8-We still have a million miles to go

Today was the last day on the units. In order to jump tomorrow, we had to be all but perfect on the units. Everyone came through all right so it looks like tomorrow will be the big day. I came in early this morning with a couple of other guys to get some extra time on the simulator. That went pretty well. In the afternoon session on the simulator, we had a jump partner which added an element of difficulty. I still felt pretty confident. Looking on the bright side, gravity dictates that if I jump out of the airplane, sooner or later I'll hit Earth. Where is still a question. During one of the simulator sessions, one of the rookie bros was having trouble manipulating. When the instructor asked him what the problem was, he replied, "I had a few drinks on the plane ride." His fellow classmates were asked to leave the room while the instructor had a chat with him.

We're all a little nervous and excited about tomorrow, but everyone is looking forward to jumping. Josh Mathiesen gave us a talk after our run this afternoon. He told us that maintaining a positive attitude was important in the coming weeks, as it was inevitable we would screw up and that the training would continue to get harder. He told us we still have a million miles to go. Apparently we haven't gained much ground in the last week.

Day 9-First jump postponed

We awoke this morning to what seemed like gale-force winds. There was not a cool breeze to be found when we were on the units, but on the day of our first jump it appeared miraculously. Everyone was a little bummed out that our jump was canceled, but we took it in stride. Instead of our first jump, we practiced fire shelter deployment and also discussed different ways to utilize jumpers in fire situations. I am just now realizing how self-sufficient a smokejumper unit is. The varied skills and qualifications that the different personnel in the organization possess make them very useful in a multitude of situations.

The wind didn't subside at all during the day so I hope tomorrow the conditions will improve. We are at the mercy of the wind so I hope Big Ernie reins it in a little tomorrow.

Day 10-I was ready!

We made our first and second jumps today, and it was everything I had expected. On our first jump everything was going according to plan until I got into the door. My stomach was all butterflies as I listened to the briefing from the spotter. The spotter shouted "ON FINAL" and I was totally focused. Just as I anticipated the get-ready call, I was pushed back. Apparently we weren't lined up quite right and were off too much to correct. We went through this scenario twice more, each time my knees grew weaker from the adrenaline pumping through me. As we were getting ready for the fourth pass, Bob Bente tapped me on the shoulder. When I looked at him, he smiled and said, "You know what everyone on the ground is thinking?" I realized that all my rookie bros probably thought I had frozen in the door. For a brief instant I was extremely dissatisfied with the fellas in the front of the plane. On the fourth trip "On Final" was followed by "Get Ready" and then a sharp slap on my shoulder. As I exited the door, I watched my feet rise toward the horizon and felt the snap of the parachute deploying. The sudden total silence and extreme clarity of the canopy against blue sky above me was an unparalleled experience. I'll never forget it. I landed about 30 yards from the panel and had a good PLF. Everyone was hooting and hollering. Those few minutes in the air were worth any amount of PT and units. I caught a little razzing for circling for what seemed like hours, but it didn't matter.

The second jump went well until I prepared to land. I failed to turn into the wind and was running hell bent-for-leather when I hit the ground. I plowed a furrow through the grass and dirt for about 30 feet before I came to a halt. I was told later that it was evident I was not going to land nicely both by my direction of flight and the sheer volume of profanities I was yelling as I shot past the peanut gallery standing on the panel. At least I hit the ground unhurt. Very grass-stained, but unhurt. My dad once told me that when landing a plane, any landing you can walk away from is a good one. The California Smokejumpers don't subscribe to that school of thought.

Day 11-There are several phrases I never want to hear again, and that is one of them

After the three-day weekend I felt well rested, but my scores on the PT test did not reflect this feeling of refreshment. I increased my time on the mile and a half by 10 seconds. I'll have to work harder on my running in order to reach my goals by the end of rookie training. Mathiesen reiterated that we should be "as fresh as daisies after the weekend." There are several phrases I never want to hear again after this is over and that is one of them. We jumped a different spot today with a defined treeline perimeter. The treeline seemed to help me focus on the panel and I landed within about 10 feet of it. We did another jump this afternoon with two-man sticks. It is easier to actually do a two-man stick than to try it on the simulator.

We have come together as a team. Although we are still reminded to stick together by the trainers, I think we are doing well. There are really no cliques, just one cohesive unit. One of the rookies came up with the theory of the "four-second anxiety" this weekend. This deals with the four seconds between exiting the aircraft and the opening of your parachute when you contemplate if proper attention to detail was maintained by the rigger, if you have done right by others in your life, and if not, what exactly you will do to mitigate the ensuing predicament. I prefer to not think about it.

Day 12-The structure is much the same as a Hotshot crew

Started work at 0630 today so we could jump before we did some classroom work. The drift was too great when the spotters threw the streamers so we didn't jump. When we returned to the base, we were shown what goes into the saw boxes, one- and two-man boxes and how to pack them.

We also discussed some of the Region 5 policies that differ from other regions' jump programs. Although our policies are basically the same, some small differences are evident. All of the jumpers here are required to wear California Smokejumper shirts, much the same as a hotshot crew. Other procedural differences make this base a bit more regimented than some other programs. The structure is much the same as a hotshot crew. These differences are to benefit the program in appearance and function. We send more crews out to pounder fires than other bases, so the format helps to retain consistency during those actions.

Day 13-Vigor will be a priority

Today I started at 0630, revisiting the exit tower. Apparently I lacked vigor on my last exit, so the trainers wished to correct this before it became habit. After two exits I was released to return to PT. Personally, I don't think that the problem is a lack of understanding. My guess is that I have not totally overcome the apprehension one experiences when asked to jump out of an inspected and air-worthy airplane. Regardless of the cause for the lack of vigor, I do not want to visit the units again. Vigor will be a priority.

We had an abbreviated S-290 course this morning put on by a gentleman from the weather service upstairs. We also had a leadership course instructed by the Base Manager Arlen Cravens. Arlen still seems to be a bit distant. I don't think he has really warmed up to us yet. We'll grow on him, though.

Day 14-My body has acclimated, making the heat bearable

We jumped again this morning into the same spot we've used for our last couple of jumps. I am becoming comfortable manipulating my chute and I feel ready to try a smaller spot. After our jump, we had a map and compass class taught by Mr. Lum. This course not only covered a lot of the basics, it brought home a very important point: I am not working in familiar country anymore. Before this year, I've been stationed in country that was familiar to me. I had grown up hunting, fishing and flying in the same country. Northern California is a totally new area for me. Map and compass skills will be very handy tools to possess.

The double PT sessions are not dreaded so much now. They have become routine, just another part of the job. My body has acclimated, making the heat bearable. I am grateful for the intensity of the training as it keeps me focused on the task at hand. I don't think about home as much as I would if we had a lot of down time, but I still miss my dog.

Day 15-Who gets married on a Friday?

I woke up this morning a bit early and called my sister. She is getting married today and I was supposed to be the best man in the wedding. I'm glad that I have a family that is supportive and understanding. I am flying up to Seattle to see her tomorrow. It will be nice to see family and friends, but I don't want to lose my focus on the task at hand. I suppose it is kind of selfish to view her wedding as a distraction, but who gets married on a Friday?

We jumped twice today and both went very well. I think our next jump will be into a smaller spot, a challenge I look forward to. When we went over the film of the exits there was one exceptionally dismal example. One of the trainers made the comment that the only way it could have been any worse was if the individual exiting the aircraft would have been sucked back into the plane. Everyone but the guy in question thought the comment very witty.

After our second debriefing, we got into our PT gear for an afternoon run. When we got out to the ramp one of the trainers was holding a large watermelon. We were told we would have to carry the watermelon on our run out to the gate and back, a distance of about five miles. We could choose how we got it there, but it had to be intact when we returned. We chose to do an Indian run, with the front guy carrying the melon. As the guy from the back sprinted up, the melon would be handed off. When we started the run, the melon weighed about 15 pounds. At the turn-around point, it seemed to have gained about five pounds. To complicate matters, the friction coefficient had been affected dramatically by the sweat pouring off us. When we returned to the base, we were presented with the melon and told it was ours to keep. At this juncture the melon had nearly doubled in weight.

One of the rookie bros didn't participate in the "fun run" today. He was instructed to start running before we left and we passed him on the way back. There is some speculation that he had been sand bagging a bit. When we returned to the base for a meeting, he wasn't apologetic or in low spirits. This kind of struck a nerve with a few of the rooks.

Day 16-Small spots, big timber, steep, rocky ... poison oak everywhere

We jumped twice today. The first jump was at a new spot, the focus of the exercise being hillside landings. It seemed easier to get off of your feet on the hillside and I had a good exit and PLF. The second jump was a much smaller spot with tall timber surrounding it. The meadow was wet in spots with a small stream bisecting it. I landed in a muddy area, but at least it was on the ground. Three rookies treed up but everyone made it down safe. One guy was suspended about 30 feet off the ground by a stob that looked none too stable. We ran over to help him out, all noticing at once that he wasn't hung up securely. Everyone began discussing the dire situation, reminding our dangling rookie bro that he could burn out any minute. This conversation apparently became unnerving during the individual's letdown procedure and he rather impolitely asked us to leave. Predicaments of that nature always seem a little more humorous when you are the spectator.

We did our run at the jump spot; a good hill run was a nice break from the drag strip at the base. When we were finished running, Josh had a chat with us. Apparently he had heard some rookies talking about the watermelon run on Friday and how one of our bros hadn't even attempted to participate. Josh said he was furious that we would engage in that type of behavior, reiterating that we had "a million miles to go" to become a team. Although I see where he is coming from, the complaints were not unfounded. I think we are becoming a team, but we need all of our members to participate in order to be our best as a unit.

As we rode home, Josh told us some jump stories. As we rounded a bend in the road, he said "This will be your jump country guys, if you make it. Small spots, big timber, steep, rocky, poison oak everywhere. Every base has its rough jump country, but I'd say overall we have the roughest. I think that's something to be proud of." It was kind of weird, Josh almost appeared human for that instant. It was over in a flash, but I think I saw it.

Day 17-We may have broken the million-mile mark today

We jumped twice again today. The first spot was another hillside landing. PLFs work best if you try to roll down-hill. I learned that the hard way. The second jump was our first three-man stick. I was first out of the door, so the exit was the same as always. Our manipulations went well and the three of us landed where we had planned. After debriefing, we went for an eight-mile run. With a mile left, we stopped. Bob Bente and Josh Mathiesen challenged us to make the last stretch in less than seven minutes. All of us had to finish together. We made it in 6:53. We may have broken the million-mile mark today.

Day 18-I don't trust Mathiesen and Bente as far as I could throw them

We jumped on the Lassen National Forest today, the highest elevation spot yet. I hit near the panel and had a good ride but the elevation definitely makes the ground come up a lot faster. The spot had a layer of volcanic sand over it, so it wasn't as hard. In the afternoon, we jumped the small timbered spot from yesterday. It was a two-person stick affair, which went well.

The routine of rookie training has become like any other job now. When we first started jumping, after the adrenaline wore off, I was beat. I wondered how we were supposed to concentrate on fighting fire after a ride like that. Now, the adrenaline has lessened to a manageable level. I'm getting used to exiting and am better able to concentrate on my counts going out, tightening my body position and doing my manipulation procedures.

Next week is rookie camp. I don't exactly know what to make of the information we're getting. We made our menu this week and they've told us to bring fishing poles. I don't trust Mathiesen and Bente as far as I could throw them, but they seem fairly sincere about the fun we'll have next week. I'm bringing my rod but I still don't know whether we'll use it or not.

Day 19-People are starting to become disgruntled with his performance

Today we jumped the small timbered spot we've been jumping for the last couple of times. After we hit the ground, they did a cargo drop so we could practice cargo retrieval. Although the spot was small, the spotters shouldn't have missed the spot with the boxes they kicked. I don't know how those guys keep their jobs, they didn't make the spot with a single piece. In retrospect, I believe they may have actually been trying to miss.

I volunteered to climb for cargo, as I needed the practice in the tree. I was painfully slow in reaching the cargo although I felt more comfortable than the last time we climbed. The cargo was hung out on a limb a ways from the trunk and I had some trouble retrieving it. By the time I got it and myself down, everyone had gone for a run. Two rooks were left behind with me as they had been in trees as well. We changed into shorts and ran down the road. The others were going to pick us up in the rigs on their way down after the run. The same guy that didn't do the watermelon run opted to just run in his boots rather than change into PT gear. He only ran about 300 yards and then stopped and started walking. I want all of us to make it through this, but I don't know if he'll stick it out. We support him as much as possible but people are starting to become disgruntled with his performance. You can lead a horse to water ... I thought that I might get a talking to for leaving him behind but I'd rather take the consequences than stay with someone who doesn't care about the team.

Day 20-The pines below me were a blur

We made our next to last practice jump today, No. 14. It was out in the Lassen at the same spot we jumped on Wednesday. It was a high wind endeavor and almost everybody ended up going into an alternate spot adjacent to the smaller primary. When we got in the door the spotter was calling 650 yards of drift and smiling. He told us that if we didn't feel like we'd make the little spot, go for the alternate. I took this as a sign that it would be difficult. I was right. Later in debriefing, the spotters told us that there had been more drift than they told us, but they didn't want to scare us. I thought the same as the pines below me were a blur when I headed to the spot. The time elapsed between the "on final" and exiting the aircraft seemed about equal to the time it took us to get from Redding to the spot. Needless to say upon exiting we were hauling ass. It was a good experience as we haven't had a real windy jump before today. One stick made the small spot and both guys had come from the same shot crew. It was mumbled that kind of team work could only be achieved by two fellas that knew each other well.

We did an eight-mile run this afternoon. The whole distance I contemplated next week's rookie camp. The snookies (second-year rookies) assure us that it will be a blast. I don't trust those bastards either. Whatever the challenges, the last four weeks have prepared us mentally and physically. There is a mixture of nerves and anticipation amongst the 17 of us. Although it is all conjecture at this point, there are quite a few theories about the week ahead.

Next week my roommate starts his rookie training at Boise and two members of my old hotshot crew start at Redmond and Missoula. I hope all goes well for them. I'm sure they'll do fine. If all goes as planned, maybe we'll see them on a fire this year.

Days 21-25-A special week in this arduous process of becoming a smokejumper

On Monday we jumped our last practice jump into rookie camp. The following five days were challenging and rewarding. The old guys instructed us on the finer points of tree climbing, land navigation and introduced us to crosscut felling and bucking. This week was a good introduction in the nuts and bolts of the ground operations of smokejumping The training we received in the four weeks leading up to the camp all came together and made a little more sense.

Although training was the emphasis for the five days out in the woods, the most memorable aspects are the traditions of initiation that take place in rookie camp. It isn't a series of harrowing ordeals of physical and mental torture that one might imagine. Each of the traditions are geared toward reflection on the history of this program and the sacrifices each individual has made to become a member of this fraternity. I use that term loosely, recognizing that there are women that are "bros" also. It is a special week in this arduous process of becoming a smokejumper and an experience that we will remember for years to come.

No amount of description can tell what rookie camp means to a prospective jumper.

At one point in rookie camp, I experienced the first glimmer of actual dislike for a trainer. I had climbed about three quarters of the way up an oak when I encountered a swarm of ants making their way up the tree. Several members of the clan made their way into my trousers, shirt, ears and under my hard-hat. I decided to descend rather than brave the insects. During my descent, I got stuck about 40 feet off the ground unable to get my lanyard around the tree. I was suspended by my limb-over trying to puzzle my way out of the dilemma when Bob Bente climbed up the tree beneath me. He paused when he reached my elevation just long enough to inquire about my predicament and ask whether I'd like him to notify the fire department in order to extricate me from the tree. He then continued climbing to investigate the infestation of insects I had discovered at the top. Bob didn't see the ants and climbed back down. Shortly thereafter, I was able to get out of the tree. When I hit the ground, I was not happy with the ants, the instructors, or my situation in general. I sort of wished Bob would effect a disappearance in the same fashion as the ants. While climbing the next tree, I was just glad we had put together such a fine menu and that I had brought my fishing pole.

Day 26-The rookie team prevailed over the instructors

After PT this morning, we had IV training. Each of us had to insert an IV into someone else and in turn have one inserted into us. The course was a total success. No one perforated a vein and no one passed out. One of the rookie bros threatened to pass out or puke but the situation never came to a head. He turned green, then a shade of off-white I've never seen before. His eyes glazed over and became shifty. We thought, and maybe hoped that he would vomit or swoon, but to no avail. He held himself together admirably.

After lunch, we went to do water landing training at Shasta College. Only one fellow had a problem with pool training, becoming a bit claustrophobic when the parachute was placed over him. When he was asked if he was all right, he emitted a nasally whine, followed by a high pitched "nooooo." This fellow had laughed at me several times when I was shaken up climbing trees. I laughed long and loud once he was dragged out of the pool.

At the end of the pool training, we divided up into teams and had a relay race. The winning team was challenged to race against the instructors. With their bros cheering them on, the rookie team prevailed over the instructors.

We drew out for spots on the jump list when we returned home from the pool. I drew No. 1. If all goes well, I could be the first rookie to jump in 2001.

Day 27-Every sacrifice we've made has been worth it

The bulk of the rookie class went on the list today. We started with 22 in the class, 16 of us are on the list now with one still on hold. Throughout the last five weeks there were times when I thought I would never see this day. Now I just have to get a fire jump and I will be a Region 5 Smokejumper. Every sacrifice we've made up to this point has been worth it.

On Father's Day, June 17, 2001, I followed Bob Bente out the door over the Siskiyou Wilderness as the first of the 2001 Region 5 Rookie class to jump a fire. That instant validated the five weeks of rookie training that had proved to be among the most challenging endeavors of my life. On July 10, the last member of our rookie class jumped his first fire. Sixteen of us made it from the beginning of rookie training to our first fire jump. The last to quit did so in early June, apparently finding a better job somewhere else. It must have been one hell of an employment opportunity to surpass this line of work. Very few people are fortunate enough to join the ranks of a brotherhood that possesses such a rich history as does this organization. I thank the Region 5 Smokejumpers for granting me this opportunity and my rookie bros for their support in this undertaking.