|Returning Heroes on a fire assignment this summer. Photo: Lindsey Quam|
In 2014, New Mexico State Forestry launched a program to put returning veterans to work as wildland firefighters. The program continued throughout the 2015 fire season as teams of firefighters launched across the West.
With 30 veterans actively fighting fire, they are contributing to the Cohesive Strategy goal of a safe, effective and more efficient wildfire response.
When they are not fighting fire, the Returning Heroes Program gives vets the opportunity to apply the skills they learned in the military to implementing projects that create more resilient landscapes in New Mexico. At Hyde Memorial State Park near Santa Fe, crews are conducting defensible space fuels reduction and hazardous fuels mitigation. By removing decadent, diseased and insect-infested trees, they are improving forest health while effectively reducing the wildland fire threat within the park and enhancing the scenic beauty of the forested landscape. This work also contributes to the protection of the adjacent Santa Fe River, the primary water source for the City of Santa Fe.
|Returning Heroes reducing fuel loads in New Mexico. Photo: Lindsey Quam|
In addition, program staff participate in Tribal Cultural Competency training to enhance their professional and personal relationships with Tribal entities, allowing for another avenue for Returning Heroes to achieve resilient landscapes, effectively respond to wildfire and help Tribal communities become more fire-adapted.