KALISPEL INDIAN RESERVATION, Wash. – For the Soldiers of Task
Force First Round, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, being selected
to help suppress wildfires would be a task few ever thought they
would be called to tackle, but for one Soldier, it would be a chance
to apply skills learned in what seems like another life.
Ashley Thorton, a Soldier assigned to crew 10, strike team 4, Task
Force First Round, sees this mission as an opportunity to give back
to the community, learn and share his knowledge with his fellow
Soldiers, during the month-long tasking of suppressing fires
affecting Northeastern Washington.
Spc. Ashley Thorton, a native of Savannah, Ga. and a Soldier assigned to Task Force First Round, out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, breaks up hot ground as part of wildfire suppression operations being conducted in the Colville National Forest, Washington, Aug. 29. 2015. Thorton, a prior firefighter, joined the Army at the age of 37 after deciding he needed a challenge in his life. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch)
“I spent seven years as an industrial firefighter and I
volunteer sometimes back in my community, so I do have a
background of what fire does and what it takes to be a
firefighter,” said Thorton, a native of Savannah, Georgia.
“It's mentally and physically exhausting and becoming a
Soldier after that, they kind of meld together.”
Thorton is not like the typical Soldier, who joins the Army
either straight of out high school or in their early
twenties, as he has worked in a paper mill, dealt with
communications equipment and even was a mechanic, and
finally joined at the age of 37.
“I needed a
challenge,” he said. “I worked in a paper mill where it was
very exciting, dangerous work, but it was the same routine
everyday for 13 years and I needed a challenge. I paid all
my bills off, I joined the Army and I haven't looked back.
It has been five years of a glorious experience.
Adding to that experience has been the chance to support the
community of Northeastern Washington.
“One of our
first missions was to protect a small neighborhood,” said
Thorton. “When you actually see somebody's home and you
notice you are doing something to protect that, and you get
the people coming out to thank you for it, it it's an honor
for one, and two, you get to see the impact you are making.”
Following the support to community, Thornton, along with
the other 19 Soldiers assigned to his crew, was tasked to
help directly and indirectly suppress the fires and that is
where he started to apply knowledge from his past.
“What I have learned in the past are the fundamentals of
fire safety,” said Thorton. “Never let the fire get behind
you, watch your footing, how to handle a hose and the tools,
and then just fire behavior. What it needs to burn, what the
winds are going to do to it, how the weather affects fire
and all of that is coming home now because this is a brand
new ballgame for me, being out in the forest, but in a way
it is the same.”
While he is pulling on his knowledge
from previous experiences, he knows to approach this
situation as though he is a novice.
structure fire in a house or building is calculated,” he
said. “You see where the fire is contained, you go into the
building and put the fire out. Being out in the forest, it
is completely different. The wind, at any moment, can change
the direction of the fire. It can change its intensity and
then you find yourself in a bad situation. You are
constantly looking out for what's above your head, what's
around you, different escape routes, who's where and if they
are in a bad position.”
For Thorton, the easiest way
to explain the differences between wildfires and a house
fire is simple.
“It is a lot more dangerous,” said he
said. “You can just walk out of a house if it is on fire and
here you can't walk out.”
As dangerous as Thorton
says the wildfires can be, he is sure to lean on the
knowledge and experiences of the leadership out there with
him, both military and civilian.
“The key thing I
look at everyday is the leadership we have. Not just from
the military leaders but the military advisors and the
forest service too,” said Thorton. “It's a great group. They
are the professionals so we look to them as we are children
not knowing anything. We lean on them for everything. We
bring a lot of what we know in the military to here. I think
both sides are learning a lot from each other.”
leadership echoed how Thorton is not letting his previous
experience as a firefighter stop him from learning.
“We all came in knowing specialist Throrton's background,
said Capt. Ghee Ahn, a native of Seoul, South Korea and a
crew nine team lead assigned to Task Force First Round. “He
wanted to be in a learners mindset coming out here and that
has actually helped establish the chain of command that we
have within the ranks. Specialist Thorton has given us a lot
of great input through after action reviews and from there
we have learned tremendously thought the days.”
this tasking will only last approximately two more weeks,
Thorton plans to get all he can out of it.
“This is a
great experience for me,” he said. “I get to help the
community it's a different environment for me and I'm
learning an immense amount of knowledge.”
By U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Andrew Porch
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