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.
Spc. 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.
“Fighting a 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.”
The 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.”
As 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
Provided through DVIDS
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