Operation Warrior Sanctuary

Earlier this year, a wonderful thing happened. A generous soul, who wishes to remain anonymous, donated a Montana land lease with a campground and many buildings called Camp Ponderosa, to the Northwest Montana Veteran’s Food Pantry and Standdown organization. It’s located in the beautiful Swan Valley, between Seeley Lake and Condon, and near Flathead Lake and Glacier National Park. The new owners want to make this site into a retreat/conference destination for veteran organizations and other non-profits to use at a minimal cost. But before it can open, it needs some work.

Specifically, fire mitigation. Camp Ponderosa is also an evacuation site for the surrounding community because there is only one way, a two-lane highway, in and out of the Swan Valley. If it’s blocked by fire, residents and visitors need a safety zone. It’s also a potential site for firefighters to camp at and the Red Cross to use as a shelter. It has large buildings and a commercial kitchen but they need some major repairs. There are a lot of people and organizations working really hard to get everything up and running!

Since Team Rubicon excels at fire mitigation, we teamed up with the Veteran’s Food Pantry to run an operation and a sawyer training class. They provided the site and the food, we provided the people and saws. I drove up to the site on Thursday afternoon, after picking up some additional gear at our storage site and one of our Regional Chainsaw Instructors, flying in from NW Washington State. Chuck is a funny and humble soul, and his company made the two-hour drive go by quickly. He’s also an expert sawyer (one of those folks who climbs trees with chainsaws!) and I look forward to learning more from him in the future. Arriving on-site, I set up my tent–I prefer to sleep out when I can–greeted all my old Team Rubicon friends and met many new friends. We had members from eight states (twenty-two or so, plus our mascot, TR Teddy) with six taking the sawyer class, the rest here to work the operation.

On Friday, we split into teams, with Chuck, Nina and myself as Strike Team Leaders, and began the mitigation operation. My day did not get off to an auspicious start–my team had a ton of trouble starting our saw. But we persevered, got the saw to run, and got some brush cleared. When you’re using a chainsaw–a fabulous tool with the potential to cause a lot of damage–getting just a few things done is great day.

The next day, Nina and I taught the classroom portion of the Sawyer 1 class. No matter how experienced you may be with a chainsaw, Team Rubicon requires everyone to go through their training classes. Using a saw in on a disaster ground is very different from using a saw in a ‘clean’ environment, and many Team Rubicon members have never picked up a chainsaw before, so consistent training is key. We had a small but attentive class and I really enjoyed working with all of them. While we were teaching, the rest of the Team Rubicon volunteers continued working on fire mitigation and a few other projects. In addition, Home Depot donated and delivered all the materials needed to create a beautiful fire pit, some replacement doors and windows, and some paint.

On Sunday, our students got to use the skills they’d just learned. Again, we may not have gotten a lot done, but everyone got to put their knowledge into practice. And Team Rubicon has more sawyers who can safely work on disaster grounds, removing woody debris for survivors, helping them recover.

As usual, I had a great time. I got to reconnect with my old friends and meet a bunch of new friends, shared wonderful meals, and slept out under the stars of lovely NW Montana. I look forward to the next operation!

Team Rubicon is still helping survivors in the Bahamas and elsewhere. If you can spare a few credits, please go to https://teamrubiconusa.org/ Thanks!

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