This Reflecting with Ranger Rick blog was written by CSM (Ret) Rick Lamb, the Director of Government Relations for the Global SOF Foundation.
18 Years Since 9/11
Over eighteen years have passed since the attacks on September 11, 2001, and much has changed in the public space. The solidarity we felt as a Nation and the respect we garnered for the police and firefighters who rushed into danger to save their fellow citizens has waned. The air of patriotism in music and film, the respect and prominent display of the U.S. flag, and even an uptick in military recruitment with a desire to serve, has been replaced by cynicism and a culture of petty grievance that searches out the slightest offense.
Much of the Nation has gone back to their everyday lives, seldom thinking of the over 170,000 U.S. troops deployed in over 150 countries around the world in a concerted effort to keep the homeland safe and prosperous. As the U.S. combat deaths in Afghanistan hit their highest level in over five years, the names of the fallen went largely unnoticed except by families and friends who are now forever changed by their absence.
But there are still pockets of compatriots who refuse to become self-absorbed and obtuse. I recently had the honor of attending a workshop at the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Withlacoochee Training Center (WTC) near Brooksville. The WTC was created by the Florida Legislature in 1999 to provide training to the public and private sector in forest resource management and wildfire management.
Remembrance Wall and Walkway in Withlacoochee
Located in the Withlacoochee State Forest, the training center is an idyllic collection of cabins and classrooms augmented by a large dining facility, outdoor fire pit, and covered meeting spaces. Central to the WTC is a “Remembrance Wall and Walkway” dedicated to the Florida Forest Service (FFS) Rangers and Firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty, protecting this beautiful natural resource– and the people and animals that call it home.
The FFS consists of more than 1,250 dedicated employees with the mission to protect and manage the forest resources of Florida. A challenging job on any given day, I met consummate professionals dedicated to ensuring that future generations can enjoy the natural beauty of this state. Wildfire prevention and suppression are key components of their efforts to protect homeowners and the general public from the threat of death and catastrophic loss. They had the predictable “swagger” of men and women who put themselves in harm’s way. I was humbled at how similar the culture is among the police, firefighters, and the military, all of whom have duty descriptions that involve risking their lives in defense of others.
In addition to managing over one million acres of state forests for multiple public uses including timber, recreation and wildlife habitat, they also provide services to landowners throughout the state with technical information and grant programs implemented by a Field Operations Staff consisting of 15 Field Units across the state. Field personnel and equipment provide a comprehensive and responsive approach to land management and wildfire control statewide.
Operation Outdoor Freedom
Working in concert with the state Field Units is “Operation Outdoor Freedom.” Supported by Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nicole “Nikki” Fried, Operation Outdoor Freedom provides wounded veterans with the outdoor activities they enjoy at no cost. Designated state and agricultural lands throughout Florida grant these veterans unique opportunities for recreation and rehabilitation.
The impact of these opportunities cannot be understated! Operation Outdoor Freedom has been called “life changing”, and credited by veterans with saving lives and restoring purpose. Many veterans I spoke to referred to the liberating feeling of being out in nature, with the opportunity to commune around a fire pit with the Tribe, tell a few cathartic war stories, and watch some “Ranger Television” also known as staring aimlessly into a campfire.
This is more important than one might think. Less than one percent of the U.S. population will serve in the military, and of that population, over 80 percent are from the same military families. They are the Nation’s Warrior Caste. Faced with seemingly never-ending conflicts, our veteran ranks are filled with Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines who have never known a time of peace.
Their attempts to re-integrate back into the population are often hampered by a seemingly ungrateful nation, inane or openly hostile towards their values, and filled with fellow citizens who can’t relate to their life experiences and sacrifice. In extreme cases, the veterans feel betrayed and lose their sense of purpose. They struggle with a sense of not-belonging, with a lack of comradery and shared hardship that kept them grounded while in the military. Many veterans suffer from depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, or traumatic brain injury. These co-occurring maladies, if not treated, may lead to substance abuse and high incidences of suicide. We lose approximately 20 veterans a day to suicide, and roughly 11 percent of the homeless population in the United States is made up of veterans.
The Florida Forest Service and Department of Agriculture have provided hundreds of veterans with the “Operation Outdoor Freedom” experience, and Commissioner Fried encourages veterans who qualify to register for upcoming events. It was my honor to walk among stalwart professionals with passion and commitment, dedicated to something greater than themselves. It was contagious. Mr. David Hunt, hanks for the invitation and all that you do for veterans!
Supporting this Veteran Program
If you’re a veteran and want to participate in an Operation Outdoor Freedom event, click here: https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service/Recreation/Operation-Outdoor-Freedom
If you’re a veteran and interested in finding a purpose and joining the Florida Forest Service Team, visit their website at: https://www.freshfromflorida.com/Divisions-Offices/Florida-Forest-Service and click on the Career Opportunities Tab.
If you’re a veteran still pondering the meaning of life…find someone from your Tribe…and get after it!