Air Force unit partners with Forest Service to share best practices, improve training

  • Published
  • By Melissa Buckley

Fort Leonard Wood’s Air Force 368th Training Squadron is sharing aspects of their unique training on post with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service — skills members from the Mark Twain National Forest Service are hoping will help them improve the work they do on Missouri’s protected lands.

Juan Alvarez, an engineer intern in the Department of Defense SkillBridge program, has been working with the Mark Twain National Forest Service for the past three months. He is retiring from the Air Force after 27 years of service as a civil engineer.

“The Mark Twain National Forest Service is responsible for approximately 2,300 miles of forest system roads. These roads are used for management of the forest, and that also includes timber harvest, recreation and emergency response. Our equipment operators are outstanding at cutting through fire breaks during fire season. We want to provide (Forest Service personnel) additional skill sets that will capitalize on their experience but also enable them to better maintain our roads when they are not fighting fires,” Alvarez said. “Our ultimate goal is to develop some type of interagency training opportunities for our Forest Service equipment operators.”

Alvarez, along with five other visitors from the Forest Service, spent the afternoon of Oct. 18 touring the Air Force schools at Training Area 244. He said the interagency partnership between the Air Force and the Forest Service is beneficial for both agencies, “to learn from one another.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Carlson, 368th TRS commander, agreed.

“As the Air Force transforms technical training, we are exploring opportunities in the private sector and with interagency partners to conduct training and share lessons learned and best practices,” Carlson said. “Today’s visit from the Mark Twain National Forest Service enabled our squadron to showcase how we develop novice Airmen into effective equipment operators and engineering assistants, as well as identify similar skills required by both Air Force and Forest Service personnel.”

While at TA 244, squadron subject matter experts provided their visitors with an overview of heavy equipment operator training.

“We focused on excavators, bulldozers and graders, as these are key pieces of equipment used by the Forest Service for road and fire break construction, as well as maintenance,” Carlson said. “The visit ended at Brown Hall, where we discussed the training of our engineer assistants, focusing on drafting, computer-aided drafting and survey.”

According to Carlson, Air Force civil engineers network with interagency partners due to land use agreements and certain military mission sets.

“In a resource-constrained environment, government agencies with shared equities or similar capabilities can collaborate with Department of Defense partners to realize efficiencies,” Carlson said. “The Mark Twain National Forest Service maintains over 1 million acres of public land and has the potential to support training and exercises, in addition to what Fort Leonard Wood provides. This networking also exposes our military members to the availability of jobs after military service.”

Much like the SkillBridge program did for Alvarez, through this partnership, he said the Forest Service plans to, “highlight the vast number of employment opportunities for retiring or separating military members.”

“Our next step would be to host the 368th Training Squadron at the Mark Twain National Forest and take them out into the forest, so they can see firsthand our system roads,” Alvarez said.

Carlson said he is looking forward to visiting the Mark Twain National Forest and, “hopefully open the door to further collaboration.”