I really did not want to go to Burnt Tree. The logistics and timing were going to be painful and I was required to wear closed toed shoes. Furthermore, I had no connection to Colorado, or so I thought.
My then fiancé, Danielle, and I flew into Denver at an unreasonable hour, drove through the night, racked out at a Motel 5.5 for barely 2 hours, showered and shaved (not really sure why), and drove to the rally point. As much as I wanted to be a CrankBot (cranky robot), it’s hard to be negative when you are surrounded by the power of the landscape. Colorado is almost as beautiful as Connecticut. It has a majestic, eat-you-up kind of landscape. It is even more difficult to be sour when you’re en route to get dirty with fellow Greyshirts.
As we were driving, I reflected on how my greyshirt hadn’t seen dirt in two years and how Danielle had never seen dirt in her life. Part of me was apprehensive, and the other part of me was genuinely excited to get out there and get sweaty. By the end, we were grateful that we had gone north to work alongside the community of Greyshirts in Region VIII.
It always amazes me how wherever TR is, it feels like home. We were greeted with enthusiastic smiles and mandatory TR hugs from Ryan and Ann before being promptly led to the supply point where we were issued our gear. I forgot my cool guy sunglasses, so I had to rock the snoring safety glasses. Danielle was aghast when she discovered her giant hair bow did not fit under her helmet and that pink work gloves were not an option. (Mike, when do TR hair bows hit the store?).
I was assigned to Jordon’s strike team, and we didn’t speak much because we were constantly heaving debris into the chipper, but it was good to be toiling alongside him again. Two years ago, Jordon and I first worked together on Operation Humble Trooper in Pateros, Washington. Just as he did in Pateros, he ensured his team was taking breaks and staying hydrated. It is the simple but meaningful demonstrations of caring for others that make for great leaders.
Later in the day, Jonas, who I call The Short Handled Sledgehammer, and I met up by the wood chipper. He and I hadn’t sweated this much together since we paddled a canoe in Hawaii. He probably won’t admit it, but I remember telling him then that he should apply to be the Region VIII Administrator because we needed a leader like him. It was special to sweat and swear with him in his home state.
Lisa, who hustled with me at the Student Veterans of America National Conference last year and helped deploy our team to Operation Tenzing in Nepal, greeted us at breakfast sporting the most American T-shirt I have ever seen, the iconic Region I T-shirt. It was moving to see her with her hometown team and we felt instantly welcomed.
Nicole, who used to work in the office next to me in LA and then later deployed to Pateros, WA with me, was also there. Even though we work together every day, meeting up in Colorado was different. It really hit me when we were sipping on suds at the end of the day, planning how TR will bridge the next gap. She always challenges me to push my ideas to the limit and after a day’s work in the field, I was reminded of the reason why I spend the majority of my day with my nose to a screen – this community of Greyshirts that helps people when they need it most.
Then there was Jesse, a stoic example of quiet leadership and professionalism, who promptly reminded the Operations Section Chief that I was Sawyer-1 qualified and I needed some more saw time. I resisted and offered every excuse including, “I do not own a sqrench.” He was not convinced. My concern was that I would be seen as taking the easy route by running a saw instead of hauling debris by hand up and down that mountain at altitude.
I used to think the Sawyers were the ones skating, ditching the heavy lifting and always taking a knee to do maintenance. Joke was on me. After about five minutes running the saw, I was certain I was going to collapse from exhaustion.
Jesse has the patience of a seasoned school teacher. With every failed attempt to start the saw, he would lend a hand. With every safety violation, he turned it into a teachable moment. With every failed attempt to fell a tree, he asked me what I could do better and what I learned. He also enjoyed allowing me to learn most lessons about cut angle and other cut tactics the hard way. What made this experience even more meaningful was that two years ago Jesse and I worked together, albeit remotely, building the foundations of Roll Call. He is now building the foundations of our chainsaw capability.
Throughout the day, in between work orders and water breaks, we met the rest of the team: Lex, Madeleine, Jon, Mike Lloyd, Duane, Skip and Ryan, all of whom I had only worked with via email previously and all of whom turned out to be mountains of characters, with leadership as captivating as the Rado terrain.
These bonds matter. I did not even need a Rip-it to keep my blood pumping with this crew. We are building an institution. We have serious human capital. We routinely ask one another to push further, dig deeper, and innovate quicker. So often we work together isolated in our homes, coffee shops, or libraries. Getting out there makes it real. Paths may only cross electronically, or if we are fortunate, in person a few times a year, but we are forging relationships over hard work, real impact, and seemingly impossible tasks. The bond of shared sweaty toil strengthens these social connections.
Our network of do-gooders, humanitarians, and hard-chargers is one of our most unique and captivating strengths. Within the TRibe, our lives align over helping a community overcome its worst days.
Everyday more join our TRibe, making us stronger, more capable and more connected. Whether you sweat in the field or stare down a screen, as long as you are willing to wear our sacred X, we’ll pull you into the Grey.
The day was hot, the mountain was high, and that chainsaw was really heavy. If you have not shoved wood into a chipper with TR you need to give it a whirl. It is loud and so satisfying that you look for other things to toss in it. When the recipient of our labor stopped by our work site to express gratitude for our labor and described why our work mattered, the pain in my feet, legs, back, hands, arms and neck dissipated. You know that tingly feeling we get when see a photo of the team on a deployment? That feeling came back at Burnt Tree. It felt good and it is addicting.
Get a glimpse of the action on Burnt Tree.