It’s 1200 on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon. I’m traveling the back roads of Eastern Shore Maryland, comprised largely of farmland, historic markers, and serene waterways headed to a 30,000 acre reserve of natural wonders. Arriving early at Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, I’m greeted by a six-member U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) training team along with Jason Ferguson and Terry Harvey – it’s time for Team Rubicon heavy equipment training.
Spending the next four hours in the comforts of the Blackwater training facility, our instructors – led by USFWS National Heavy Equipment Coordinator John Blitch – discussed a multitude of topics including risk management, operator responsibilities, and worksite safety. Time was spent exploring a skid steer and an excavator (the most commonly used , learning about their operations, preventative maintenance, attachments, and capabilities.
Day one was later capped with two bushels of Maryland Blue Crabs, a heaping helping of the world’s best potato salad, a beverage or two, and Ferguson throwing the game winning-ringer, as Team Rubicon dominated the horseshoe pits.
Day two began innocent enough. Coffee, a few donuts, and another two hours of classroom instruction. Then, after a short break, we all piled into the vans and headed to the training course. There she was, mingled in among three excavators and four skid steers, The Beast. With John Deere tagged on the side and her well-worn rust showing through, she was as intimidating as they come. By far the biggest excavator our team had ever encountered. We would spend the next six hours navigating each piece of equipment through a USFWS-created obstacle course. Up hills, along berms, over mounds and around cones.
The course was designed to teach students the essentials of safe equipment operation and provide some trust in their own capabilities. In the end, The Beast would prove no match as each of us navigated her flawlessly through the course. Training complete.
Trainings like these can only be accomplished through paradigm-changing partners. At a national level, the USFWS is committed to helping Team Rubicon further its dual mission of disaster response and veteran reintegration. Many thanks go out to John Blitch and Heather Jerue and their team of trainers for the extensive education, hands-on training, and remarkable hospitality. Let us know when you’d like to work on those horseshoe skills again.