MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. --
Bravery might be defined as the quality of man that makes them defy the greatest of odds to do what is right, regardless of personal cost. Even if one’s life is dependent on the outcome of a certain event, he or she will charge ahead without a moment’s notice.
Men and women who display such acts of bravery might be hard to come by, yet 19 brave men and women stood together to be recognized for such selfless acts when they, members of the Environmental Conservation Branch, Environmental Management Division, Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, were lauded for their efforts during the March forest fire in the Greater Sandy Run training area at the ECB building, Oct. 5.
These individuals were personally involved in a variety of fire-fighting activities which aided in the eventual extinguishing of the month-long, 9,000-acre blaze that so threatened the immediate MCB Camp Lejeune area. These wildland firefighters were presented with certificates of commendation in a ceremony held in front of one of the fire dozers used in the operation.
“It was one of the largest wildfires we’ve had aboard Camp Lejeune in a long while,” said Bill Rogers, head of the ECB. “These guys were the first on the scene, and to do everything they did without any injuries is nothing short of impressive.”
To put their commitment to the job in perspective, for the few weeks that the fire was at its worse, each firefighter was logging 12 to 16 hours per day, seven days a week, risking their lives in the fire and smoldering timber as the blaze steadily worked its way toward Holly Ridge. However, through persistence and with the aid of the city and states’ firefighting forces, the inferno was contained, managed and eventually extinguished.
“Normally, the usual blunt of fires we have on base are put out in a matter of hours, not a matter of months life this one,” said Dan Becker, manager of the Forest Protection Program with the ECB. “It was through their countless hours of continual training and exceptional dedication to duty that they were able to take control of a fire of that magnitude and ensure no one was injured.”
They wear no medals of courage or markers of bravery save for their firefighting equipment – a casual first glance at these civilians would prate of nothing. Yet there they stood in their matching yellow work shirts before Col. Daniel J. Lecce, commanding officer of MCB Camp Lejeune, being recognized for their noble endeavors.
“What this group did was absolutely tremendous and critically important to the base,” said Lecce. “Out of all the natural disasters that have happened since I became the CO of the base, this one was by far the most threatening. For what they did because of it, I cannot thank them enough.”
Yet with the seemingly natural call-to-arms against an inhuman force, the firefighters keep a humble outlook toward their actions, saying that their response to the fire was not out of the ordinary.
“I’ve been engaged in firefighting services for about seven years now, and this was one of the worst fires I’ve been involved with,” said Kyle Avesing, a tractor plow crewmember with the ECB. “But just because of that, we didn’t go above and beyond what we normally do – this is our job, this is what we signed up to do. Some days are going to be worse than others; we just have to do our best every day.
Although these firefighters may speak lightly of their efforts in March, it is an uncommon thing to look into the burning pit of a dragon’s belly and walk into it without hesitation. Without their work, the fire might have enveloped a lot more than forest.