Bureau of Land Management to recognize 341st Security Forces Group

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Dillon White
  • 341st Space Wing Public Affairs Office
The 341st Security Forces Group is scheduled to attend an award presentation to receive national recognition for their volunteer efforts with the Fort Benton Bureau of Land Management river management station. 

The group is the first military organization in history to win the annual BLM National "Making a Difference" Award. 

Col. Steve Asher, 341st SFG commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Larry Wilson, 341st SFG manager, are planning to fly to Washington, D.C., to represent the 341st SFG May 8. 

The volunteer partnership between the 341st SFG and the BLM began with a conversation between Chief Wilson, Mark Schaefer, BLM park ranger and former Airman, and Wade Brown, Fort Benton river management station supervisory outdoor recreation planner. 

"We held a public volunteer day and it was nasty outside, raining all day," Mr. Brown said. "I think Chief was the only public volunteer who showed up. At the end of the day, Mark, Chief and I were sitting on a tailgate of a pickup talking about the projects we had and Chief suggested the SFG could help. Boy, did they." 

Approximately 124 Airmen volunteered 850 hours in 2006, and 645 hours in 2007. Their volunteer duties included: accompanying park rangers on river patrols, cleaning facilities, providing visitor contacts, registering boaters, conducting wilderness study area surveillance and maintaining campsites. 

"In 18 years of working as an outdoor recreation planner I have never encountered such enthusiasm, spirit, and willingness to volunteer as I have with this dedicated group of men and women and the leaders that motivate them," said Mr. Brown. 

The Airmen essentially doubled BLM's workforce for conducting river patrols along a 149-mile section of the Missouri River, he said. 

Park rangers use river patrols to confirm the area is well kept, ensure regulations are being followed, and check on the safety and welfare of the camps along the river, Colonel Asher said. Park rangers rely on volunteers to act as wingmen because they are not allowed to conduct river patrols alone due to the remoteness of the area. 

Chief Wilson and the commander went on river patrols themselves and shared their experiences. 

"We did a four-day patrol on the river, camping along the way," Colonel Asher said. "There are no motorized boats allowed, so you're canoeing and carrying items like fence post diggers and latrine supplies. We cleaned out latrines along the way and placed signs for rest sites and mile markers." 

The mile markers help people manage their trip and supplies as they float the river, Chief Wilson said. 

"When you reach the lower section you are out of touch with the rest of the world," the Chief said. "There are no roads or phones. You are remote." 

The river patrols also taught volunteers about the Native American history of the river and Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark. 

"The park rangers know exactly where Lewis and Clark camped every night through their journals and pointed these places out as we went," Chief said. "Mark Schaefer and I were counting eagles last week and he showed me a bluff with more than 30 tepee rings on it. It is impressive stuff and it is right in our back yard." 

The volunteer work accomplishes BLM goals and exposes Airmen to the Montana outdoors and the community, which also helps the 341st SFG accomplish their goal of making their Airmen better, Colonel Asher said. 

"My vision for our SFG is a fit fighting force," Colonel Asher said. "They need to be fit emotionally, spiritually and physically with everything done through teamwork. You can not be fit if you are not contributing to your community." 

The Airmen also helped remove unused fencing which posed a physical hazard to wildlife, domestic animals and the public, Mr. Schaefer said. 

"We wanted to get the fencing down, but we could only pick at it a little bit at a time," he said. "With the staff we had, it would have taken us at least five years to take the fencing down." 

The Airmen volunteers completed 95 percent of the project in four days. 

The commander helped his Airmen tear down fences too, and Mr. Schaefer shared a story about his work ethic. 

"Colonel Asher was coming down the hillside with four cedar fence posts and I asked him if he would like some help with them," Mr. Schaefer said. "He said, 'These are my posts. If you want some, you'll have to get your own.'" 

Mr. Schaefer said most volunteers were carrying two posts and he thought the colonel's reply was typical for him. 

"He is a real hardcore guy, and it exemplified the rest of [the Airmen]," Mr. Schaefer said. "He was leading the way and they were following his example right up some vertical hillsides." 

Airmen from the 341st SFG have also performed facility enhancement and maintenance at the Log Gulch campground and erected livestock exclusion fence near the Humberg Spires Wilderness Study Area. 

The commander said the partnership between the SFG and the BLM is a great relationship. 

"Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Brown work together with us and take good care of us when we're out there," Colonel Asher said. "They really care about what they do. It's fun to work with them to improve the conditions of the river because they are so passionate about it." 

Chief Wilson is proud of the Airmen who participated, and said the 341st SFG had no intentions of being put in for an award. 

"To win at the national level is incredible and now that we won it, it's humbling," Chief said. "The colonel and I only orchestrated the project. The troops made it happen by working hard when they didn't have to. They have a lot of fun and everybody is a winner."