MONTANA – After being honorably discharged in December 2017, U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant Alex Horton began pondering his next career move. After some research, he learned about training opportunities offered at Forest Service Civilian Conservation Centers. Believing that welding might offer up interesting career opportunities, in February 2018 Horton enrolled in Anaconda Job Corps Center in Anaconda, Montana.
Horton breezed through intermediate welding and enrolled in the advanced welding program. “It is a great back-up skill to have,” said Horton. Within the first few months of arriving at Anaconda, he also completed a D-110 Expanded Dispatch Recorder class at the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest Supervisor’s office where he discovered the world of wildland fire management, which in many ways mirrors the esprit de corps found in the Marines.
The following August, Horton accepted a 21-day assignment on the Kootenai National Forest which deepened his interest in fire. Training as a welder at a Job Corps center may seem vastly different from working as a dispatcher, but Horton states he learned many “soft” skills at Anaconda that have helped him in his new position. “In Job Corps, I learned a good deal about interacting with many different types of people and personalities.”
During his assignment on the Kootenai, Horton dispatched on over 30 fires. Expanded Dispatch Recorder positions are notoriously stressful and full of non-stop work during active fire years, but Horton’s training as a Marine helped him navigate the chaos during times of high activity. A preferred mantra of many Marine Corps units is “improvise, adapt and overcome.” This idea can be directly ported to Horton’s new line of work, as thee same flexibility and quick decision-making skills are needed as a fire dispatcher.
“As you get familiar with the operations and various sounds you eventually develop a sort of radio ear that allows you focus on specific sounds,” says Horton. “It is a focus that seems to come naturally to most people that pursue careers in dispatch.”
Not only does a good dispatcher have to learn how to remain centered, they must also master multiple resource status and tracking systems and telecommunications systems.“On an average day, I am using the Resource Ordering and Status System to status equipment, personnel, and aircraft, WildCAD to track resources, Automated Flight Following, WIMS for updating weather station reports and making graphs, and Firefamily to run reports for daily energy release components and burning index,” states Horton.
Dillon Interagency Dispatch Center Assistant Center Manager Maria Helterline, lead instructor of Horton’s initial D-110 class, had remained in contact with Horton and told him about a Job Corps Dispatch Academy being held at the Rocky Mountain Coordination Center in Denver, Colorado. Along with 16 other Job Corps students, Horton dived into the intricacies of wildland fire expanded dispatch and opened up a task book to become certified as an Expanded Dispatch Recorder. Recognizing Horton’s level of skill, one month after he completed the academy, Helterline asked him to assist her in teaching a D-110 class at the BLM Dillon Field Office.
Horton, now hired under the veteran recruitment appointment authority, is currently on assignment as a GS-4 at the Dillon Interagency Dispatch Center through December 2019. This experience has further cemented his interest in dispatch center operations and the agency partnerships needed to coordinate the mobilization of resources to respond to wildland fire and all-hazard incidents across the nation.
“Alex is remarkable and he picks up things very quickly, said Helterline. “He has been working for us about two months and he has become an account manager in IQCS, he does the WIMS, posts the ERC/BI graphs to the web page and handles just about everything we throw his way.”
With his strong ties to Job Corps, Horton is also taking every opportunity to get more Job Corps students out on fires. “I’ve grown to become really invested in the Forest Service and the fire program,” says Horton. “I wish to continue and make a career of it.” As Horton pursues his chosen career, there is little doubt that he will carry with him the same values and commitment into this new passion that he demonstrated in the U.S. Marines.