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UW Graduate Student Receives Smokejumper Courage Award

June 23, 2009
University of Wyoming graduate student Sara Brown, a U.S. Forest Service smokejumper, will receive a major award from the National Smokejumper Association Wednesday, June 24.

University of Wyoming ecology graduate student Sara Brown is a National Smokejumper Association award recipient for her work as a U.S. Forest Service smokejumper, diving out of airplanes over remote western landscapes fighting wildfires and doing a job only a small number of women in the nation have done.

An award ceremony to honor Brown is scheduled for 3 p.m., Wednesday, June 24, in Room 212 of the Aven Nelson Building. The award is a major honor among smokejumpers, the equivalent of a purple heart, and a decoration by leaders and peers of the National Smokejumper Association.

"Sara is a role model for all of us," says Indy Burke, director of the Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources (ENR) and Brown's PhD adviser. "She has a strong dedication to forest ecology and management, as she has shown through her incredible intellectual ability and physical stamina. She also has the amazing ability to overcome adversity and continues to have a zest for life, both professionally and as a person."

Brown, an Oakridge, Ore., native, currently is conducting wildfire field research and pursuing her doctoral degree through UW's interdisciplinary Program in Ecology (PiE) and the Haub School ENR program.

In 2007, Brown sustained traumatic injuries after a jump in a remote area of New Mexico to contain a wildfire that broke out in the area's dry pinon-juniper forest. Brown considers herself lucky to be alive and to share her story as a smokejumper. Brown made 87 parachute jumps and worked five years as a smokejumper.

She said smokejumpers are of a different breed.

"The lure of becoming a smokejumper is the opportunity to travel throughout the West and to jump out of planes with your friends into beautiful places," she says.

Brown plans to continue her forestry work with the goal of becoming a scientist for the Forest Service, and to work on agency efforts to better bridge the gap between forest science and management.

"Indy is responsible for helping me stay on track with my career goals. I was pretty broken from the accident, but it was the best decision to keep going, and she gave me the opportunity and guidance," says Brown, who credits her work as a smokejumper to her passion in forestry management coupled with her passion for adventure in the outdoors.

During the UW award ceremony, Jerry Schmidt, former smokejumper and retired forest supervisor of the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland, on behalf of the National Smokejumper Association, will present Brown with the award for her dedication, service and courage.

The National Smokejumper Association, a group of nearly 1,700 current and former smokejumpers, as part of its mission provides funding assistance to members in need or in crisis as a result of serving in the line of duty.

"This group is a family of smokejumpers from around the county who come together to enjoy friendships, memories, and, when needed, support other members. Some members even organize and make plans to do volunteer work projects such as trail maintenance," Schmidt says. "Sara is a role model for smokejumpers both as a wildland firefighter and as a woman who along with other women have significantly added to the important group dynamics that benefit smokejumper teamwork while fighting wildfires."

Posted on Tuesday, June 23, 2009


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