The National Park Service has announced the 2021 awards for excellence and extraordinary service in aviation.
Excellence in Mentorship Aviation Award
This award recognizes an individual or organization who, through training and mentorship of aviation personnel goes above and beyond normal expectations to assist others in developing their personal or professional aviation growth.
Jordan Black – Wildland Fire Module Lead at Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Jordan gained qualifications as an NWCG Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pilot (UASP) and Aerial Ignition which allowed him to begin mentoring and training other interagency UAS pilots in these skill sets.
Nathan Gilmore, Missy Schwarz, and Cammy Roy – Helicopter Managers – BLM Alaska Fire Service (AFS)
All three individuals have provided mentorship in helicopter operations to many Alaska NPS employees over the years and developed NPS employees in the areas of Helicopter Crew Member and Helicopter Manager.
Tom Clausing Aviation All Risk (Hazard) Program Award
This award recognizes an individual, crew or program who through professional interactions with coworkers, cooperators, and patients while rendering all risk services promotes innovation, professionalism, and advancements in policy, procedures, techniques, and equipment to further aviation all-hazard programs.
Doug Kraus – Helitack Foreman at Yellowstone National Park
Doug proposed and implemented a change on the equipment of the park’s A-star 350 light helicopter to always carry the full component of short haul gear regardless of the initial mission profile. Less than 24 hours after the equipment change was implemented, Doug responded to an accident involving a smokejumper during an initial attack on the local national forest. Due to Doug’s recent decision to innovate and modify the ship’s configuration, rapid response to the accident site, exemplary wilderness emergency medicine skills and decision making at the scene, and the short-haul proficiency of Doug and his team, the patient was short-hauled to an awaiting air ambulance for advanced medical care within 62 minutes of the initial call for assistance.
Aviator of the Year Award
This award recognizes an individual(s) who performed mission(s) of significant consequence or valor or has actively promoted the advancement or recognition of an NPS aviation program, mission, or service.
Forrest Rackham and Tyrel Matthews – Helitack Lead and Helitack Crewmember – Mesa Verde National Park
On August 1, 2021 the Mesa Verde Helitack crew was assigned to the Middle Fork Complex Fire on the Willamette National Forest for operational support of wildfire suppression efforts, to include their short haul capabilities. During the afternoon of August 2, 2021, the aircrew was notified that a firefighter assigned to scout the fire line had become entrapped. Since there were no viable egress routes to a safe area it was determined that a short haul extraction was the only available means to rescue the firefighter. The firefighter had already dropped his gear and had been trying to stay out of the path of the fire for quite some time, nearing the point of exhaustion. Conditions for locating the firefighter were extremely difficult due to steep terrain, low visibility due to heavy smoke, thick canopy tree cover, and tracking a moving target.
Forrest and Tyrel were able to locate the individual and talk to him via radio, then provided detailed directions to an opening in the canopy and safely extract him when the fire was within 30 yards of the extraction location. This mission certainly saved the life or prevented serious injury of the firefighter, as the possibility of him becoming entrapped by the fire was highly likely. Forrest and Tyrel overcame a significant problem when their radio communication was lost between the two while they were serving as the short haul spotter and short hauler. However, they relied on their extensive training and utilized hand signals for communication until the rescue was completed. The training, coordination of aircrew, and quick thinking by Forrest and Tyrel were instrumental in the survival of the firefighter. They were able to demonstrate their individual skills and those of the entire crew during this incident, highlighting the beneficial aspects of short haul capable aircraft and aircrews.
Wright Brothers Aviation Safety Award
This award recognizes an individual or organization within the NPS at the park, regional, or national level who proactively promotes an open-minded attitude in the prevention of aviation mishaps and accidents, works diligently to correct and improve aviation safety deficiencies and communicates the actions and results to others.
Ryan Thrush – North Rim District Law Enforcement Ranger – Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park/Curecanti National Recreation Area
As the collateral duty park aviation manager, Ryan has shown tremendous leadership training the park’s staff to ensure they have the experience, skills, and qualifications to respond to very difficult situations. Ryan continues to share his knowledge and experience in aviation policy, procedures, and safety with everyone who supports the park’s operations. Ryan’s dedication is noticed and appreciated by all who know Ryan as he continues to go above and beyond his duties as a National Park Service law enforcement ranger in support of aviation operations.