USFS appoints a Marine as Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation

We were surprised when the U.S. Forest Service appointed a person with no on-the-ground fire experience to be Deputy Regional Forester for Fire and Aviation Management in the California Region. That trend is continuing, but at a higher level.

Robert Baird
Robert Baird

Robert Baird has accepted the position of Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation Management in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. Forest Service. Mr. Baird is currently the Branch Head, Center for Irregular Warfare, US Marine Corps, in Quantico, Virginia.

Jennifer Jones, a spokesperson for the USFS, told us that in his new position Mr. Baird will supervise the following functions:

  • Washington Office-State and Private Forestry / Fire and Aviation Management Assistant Director for Fire Operations located at the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) in Boise, Idaho;
  • Washington Office-S&PF/FAM Assistant Director for Risk Management located at NIFC;
  • Washington Office-S&PF/FAM Assistant Director for Aviation located in Washington, D.C.

Mr.Baird will report to WO-S&PF/FAM Director Tom Harbour.

HERE is a link to the organizational chart for USFS Fire and Aviation Management in the Washington Office. (If it is sideways, in Adobe Reader, click View/Rotate.) The chart was current as of May 11, 2011 and shows Rich Kvale in the Deputy Director position, who is being replaced by Mr. Baird.

On his Linkedin page, Mr. Baird describes his present duties as: “Explore, Develop, Coordinate, Plan, and Integrate IW Concepts for the Marine Corps”. From a brief bio that was provided for an event in 2010, his experience included:

  • Planner in Afghanistan for special operations integration and implementation
  • Planner in Iraq to establish initial Iraqi police capability in one province
  • Director of Operations for the Marine Corps University/Education Command
  • Lead planner for I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) rapid response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita
  • Chief of Plans for I MEF
  • He obtained a Masters of Operational Studies from Marine Corps University

Mr. Baird is also a former seasonal police officer for Ocean City, Maryland.

He has written a paper titled Profiles in Pyroterrorism: Convergence of crime, terrorism and wildfire unleash as a weapon on population. Wildfire comes up another time in his profile on Linkedin where he said he “Planned for Wildland Fire Fighting contingency mission, served in MCB Emergency Ops Center, and personally supported displacement of Div Cmd Post due to wildfire.”

We very much support the concept of hiring veterans and have highlighted such programs in the past, but we would be more comfortable if the person who is second in command in USFS Fire and Aviation Management had more wildland fire experience and knowledge than we have seen listed for Mr. Baird.

Thanks go out to Dick

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills. Google+

26 thoughts on “USFS appoints a Marine as Deputy Director of Fire and Aviation”

  1. I say great! Maybe this is what the forest service needs. A good kick in the butt with some outside the box thinking.. oooorahh!

    FS devil dog

  2. I agree with devil dog.

    Know why? This ONE is truly thinking out of the proverbial box. May not be aviation and surely not some career District or Regional Forester. Especially career Foresters without even a nary a pilots license nor quite possibly an aviation background since Kern left.

    You can always get a Beltway Bob or Barbara to serve in DC in the USFS and it has been proven more than once in the last few years and than start espousing “safety”, SMS, SAFECOMs which are predominately MX issues anyway and then at the same timeshortchange the entire 2011 fire season and then say current mix of aircraft will do. LUCKY it did this year.

    2012 is lining up in the South to be, maybe, just maybe, just as serious a fire season.

    True test will be if Harbour ACTUALLY lets Mr Baird do his gig with minimal interference…that WILL be the true test to see how DC bureaucracy intereferes with the mission.

    I say let a Marine do his best….who knows something good could come outside of the 100+ yr old ways of thinking!!

    From and ol UH1 Huey mech…Hoohah

  3. I say let the Marine roll. Maybe Tom can let him do the job as Tom now won’t be so busy having to monitor Marc’s behaviors.

  4. WOW. And people thought Tony Kern was a weird choice.

    Well, best of luck to him. USMC rocks. Maybe enough to actually effect some change – but I’m with you, Bill, a bit of F&AM background would be a good thing.

  5. RE: kelly

    I AM SURE there have been MORE than enough F& AM applicants out there that have applied for more than enough positions….that this day in age…. A TRUE aviation background, not just fire, ought to be a strong consideration such as a PhD or a relevant heavy aircraft background or an Acft MX background.

    All this talk about a “fire background” in an already task oriented and money driven environment is truly a misnomer. It all in the education.

    One does not have to spend 30-50 yrs in fire to be in a position such as aviation. THIS environment is a science by itself and the USFS and others have been riding on the coat tails of aviation for 100 yrs, somehow thinking it requires such a heavy fire background, that NO ONE but fire folks are the answer!

    It is pretty proposterous. The Marine ( Mr Baird) will be a new skill set to an already fire laden system, that it may take another 100 yrs to get the fire aviation program under true aviation managers with CERTIFICATED as in FAA or Embry Riddle type of standards not just a fire background!!

  6. Typical dumb move by the USFS. Keep shooting themselves in the foot. Just like how the fed agencies hire servicemen with no experience or quals over very experienced firefighters.

    1. don’t get mad because i was in Iraq when you were mopping up some lightning fire in B.F.’nE. Oregon. I’m sorry but just because you were on some type 2 crew for a summer or two doesn’t give you the real world life experience these young vets have. There is a reason the feds give Vet’s preference, it’s because they’ve earned it!

    2. I suspect that the management and leadership skills he’s developed if he’s retiring as a LTC from the marine corps will much better prepare him to manage and lead ANY sort of program than 10 years of swinging a pulaski would. At this level, it’s not whether he can dig line or not that matters. It’s whether he can manage, lead, make tough decisions, and get folks above him and below him to buy-in to what he’s doing. He wouldn’t be a LTC if he hadn’t already proven consistently that he could. And at that level, he’s done a lot more management than just leading a squad of riflemen (or firefighters) through the jungle, he’s managed complex programs, probably in a variety of disciplines. He should be well prepared to tackle the challenges he’ll face, and could be just the ticket to get accomplished. Plus, if he’s a retired officer, he probably doesn’t “need” the job, giving him the latitude to do what is right, with less concern about his career and future than some might have who are more worried about moving up the ladder.

  7. Once a Marine always a Marine. USMC in So. Cal. has been involved in helicopter aerial fire fighting for several decades. They certainly have a can do attitude! Is it time for the Marines to get involved in the MAFF program? Mr. Baird probably has the “juice card” to explore this possibility. One C-17 with two MAFF II units (6000 U.S. gallons) double the coverage level on the ground. I wish Mr. Baird great success.

  8. I know Bob Baird and he is intelligent, quik on his feet and capable of doing anything he is tasked with doing. He has my wholehearted support.

    Robert J. Sutter (Former Marine Captain)

  9. Outstanding! I was a smokejumper at Missoula, Montana in the 1970’s. The base was also known as a Marine Corps rehab-center where all Marines who could not adjust to civilian life went to re-enter society. The old Forest Service was was full of foresters (I spent over 30 years with the outfit) who were veterans and practiced “adapt, improvise and overcome”. Most of that changed with the Clinton political appointments and the purge of the professional leadership corps. I say … appoint more Marines! Karl Brauneis (Forester)

  10. Excellent! Maybe we could hire some retired airline pilots to help him add to the lack-of-knowledge base. We seem to go through this every couple of years. It’s not that they are not capable in the field they have retired from. It’s just that they come into ours with no knowledge of what we do so their answer is to try to turn what we do into what they did. Maybe the USFS might consider looking for management people know which end of the burning match not to hold.

    1. Yeah cause what we have now is soooo flawless. hmm something is better than the nothing we’ve been receiving for the last 5+years

  11. I have spent my whole adult career in wildland fire, except for the time I served in the Marines with the 1st Marine Div out of Camp Pendleton. The knowledge, skills, and albilities are much the same in both worlds. Mr. Baird’s background will serve him well in his new position in the hotzone that is R-5. Good choice!

  12. For those who don’t know Bob… he was and has been very instrumental in our relationship w/ the Marine Corps and the Marine Corps University for over a decade now; including, but not limited to contributing towards our leadership curriculum, Sandtable/tactical decision games, and staff rides. I believe Bob will bring a full suite of skills to our agency and will be able to provide us excellent leadership. Bob has great contacts throughout the agency that can advise him on “field” level wildland fire knowledge and issues we face.

    With his background and recent experience as Branch Director for the Center of Irregular Warfare, it’s probably better fitting for the times we are facing as an agency right now…I’m mean really, how much more “irregular” can you get than the USFS Fire & Aviation Program and all the collateral duties associated with wildland fire management??? We can’t even decide if we are Foresters, Forestry Techs, Biologists, or Admin & Management…alluding to the current situation w/ our Standardized Position Description debates over the last several years.

    Anyway, I felt it would be appropriate to let folks know that Bob has support from the field at various levels in the agency and I would hope others will see this as a great opportunity for the Fire & Aviation Program to move forward in a positive direction.

    Sincerely,
    Randy Skelton – Deputy Fire Staff
    Payette National Forest

  13. There have been numerous comments about Mr. Baird’s Marine Corps background, and how he’ll be a good fit in the USFS Fire Ops position. Just to play the “Devil’s Advocate”, if this cross-over without any relative on-the-ground experience seems to be a good fit with Mr. Baird, why is it that we never hear of a well-qualified US Army Officer being appointed into a position in the Marine Corps? Aren’t great leaders still great regardless of the color of their uniforms? Maybe the Marine Corps believes that their leaders have in-depth knowledge of heir unique mission? It seems to me the biggest asset that Mr. Baird brings to the USFS Fire Ops position is that he represents “change” and therefore must be good. Kinda reminds me of the current political climate where a small vocal group supports “anyone but…..”. Maybe the former Pizza CEO who wants to be our Prez would be interested in a Wildland Fire Leadership role: after all, he was a respected leader in a corporation across the US and the world, and they used fire in their ovens to cook pizzas?

  14. Being in a wildland fire fighting family where my father is a former Marine Captain ,70’s, then working in fire for next 34 years, and myself a wildland fire fighter for 6 seasons and then joining the Marine Corps and been in for 6 years we have to say knowing Col. Baird track record he will be better at the job then you would think Mr. Gabbert. He has been under more stressfull situations than you could even imagin as well as planned operations, both air and ground for over 50,000 Marines for over a year at a time. As a former FF myself I have to say that the USFS needs some of my fellow veterans in their ranks, because we are tried and true in our abilites. You wont be disappointed. But I have to say Gabbert you should do your home work about the Military and you will see how scary the tactics are very with WF air ops and ground ops. Semper Fi

  15. Deputy Chief Baird (or Mr. Baird as some call him) will earn his highly respected title, Deputy Fire Director / Deputy Chief, WO Fire and Aviation Management.

    Anyone who has been through “Followership to Leadership” knows that this could be a great change by the agency in bringing back much needed leadership and accountability (ability to say BS.. aka.. tactical pause) back into the Forest Service.

    While he is from outside the Agency, he is far from outside of public service and doing what is right. I, for one, welcome him… and hope everyone gives him a chance and the tools he needs to succeed.

  16. I just spent the last two years working alongside Bob Baird. He is top notch. In addition to all his infantry and leadership experience, he is a formally trained Air/Ground Task Force planner with specific training and experience in working with the interagency. More importantly, he is sincerely interested and passionate about your mission. You won’t be disappointed.

  17. Mr. Barid may come in and provide good strong leadership in the right direction. What ever his background, if he is a good leader he will get his own staff with the right technical background to get the job done.
    Bold, direct, strong, and informed leadership can work wonders for an orginazation. Comming from the outside also means there is no FS agency baggage to deal with.

  18. The outside of the wildland fire experience will only work for Mr Baird if the inside experience (25+ years government employees who know everything) adherence to the micro managing peradigm will let him. A “buck sargent” in any military branch has more leadership experience and actual team participation than a FFT1 with 10+ years of experience.

    It is about time for a change!

  19. Mr. Baird–will you just make sure you transfer the thinking of “no man left behind” to make sure no other parent gets the news their son was a firefighter, but left in a ravine to die??

  20. Ms. L Hamm, being of a Military back ground I can almost assure you that what happened to your son will not happen again once Mr. Baird gets in and on the ground moving. Marines don’t leave there own behind, no the Marines where not my branch but that’s one of the things they where respected for. I would like for you to give him sometime to get in and get settled, them contact him about your concerns. Even though you may not be aware of it Calebs death hit a sore spot in both the FF and non FF world we morn the loss of anyones life, especially one who was trying to do there job and help others, my condolances to you and your family Ms. Hamm with so many unanswered ? still out there, it is hard for closure and healing to take place. I just hope Mr. Baird is given a chance to correct so many wrongs done.

  21. thank you for your comments. We would indeed love for Mr. Baird to have a chance to visit with Mr. Baird, as we have gotten NOTHING from the BLM, but that was to be expected, just covering up for each other. We were last told in early December someone was “going to get to the bottom of it” , but so far, nope, nada, zilch. We finally had to ask this week if any news–but, of course not. If I sound cynical, well, wouldn’t you be? Bad enough someone died, but then lie about it on top of that? Tsk, tsk. Mr Juan Palma, what a coward, cancelling his meeting with us, then “being too busy” to meet with us ever. Knowing what I know now, I am ashamed he ever spoke at my boy’s funeral!!!

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