FORT STEWART, Ga. - Some may think that managing nearly 300,000 acres of forest resources is enough work on its own, without having to be responsible for building and maintaining roads. But for Fort Stewart-Hunter Army Airfield's Forestry Branch of the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works, it's just part of the job.

"We'll fix any road if it leads to or involves our forest resources here," explained Fire Management Supervisor, Tony Rubine. "We repair or maintain about 500 miles of roads and build close to 50 miles of logging trails and roads each year."

Rubine said the Forestry Branch doesn't involve itself in road construction without good reason. The Forestry Branch manages Stewart-Hunter forest resources in order to provide an environment that is conducive for military training, he said. To do that, the Forestry Branch uses controlled or "prescribed" burning and timber thinning. This keeps the underbrush or "fuel loading" down, and it also provides better habitat for endangered or threatened wildlife and better growing conditions for preferred trees, like the long leaf pine.

Harvesting timber requires access to the site of the timber, which sometimes entails the construction of logging roads, trails and "decks" in order to support logging activity. A logging deck is an area off the main roadway that has been cleared out and leveled so the logging company can have a site to set up its equipment. Building the road, trail or deck requires a lot of heavy equipment and well-trained heavy equipment operators. Rubine said the Stewart-Hunter Forestry Branch is fortunate to have both. In fact, he leads 10 teams of heavy equipment operators, who also serve on fire suppression teams.

Charles Gordon, Forestry Logistics Chief, said the Forestry Branch has a lot of its own equipment, which it maintains in-house. He said in-house maintenance saves time and money.

"We have over 100 pieces of heavy equipment, including 30 pickup trucks," Gordon said. "We maintain or repair most of that equipment ourselves."

Rubine added that they also conduct their own in-house training of equipment operators and forestry technicians, noting that both the equipment and their workforce have "a lot of years" on them. For a piece of mechanical equipment, that can be bad; but for an equipment operator or forester, those years amount to a lot of invaluable experience, which Rubine said needs to be passed on to younger, less experienced members of the forestry team.

"My goal is to get the lower (wage grade) and less experienced equipment operators trained to take the place of our senior operators before they decide to retire," he said, mentioning one of his crew members with more than 50 years experience. "They're all a great bunch to work with. I couldn't ask for a better crew for they have the skill and work ethic to get the job done without constant supervision. They don't need a baby sitter."

Another goal that Rubine's already accomplished is keeping a safety notebook in each of his equipment operator's vehicles. The notebook contains information about basic first aid, to include cardiopulmonary resuscitation instructions, as well as emergency contact numbers. Rubine said he ensured each of his operator's was CPR certified. Safety, he said, was something they had to think about all the time.

Whether it's a small logging deck on the side of a major dirt road or a full scale roadway off-shooting from a dirt road, Rubine said they often have to prepare the main road to the site by grading it to support the heavier traffic of logging trucks.

Phil Parson, grading operator, was busy doing just that, Aug. 13. His heavy grader plowed along one edge of the road, smoothing out the bumps and filling in the ruts. A little up the road from him, Kenny Wells, a bulldozer operator, was busy clearing an area for a logging deck. He was leveling a large load of dirt just hauled in from an excavation site near Pineview Lake. At that site, Kenny Crews, an excavator operator, was supplying dump trucks with mostly clay soil from an excavation site. Only four scoops from the excavator were needed to fill the back of the huge dump trucks.

Rubine explained they don't want pure clay but prefer a mixture of clay and sand for road construction. A mostly-clay road is too slick during rainy weather, and a mostly-sandy road tends to wash out easily.

With more than 31 years experience working in forestry, Rubine admits he's one the "senior" members of the team, but he has no plans for retiring in the near future. Like the others, he loves his job of managing Stewart-Hunter's forest resources.

Editor's note: The above article is second in seriers about the many things Stewart-Hunter's Forestry Branch does to manage our forest resources that will be featured in The Frontline during coming weeks.