The Backbone Scholarship

The American Wildfire Experience is proud to partner with MYSTERY RANCH to administer the new Backbone Scholarship.  Created in conjunction with MYSTERY RANCH’S Backbone Series (an essay series written by members of the wildland fire community and created to educate the public on the sacrifice and work that goes into responding to the wildland fire environment), the Backbone Scholarship works to provide funding for professional development within the wildland fire community.

We’ve issued $18,000 in scholarships so far and look forward to seeing future future applications.

How to apply:

  • Current and former wildland firefighters, and their partners
  • Open to international applicants over the age of 18
  • Individuals are limited to one scholarship per year

Applicants must complete a two-part application process:

  1. Fill out the standard Backbone Scholarship application.
  2. Submit a written essay and 1-3 photos of yourself on the job (or picture of your choice). These will be published by MYSTERY RANCH and AWE, if selected.

Applicants must adhere to the following if they’re a US federal employee:

Temporary Seasonal Employees:

  • Essays must be submitted while laid off for the season and separated from employment from your respective agency.
  • Do not list Agency, Forest, District, or specific module in your essay. If you do, we will edit it out.

Permanent Full Time and Permanent Seasonal Employees:

  • Do not create or submit using a government computer or on government time.
  • Contributions will be edited to ensure anonymity.
  • Please submit an un-identifying photograph.
  • Do not list Agency, Forest, District, or specific module in your essay. If you do, we will edit it out.

Applicants must use funds to support their personal educational or training activities.

  • This may include tuition, books, expenses while in school/training, etc.
  • Essays should be no longer than 3000 words
  • Essays should include name and date at the top of the document
  • Well-written essays will have a unique voice, point-of-view, or experience to share. We want to hear the personal stories, experiences, thoughts, and opinions of applicants
  • Essays should align with the Backbone Series intent: To educate the public on the sacrifice and work that goes into responding to the wildland fire environment

Though we provide a list of questions that applicants may use as inspiration, potential essay topics are limitless:

  • What would you tell your 18-year-old self?
  • What does a calendar year look like as a temporary, seasonal employee in fire?
  • What does a fire season look like from your first day in pay status to layoff?
  • What does it take to be successful on an Interagency Hotshot Crew? How much time is dedicated to being successful in the off-season?
  • What does it take to get through rookie smokejumper training?
  • How much time and energy does it take to be physically and mentally prepared for fire season as a temporary or permanent employee?
  • What do you love about the job?
  • Why did you leave your agency?
  • What are the advantages, and how does working a seasonal job fit your life?
  • What is the reality of having a family and being in fire?
  • Do you feel that you are appropriately trained and educated on what life in fire as a Forestry Technician looks like?
  • How does a job in fire affect your family life? How do you balance it?
  • What’s it like to deal with an injury during a fire season?
  • What leadership characteristics do you embody and how do you stay relevant and engaged?
  • What does right look like?
  • What is the biggest challenge that you face as a female in fire?
  • What is the most absurd thing that you’ve been asked?
  • What would you like people to know about women in fire?
  • What does right look like?
  • What attracted you to a job in fire after serving in the military?
  • Has a job in fire assisted in transitioning back from active duty?
  • Is this a job you consider pursuing over the long term?
  • What are the commonalities between serving in the military and serving as a wildland firefighter?
  • Would you recommend a job in fire? Please explain your response.
  • What is the reality of having a partner involved in wildland fire?
  • What do you fear most when you’re on the job? How do you handle that fear?
  • What’s the happiest moment of your fire career and why?
  • What’s the saddest moment of your fire career and why?
  • Who has been (or is) the most influential person in your career?
  • Submitting an application does not guarantee selection
  • Names of applicants will be stripped from the application and essay, and assigned an application number, prior to being distributed to the scholarship committee for review
  • Applications will be reviewed twice per year: May 31 and Nov 30

Support the Backbone Scholarships

There are numerous ways you can support the backbone scholarship, including to the American Wildfire Experience here:

You can also support the Backbone Scholarship by purchasing the following items from MYSTERY RANCH.  A portion of proceeds from every Special Edition Backbone Pack or Mood Dust purchase goes to support the scholarship fund.

Special Edition Backbone Packs

To fund the scholarship, MYSTERY RANCH has taken two of their top-selling everyday carry packs – the URBAN ASSAULT 21 and the 3-WAY BRIEFCASE – and built them in “wildfire black” with 10% of proceeds going to support the Backbone Scholarship fund.  These $1000 scholarships will help the men and women that go above and beyond in the off-season. Fire Classes, medical training, and college education aren’t cheap. Countless men and women work for Federal Land Management Agencies as Forestry Technicians and seek to better themselves in the off-season to compete for permanent appointments. Some individuals use fire as a means to assist with greater life goals and objectives.

Shop for your bag and support the Backbone Scholarships here:

Support the Backbone Scholarship by purchasing a copy of Moon Dust:

Moon Dust is a collection of images shot over a length of 4 years by photographer Robert LeBlanc documenting hotshot firefighters in Montana and California.

Nothing compares to being up close to a wildfire.

The August Complex wildfire of 2020, which is currently the largest wildfire in California History, burned throughout the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, Mendocino National Forest, and Six Rivers National Forest. The wildfire burned for a total of three months scorching 1,032,648 acres. Rarely do photographers gain intimate access to hotshot crews while on remote wildfires. The images in Moon Dust give an intimate vision of what it’s like battling such an unpredictable natural disaster and how these firefighters risk their lives every day. In partnership with Mystery Ranch and Monster Energy Cares, 100% of proceeds of book sales will be donated to the Eric Marsh Foundation, U.S. Hotshot Association, and Backbone Series Scholarship.

Buy a copy today: