In our Rayonier Graduates series, we’re talking to recent Forestry College graduates who now work for Rayonier. In this story, Forester DeShaun Mincey shares his career journey, from serving in the U.S. Navy, to studying forestry and fighting wildfires at Alabama A&M University, to Rayonier.
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama—Whether guiding a helicopter landing on a ship, or fighting a raging forest fire on a mountainside, DeShaun Mincey thrives when he’s in the middle of the action.
That’s what attracted the Rayonier Technical Forester to pursue a forest science degree.
“Other students just sit in class all day, but in forestry we’re in the forest, walking around, driving ATVs, traveling. We have a good time,” says the Alabama A&M graduate.
A Uvaldia, Georgia, native, DeShaun hadn’t heard of forestry when he started college as an environmental science major.
A Unique Team of Wildland Firefighters
Then he met the school’s wildland firefighting team, the FireDawgs. Most of the members were forestry students. DeShaun applied for the team—and switched majors—that day.
The FireDawgs are one of the only college forest firefighter teams in the state of Alabama. Trained by the Alabama Forestry Commission, they fight wildfires, manage controlled burns and educate the public on fire prevention.
Learn more about the team in our interview with FireDawgs President Jonathan Brown, AAMU FireDawgs Fight and Prevent Alabama Wildfires.
DeShaun quickly confirmed that the team, and forestry, were the perfect fit. From a very early age, he hunted with his grandfather and developed a passion for the outdoors. Add to that the excitement of the wide variety of responsibilities foresters take on, including fire prevention and management, and he knew he was in the right place.
“We do a lot,” he said. “We build maps, study soil science, take site indexes to see how well a tree can grow on different sites. We cruise forests to determine the value of the timber. We do prescribed burns, wetland studies. I enjoy it all.”
A Military Discipline
DeShaun is known for his disciplined approach to continuing to make himself better in school and in life.
“I got that drive from the military,” he says.
DeShaun served in the U.S. Navy for four years. Joining right after high school, he rose in the ranks to become a helicopter mechanic. Working aboard the carrier ship U.S.S. Roosevelt, he not only repaired and inspected helicopters, but also directed their landings when the carrier was out to sea.
Volunteering with the Fire Dawgs
After his four years in the Navy wrapped up, DeShaun started college. It was not long after the school year started that he tried out for the Fire Dawgs. It wasn’t easy to make the team: each member has to pass an intense agility test, carrying a 45 lb. pack across 3 miles in 45 minutes.
“Last fall we fought a fire on the side of a mountain,” DeShaun recalls. “We hopped on it before the U.S. forest service came.
“Our job was to put in fire lines to stop the fire from jumping the field. We used chainsaws, rakes and garden hoes.”
Advice for future students
DeShaun highly recommends studying forestry.
“Look into it!” he says. “You get to travel all the time, you’re outside a lot, it’s never boring. It’s a great career field.”
He says the Alabama A&M Forestry faculty actively presents opportunities to students.
“They were always coming to us with places we could go, scholarships we could apply for,” he says. “I traveled to so many places while I was in college: Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, North Carolina.”
Why all the travel? Forestry students need to experience forests in different climates, so they often travel for classes. They also attend national forestry conferences and a special annual event called Conclave, in which they compete in both academic and “lumberjack” style events. You can learn more about the action-packed competition in our article about the 2019 Conclave in Louisiana, which DeShaun attended.
DeShaun says the forestry industry will continue to become more diverse as more youths learn about the field.
“Sometimes I wonder how people never heard of it. Everything is made of wood!” he says.
Working for Rayonier
DeShaun graduated in December 2020 and immediately began his job as a technical forester at Rayonier’s Jesup, Georgia, location.
“My favorite quote is, if you’re distracted, you’re not focused,” DeShaun says. “So I focus and work hard on becoming the best forester and overall individual I can be. I enjoy working for Rayonier and the Coastal Resource Unit. I’ve learned a lot from my supervisor and colleagues in the short amount of time I’ve been here. This job is by far the best job I ever had.”