Faces of the Forest Service

Meet Michelle Reugebrink

March 4th, 2019 at 9:45AM

A picture of Michelle Reugebrink with Smokey Bear
Michelle with Smokey Bear who celebrates his 75th birthday this year. (Reugebrink family photos.)

Michelle grew up in Sattley, CA playing in the forest and helping her family cut and sell firewood. At the age of 15 Michelle was selected to work for the USDA Forest Service in a program called Golden Sierra for low income families on the Sierraville Ranger District on the Tahoe National Forest. At 18 she joined the local fire crew and quickly earned the nickname “Michelle the gazelle” by her crewmates. After marrying, Michelle and her husband, Bob, moved to Calpine which is only 4 miles from Sattley, and is surrounded by the Tahoe and Plumas National Forest. This rural area, often referred to as Sierra Valley, is an agricultural and logging community that doesn’t have a single stop light in the entire county. Michelle has been employed by the Forest Service for 33 years and has worked in every Deputy area.


What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?

I worked 16 years in active firefighting, ran fuels crews, was on hotshot crews and engine crews. As a more seasoned employee I became more passionate about our employees wellbeing and became a forest safety offer among other career growth opportunities. I’m currently the Mindfulness & Resiliency Program Manager with the Work Environment & Performance Office. I teach mindfulness and compassion practices that enable all of us to not just survive but also grow from exposure to stress. Mindfulness and compassion practices are core skills that foster high performance and promote diversity and inclusion. I do a lot of coaching and I am also passionate about bringing restorative justice practices to our work environment.


Who or what inspired you growing up?

My family has always been a strong inspiration for me. My father who worked in saw mills, logging, and building roads provided the opportunities to work in the woods at an early age. I like to say I’m not attached to anything or a certain story. I have had so many influential people in my life. It’s hard to say just one as the list is very long.


What do you like to do for fun on your free time?

Bob and I have two young adult sons—who keep us very busy! Preston is working on being a physician assistant and Winston is in his third year of electrical engineering. We love to ride mountain bikes, motorcycles, hiking, and just being present together as a family. I also enjoy silent meditation retreats, knitting and making blankets. Best of all I love being in nature. I feel so blessed to have such a wonderful partner and my favorite moments are snuggling up and sitting on the couch together.


Michelle with her family, husband Bob and sons Preston and Winston. (Reugebrink family photos.)
Michelle with her family, husband Bob and sons Preston and Winston. (Reugebrink family photos.)

What is your highest personal and professional achievement?

Currently I think raising a happy and healthy family as my ongoing highest personal achievement. Professionally what a journey. A very big stepping stone for me was graduating with my Associates in Fire Technology and then graduating from the wildland firefighter Apprenticeship Academy. My latest achievement was becoming a National Board Certified Health & Wellness Coach and an International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach. What was transformational for me in my life was graduating from the  Integrative Health Coaching program at  Duke University Integrative Medical Center and a graduate of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s program for becoming a certified Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction teacher.


How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?

I would like people to view the Forest Service as part of their community and an agency that is willing to listen and embrace feedback on how better to manage their public lands. We are all in this together and we all need to be awake to take care of our ecosystems for future generations.


 Michelle is silhouetted by a wildfire in the background, a picture at night.
Known in her fire crew as Michelle the Gazelle, in this picture Michelle is silhouetted by a wildfire in the background. (Reugebrink family photos.)

What are your future career goals?

I have never been one to identify a single type of position as my future career goal. I have always followed where I feel my heart and the universe are calling me. Rather than attain a certain position, I’m more focused on how can I better serve the federal employees I come in contact with through coaching and teaching mindfulness and compassion practices.


Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?

If you have an interest, I encourage you to reach out to an existing employee and learn about what they do and network. When we step back and get out of our own way we can see we are all connected in some way or another. You do not need to all have the same training to be valuable. Change is constant within the Forest Service and tomorrow’s jobs will be different than today’s.