Warren Barber (left), and nephew Kurtis Barber-Mapes, at the Turquoise Ridge mine in Nevada. “He helped me see what it is to be a man,” Kurtis says of his uncle.
Kurtis Barber-Mapes’ father didn’t stick around to do the heavy lifting. He left the family before Kurtis was just a year old. Kurtis, who now is 26 and works as an underground miner at Turquoise Ridge, was raised by his mother, aunt and grandmother in Reno, Nevada. All were strong, exceptional women, but a boy needs a male role model in his life, and that job fell to Warren Barber, Kurtis’ uncle.
“He’s the only father figure I’ve ever known,” Kurtis says. “I looked up to him and learned from him by seeing what he does, his drive to do the right thing and to not take shortcuts. He helped me see what it is to be a man.”
Warren is a process control engineer at Turquoise Ridge. He was born in Carson City, Nevada, 51 years ago but later moved to Reno. The traits ascribed to him by his nephew were honed to a razor’s edge in the military, which is rooted in Warren’s blood—as it is in Kurtis’. Warren’s grandfather, (Kurtis’ great grandfather), was an infantryman in World War I, and Warren’s father was a tail gunner on a B-52 in the early 1950s.
In the military, conditions are changing all the time and you have to adapt quickly. The same is true in mining.
Warren followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Air Force in 1985 where he spent 11 years and rose to the rank of technical sergeant. Kurtis, whose earliest memories include seeing Warren in uniform, chose the Army, signing up in 2015. Unfortunately, his service was cut short, ending after 18 months due to a back injury. But while his time in the Army was brief, it was more than enough to leave a mark.
“It definitely built my character as far as being more disciplined and making sure to take care of people, not worry too much about yourself—about what you’re not getting—and look at the bigger picture,” he says.
Kurtis’ words echo his uncle’s. During his service, Warren spent time in Australia, Alaska, South Korea and Hawaii. But it was his service in Bahrain during Operation Desert Storm that was the defining moment of his military career. The operation was launched in early 1991 in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Warren shipped out on December 7, 1990, just two days after Kurtis was born. He spent five months in Bahrain servicing fighter jets and, on several occasions, scrambling to shelter to avoid incoming Scud missiles. What he remembers most is serving with trusted, cherished colleagues, and being part of something bigger than himself.
“I think, more than anything, I felt extreme pride and passion,” he says. “I cared about what I was doing, who I was with, and it made me accountable for everything I did. Accountable to myself and to everyone around me.”
Warren had hoped to spend his entire career in the military, but he was diagnosed with asthma in 1996 and honorably discharged during a time of military downsizing in the U.S. The transition to civilian life was difficult—an experience that would repeat itself a generation later with Kurtis.
“I missed everything,” Warren says.
After being discharged, Warren worked several jobs in California. In 2004, a friend told him that Turquoise Ridge was hiring. Warren wasn’t interested.
“Mining just wasn’t my thing,” he says. “I told my friend I was never going to do mining and he said, ‘never say never.’ ”
Within a year, Warren was working as an electrician at Turquoise Ridge. Tired of the commute to northern California, where he had been working for a power company, he applied to Turquoise Ridge. He got the job and found he had an affinity for mining. The so-called soft skills developed in the military—the discipline, drive, integrity, teamwork, and adaptability—all came into play in a big way.
“In the military, conditions are changing all the time and you have to adapt quickly,” he says. “The same is true in mining, so my military background really helped.”
Now in his 13th year at Turquoise Ridge, Warren has risen to the position of process control engineer. Eleven people report to him and the leadership skills honed in the military have also proven transferrable. It’s not the in-your-face style of command you see in the movies, but more of a quiet, inclusive leadership.
“It’s lead by example, it’s behavioral, it’s collaboration,” he says. “All those things we’re being taught at Barrick are the same in the military.”
When Kurtis told Warren in 2015 that he planned to enlist, Warren was thrilled. And while he was surprised Kurtis chose the Army over the Air Force, he was no less proud.
“He was his own man as far as I was concerned and he could make his own choices,” Warren says.
Travel was a luxury for the Barber-Mapes family when Kurtis was growing up, so when he arrived for basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, it was the farthest he had ever been from home. After basic training, he was stationed at Fort Stewart, Georgia, and well on his way to realizing his goal of joining the Military Police Corps. A family man by this time, Kurtis was soon joined by his wife, Alex, and their infant son, Lincoln.
And then, just as his Army career was lifting off, it came to an abrupt end. After tweaking his back during training, an x-ray revealed early signs of degeneration.
“I’m fine,” Kurtis says. “I don’t have any pain, but it was a red flag for them and, thinking about the big picture and my life outside the military, they decided it was best to let me go.”
Kurtis was crushed. He withdrew into himself, taking time to grieve and to think. “It took about a month to kind of snap out of it and accept that you’ve got to take life for what it is and press forward.”
He returned to Reno with his family and found work at a lumber yard. Warren reached out shortly after. Turquoise Ridge, he told him, was hiring and he urged Kurtis to apply.
“They had uprooted themselves and sold their house and the whole nine yards to go into the military,” Warren says. “And then, all of a sudden, here he is, out of the military with a young family. That transition was tough for him. Really tough.”
Kurtis joined Turquoise Ridge in December 2016. Before he started, his uncle—his role model since Kurtis was a boy—shared some advice. “I told him it’s a different life, different than what he experienced before,” Warren says. “Just go with it, listen to everybody, never be afraid to ask for help, and remember that safety is paramount always.”
Kurtis has heeded his uncle’s advice and hasn’t looked back. While the differences between mining and military life are many, at their core, Kurtis says, they are the same.
“Military is about family,” he says. “And that’s how I feel with the mine, too. Everyone relies on everyone to do their part. That’s what keeps it all running. That’s why I’m so happy here.”