Category Archives: Veterans

Associate Director of Southwest Conservation Corps Testifies on Benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps During House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands Hearing on Recreation Not Red Tape Act”

Click here to watch a recording of the hearing
Click here to read Mr. Heiner’s full testimony

WASHINGTON, DC (October 3, 2017) – Kevin Heiner, Associate Director of Southwest Conservation Corps, a member organization of the 21CSC, testified today about the benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps during a House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands hearing about H.R.3400 – the “Recreation Not Red Tape Act.”

Introduced in July by House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R-UT), H.R.3400 aims to, as stated in a memo on the hearing, “increase access to recreational opportunities for Americans nation-wide by 1) modernizing and streamlining the special recreation permitting process; 2) holding land managers accountable for recreation outcomes; 3) establishing a new National Recreation Area System; 4) increasing veteran participation in outdoor stewardship and rehabilitation programs; and by 5) facilitating private-sector volunteer maintenance programs on our nation’s public lands. Companion legislation was introduced in the Senate (S.1633) by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR).

Kevin Heiner, a U.S. Air Force Veteran who began working with Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) in 2008, spoke about the benefits of the Veterans Fire Corps programs operated by SCC and its parent organization, Conservation Legacy.

Veterans Corps, such as those run by Conservation Legacy, are designed to give participants the opportunity to build on their military experience and ethic for service by training for careers in resource management. The Corps model benefits veterans in a range of ways: it provides a similar structure and sense of purpose as the military; offers the therapeutic benefits of getting outdoors and working with fellow veterans; and helps participants transition back to civilian life through skills development and other supportive services.

Since 2009, Veterans Conservation Corps programs across the country have engaged more than 1,600 veterans in conservation service and job training through partnerships with such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

In his testimony, Mr. Heiner spoke appreciatively of the provisions in H.R.3400 that would expand opportunities for veterans to engage in outdoor stewardship. He also encouraged the committee to consider the 21CSC Act (H.R.2987), which would also help support and create opportunities for veterans and young adults to serve on public lands and gain in-demand skills.

An excerpt from Mr. Heiner’s testimony:

We are appreciative of the provisions in HR 3400, the Recreation Not Red-Tape Act, that would encourage information be provided on Corps opportunities to veterans and service members, expand volunteer and outdoor engagement, and opportunities for veterans and the public to recreate in new areas. We see significant potential to expand Corps’ engagement with veterans through enhanced partnerships with other Department of Interior agencies, and additional focus on recruiting with Department of Veterans Affairs, DOD and the Department of Labor. 

We also support the focus in the RNR Act on hiring veterans in land management positions. In addition to their veterans hiring preference, they can earn non-competitive hiring eligibility for two years from service in a Corps as well. Veterans Corps programs can offer an important bridge to civilian life and job skills, but also a way for veterans and their families to engage more with the outdoors, recreation, and America’s public lands. 

That is why in addition to the importance of the RNR Act provisions around veterans, we hope the committee will give additional attention to expanding the opportunity for veterans to serve in Corps, gain in-demand skills, and address high-priority projects, like would be accomplished through the bipartisan 21ST Century Conservation Service Corps Act – HR 2987 – introduced by Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) a veteran herself. We also thank Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) of this committee who is an original co-sponsor.


Click here to watch a recording of the hearing
Click here to read Mr. Heiner’s full testimony


Veterans Corps Discussed at Capitol Hill Briefing Hosted by House Outdoor Recreation Caucus and Outdoor Industry Association on Veterans and the Outdoors

Amy Sovocool, Co-CEO of Conservation Legacy & Co-Chair of Partnership for 21CSC, joined panelists from several outdoor and veteran-related organizations to discuss model and benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps programs.

WASHINGTON, DC (Sept. 22, 2017)
– Amy Sovocool, Co-CEO of Conservation Legacy and Co-Chair of the Partnership for the 21CSC, discussed the model and benefits of Veterans Conservation Corps at a September 14 Capitol Hill briefing on Veterans and the Outdoors. The event was hosted by the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus and supported by the Outdoor Industry Association.

The briefing focused on exploring how nature is used to help veterans heal, develop a sense of community, reintegrate into civilian life, and connect with the people and places they fought to protect.

Since 2009, Veterans Conservation Corps programs across the country have engaged more than 1,600 veterans in conservation service and job training through partnerships with such agencies as the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Veterans Corps are designed to give participants the opportunity to build on their military experience and ethic for service by training for careers in resource management. The Corps model benefits veterans in a range of ways: it provides a similar structure and sense of purpose as the military; offers the therapeutic benefits of getting outdoors and working with fellow veterans; and helps participants transition back to civilian life through skills development and other supportive services.

In a 2016, 90 percent of veterans surveyed indicated that Corps opportunities helped them transition from military to civilian life. The Veterans Corps model also benefits public lands and the outdoor economy by completing important maintenance and improvement projects that increase access to recreation opportunities.

The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) is an initiative to expand public-private partnerships to annually engage 100,000 young adults and veterans in Corps. The 21CSC Act (S.1403, H.R.2987) – a bipartisan, bicameral bill that would help support this goal – was introduced by several former service members, including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a U.S. Navy veteran; Rep. Marth McSally (R-AZ), a U.S. Air Force veteran; and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA), a U.S. Marine Corps veteran. The 21CSC initiative also has the backing of retired four-star U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal.

With crews based in Colorado and Arizona, Conservation Legacy’s Veterans Fire Corps (VFC) program offers post-9/11 veterans the opportunity to gain training and work experience in forestry and wildland firefighting through an AmeriCorps term of service. During a three to five-month-long term, VFC participants serve alongside fellow former military members on fuels mitigation and wildland firefighting projects. Corpsmembers spend up to eight days at a time living and working outdoors.

“Outdoor Industry Association was honored to be part of the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus briefing on veterans and the outdoors” said Jessica Wahl, Government Affairs Manager for the Outdoor Industry Association.  “There is a deep connection between the outdoors and our country’s veterans and OIA thanks the caucus co-chairs Congressman Simpson and Congressman Polis for shining a light on this important issue. W.L. Gore & Associates and other outdoor businesses are committed to supporting veterans and active military through their products and programs and we hope to continue engaging OIA members on this issue.”

“We thank Rep. Mike Simpson, Rep. Jared Polis, the members of the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus, and the Outdoor Industry Association for hosting this important conversation on the intersection of America’s veterans and the great outdoors,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, President and CEO of The Corps Network and Co-Chair of the Partnership for the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps. “Veterans Conservation Corps programs address several issues faced by returning military. In addition to offering former service members the healing experience of spending time outdoors among fellow veterans, Corps help veterans leverage skills learned in the military to extend their ethic of service into careers in service to our public lands. The bipartisan, bicameral 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Act would help create even more opportunities for post-9/11 veterans to benefit from programs like the VFC.”

“Service to our public lands helps veterans re-establish themselves,” said Sovocool. “Many veterans exit the military hoping to find a new mission and sense of purpose, but they are unsure where to turn. Through programs like the Veterans Fire Corps, former service members find a new mission protecting and maintaining access to some of our country’s most treasured national parks and forests. Public lands are more than a place for recreation; they are a point of national pride. Pride in our country is important to our veterans. I thank the House Outdoor Recreation Caucus, the Outdoor Industry Association, and my fellow panelists for helping shed light on the important role the outdoor community can play in assisting America’s veterans in their transition back to civilian life.”

The bipartisan House Outdoor Recreation Caucus was created in April 2017 with the goal of “encourage[ing] healthy, active lifestyles that foster an appreciation of America’s lands and waters and support local communities through outdoor recreation. The caucus is chaired by Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) and Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO).


About the 21CSC
The 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC) is a bipartisan, national initiative to leverage public-private relationships for cost-effective maintenance and improvement of America’s infrastructure, lands and waters. The 21CSC envisions partnerships between resource management agencies and Corps: organizations that engage America’s young adults and veterans in work-based national service projects that restore, conserve and enhance infrastructure and public lands and waters.

The 21CSC is an easy-to-implement solution to America’s aging infrastructure that also develops the next generation of outdoor enthusiasts, recreationists, sportsmen and women, and resource managers. While gaining in-demand skills through their service, Corps participants also build respect and appreciation for our country, hard work, and the outdoors. To learn more about the 21CSC, please visit


About Conservation Legacy
Conservation Legacy is a national organization that cultivates local action to produce enduring widespread impact in communities, ecosystems and people. Conservation Legacy operates locally-based programs that provide service and work opportunities for a diverse group of individuals to complete important conservation and community projects for the public benefit. Founded in 1998 to continue the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s, Conservation Legacy programs include Arizona Conservation Corps, BRIDGE Network, Great Appalachian Valley Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Southeast Conservation Corps and Preserve America Youth Summits. For more information, please visit www.


About The Corps Network
The Corps Network, the national association of Service and Conservation Corps, provides leadership and support to over 130 Corps across the United States. Through advocacy, and providing Corps access to funding opportunities and expert guidance, The Corps Network annually enables more than 25,000 Corpsmembers to strengthen communities, improve the environment and transform their lives through service. To learn more about The Corps Network, please visit




Honoring Veterans: Verna Gonzales


Every year, many returning veterans continue their service to our country by participating in 21CSC programs. Several 21CSC member organizations operate programs specifically designed to engage former military service members in public lands stewardship. Throughout November, we will feature stories about some of these programs and the extraordinary people who serve in them. 

From Mt. Adams Institute – 

I was born and raised in Texas, but was recently living in Denver, Colorado.  I was enlisted in the Army from 2009-2013 as a Civil Affairs Specialist (commonly mistaken for Public Affairs). Prior to the Army I put myself through my undergraduate degree with a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Texas at San Antonio in 2008 and post Army, I forced myself to somehow complete my Masters of Science in the Administration of Security and Justice.  The Criminal Justice field was unfortunately not my cup of tea and so I am now falling back on my love of Anthropology.

I was not looking for a change in career when I stumbled upon the Craigslist ad for the VetsWork AmeriCorps program through the Mt. Adams Institute, but it was so enticing in fact, that I applied the next day. I had lost a sense of service to the country I love so much (that I had experienced while in the Army), that jobs I took on after the Army, were just that.  They were jobs.  My goal is to start a career in a field that I love and provide a service to my community.

Taking that step in drastically changing my career path felt risky. I’ve done archaeological field work in the past, but it mostly involved curation. I am currently assigned to Joseph, OR at the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.  I am in the middle of nowhere and it is beautiful; a little piece of the U.S. untouched by traffic lights, major crime, and major retail stores.

Week one of the program was amazing.  Our orientation into the program consisted of housing all the VetsWork AmeriCorps Interns into one bunk house filled with awkward laughter-filled introductions, motivational talks, necessary paperwork, and outdoor activities. Best of all the first week allowed us to grow a network that will probably last a lifetime.  I got to meet men and women with similar backgrounds and the greatest motivational and supporting team ever (no coaxing for me to tell you that, it’s the big hardy truth).

A summer thunderstorm rolls into Hell's Canyon

A summer thunderstorm rolls into Hell’s Canyon

Two and half months into the program and the home sickness kicked in. I started to experience what my sponsor called “Dog Withdrawals” (due to the fact I had to leave my dogs back home to be taken care of by a loved one in Colorado).  Working miles away from home and temporarily departing from those you love has made me realize something I wish to pass on to future VetsWork AmeriCorps Interns: Do not foist yourself into feeling that you abandoned those you love. Think of this as an opportunity for advancement.  An advancement that is going to put you and those you love in a better position in life whether it be financially or just simply having the satisfaction that you are doing something you can make a difference in.  I am blessed to have friends, family, and loved ones back me up on this decision 100%.

The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service.  I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking.  Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position.  Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

Taking a break as we cross one of the beautiful rivers in the Wallowa Mountains.

Taking a break as we cross one of the beautiful rivers in the Wallowa Mountains.

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions.  Which reminds me, for those future VetsWork AmeriCorps Interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold.  Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

In the future, I hope to utilize the training that my sponsor, coworkers, and mentors have bestowed on me and push forward in a career in Cultural Resource Management (CRM) or Archaeology. The potential of doing what I love, learning and getting out in the field is turning out to be a dream career possibility.

Mormon Flat Cabin from the early 1900s.

Mormon Flat Cabin from the early 1900s.

Learning how to restore windows in historic structures.

Learning how to restore windows in historic structures.

Honoring Veterans 2016: Laurel Poff


Every year, many returning veterans continue their service to our country by participating in 21CSC programs. Several 21CSC member organizations operate programs specifically designed to engage former military service members in public lands stewardship. Throughout November, we will feature stories about some of these programs and the extraordinary people who serve in them. 

From Mt. Adams Institute – 

My family looked at me like I was crazy when I informed them last winter that I applied to a position in a rural southern Missouri town that neither my husband nor I had never been, in the middle of a forest, where we knew no one, for a significant cut in pay, in a job that I had limited formal experience in.   Why would you want to do that?  The ever-present question of confused looks on people’s faces when I explained that I was committing to a year of service with AmeriCorps, where I would be giving up a formal paycheck and benefits and relying on a “living allowance” of less-than-minimum-wage pay instead. As someone who served in the U.S. Air Force, I understood the value of service.

We had been living comfortably in Champaign, Illinois, plugged-in to the University of Illinois and only a 2-hour commute from bustling Chicago.  Good job, great benefits, nice apartment, surrounded by intellectual, affluent people, and we agonized over it.  Clock your 40-hour-weeks in a confined, dark, dingy building, in a space shared with other people and restricted by closed walls, performing the same routine task day-in-and-out, with little room for upward movement or cross training.  Go home exhausted.  Repeat the next day.  This is the cycle that my husband and I sluggishly found ourselves sinking into.  This was not the life that either of us had envisioned, nor dreamed of.  That is when I stumbled upon VetsWork, an AmeriCorps program of the Mt. Adams Institute.   Direct access to the outdoors, ability to learn and grow in a new skill set, public service, opportunity for continued federal employment, returning to my wilder roots of growing up in the outdoors of Alaska, almost everything about this program seemed attractive to me.  And so I applied.

Me and the crew from the Mark Twain in Colorado.

Me and the crew from the Mark Twain in Colorado.

As I started my work on the Mark Twain National Forest, the stark contrast between the old way of life and the new showed up in more ways than simply a new job and an attempt to have greater access to the outdoors.  This is much more of the life we were meant to live. Since I began service on the Mark Twain National Forest in March, it has been a whirlwind.  Over my term of service, I have had opportunity to supervise and lead four AmeriCorps Trail Crews, design and implement several interpretive school programs within the local community, spear-head wilderness solitude monitoring surveys on the Eleven Point River and in the Irish Wilderness, assist with a new pollinator garden for local butterflies, work with community volunteers and key leaders to partner with Forest Service visions, assist our district Archeologist, our district Surveyor, our Forester, our Fuels Specialist, our Community Service Representative, our Manpower Development Specialist, our Recreation Technician, our GIS Specialist, and most recently, serve on a 3-week detail as a Forest Service Casual Hire fighting wildfires in Colorado.

And now, I have been hired on as a full-time, permanent Forestry Technician on the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, the neighboring forest to the Mark Twain, just across the Missouri/Arkansas border.  While Doniphan and the Mark Twain National Forest will be missed, I am incredibly blessed and grateful to be given this opportunity on the Ozark National Forest, although I had no idea that the opportunities would come so soon.

Digging fire line in Meeker Creek, CO.

Digging fire line in Meeker Creek, CO.

In essence, this writing is a true testimony to the power of the VetsWork program and how success really is possible for Interns who are dedicated to the program and its goals.  Without the experience provided by the VetsWork Internship Program, I would not even qualify for the job I now hold today.

The Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program absolutely is what members make of it.   While the program does not guarantee a career, or even a job, if you jump in and take every chance to learn, grow, and develop new skills and experiences, you will achieve your goals for joining the program.  Whether your intention is to secure a federal job or pursue higher education, VetsWork can get you there.  This is a program of possibility.

Honoring Veterans 2016: Robert McDonald


Every year, many returning veterans continue their service to our country by participating in 21CSC programs. Several 21CSC member organizations operate programs specifically designed to engage former military service members in public lands stewardship. Throughout November, we will feature stories about some of these programs and the extraordinary people who serve in them. 

From Mt. Adams Institute – 

My name is Robert McDonald. I am currently working for the North Fork John Day Fire and Fuels department on the Umatilla National Forest. In 2005 I enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and started the process of becoming an infantry machine gunner. Once I completed my basic training at MCRD San Diego I began training at SOI School of Infantry. I finished as a squad leader of Machine Gunners and looked forward to fleet. I was stationed at MCBH Kaneohe Bay with 1st battalion 3rd Marines on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. I went on to do two tours in Al Anbar province, Iraq.

In 2009 my enlistment was up and I decided I was ready for the next challenge. Unfortunately like many infantry guys my training and experiences in the Marines did not translate well into a civilian role. I began to look for a path or direction in life that would satisfy my desire of service, honor and duty. So I began to go to school and look for that direction. While enrolled I also worked full-time throughout my entire college degree. I eventually settled on a Bachelors of Science degree in Diplomacy and Military Studies, but in the end I could not justify leaving my wife to go be a foreign diplomat. I wanted a lifestyle that would both suit my needs, but also my wife’s. I began to fully thrust myself into work, but unfortunately I wasn’t doing anything that I had originally set out to do: Service, honor or duty. Instead I was working menial jobs with only menial tasks and compensation. I wanted to break free from this life and look for something else.

A teammate at work on a thinning project

A teammate at work on a thinning project

We decided it was time to leave Hawaii after almost ten years of calling it home and look for something that I could call a career that meets my standards as well as bringing balance to the home life. I have always enjoyed a lifestyle of being an outdoorsman. Growing up in Texas, I spent summers camping, fishing, and all around being a kid outside. In Hawaii I took up surfing, boating, paddling, swimming, hiking, camping and many more countless outdoor activities. So I knew one thing, I wanted to work outdoors not only because I enjoyed it so much, but also so I can give back to what I have always taken advantage of. Going back to my sense of service, honor and duty I felt the need to find something where I could actively assist the community. In my pursuit of a career I found the Forest Service and Wildland Firefighting. Finally something clicked.

While looking for positions and beginning to find out the process, I discovered a rare opportunity that would give me the training, exposure and opportunity to work with the forest service, while allowing me to give back to the community. I started talking to Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) about their VetsWork GreenCorps program, which helps prepare individuals for a career in wildland firefighting and wildfire landscape management. After about five minutes I decided this is the avenue that I needed to take. I signed up for AmeriCorps and applied to their VetsWork GreenCorps program. To be honest I didn’t know much about either AmeriCorps or VetsWork GreenCorps, but the more I investigated the more I realized that these programs are basically the modern day equivalency to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). I have always known about the CCC through campgrounds I visited as a child such as Devils Den in Arkansas. So I immediately had a sense of respect in being involved with such a program. I also felt that the focus on bringing military veterans into these programs and into the natural resource workforce was a brilliant idea. Who better to protect our natural resources and lands than those who have already been protecting our nation? I entered the twelve week program with a basic understanding of what we were about to do, but I had no idea where I would end up.

The results of a day-long burnout operation on the Rail Fire

The results of a day-long burnout operation on the Rail Fire

I started in April of 2016 at Trout Lake, Washington for the MAI orientation. This was the first time I met actual wildland firefighters working for the Forest Service out of the Umatilla National Forest. I was introduced to my immediate overhead, the crew boss, assistant and squad lead for the Umatilla Veterans Crew. These guys all had ties to the military through personal service, family or friends. They all had long and varying careers with the Forest Service everything from experience on hotshot crews to rappelling. I immediately knew we were all in the right hands.

After orientation we traveled to our new home at the Frazier bunkhouse and began our S212 training (chainsaw training) and quickly learned of the importance of a good sawyer not just on fuels reduction projects, but also in fire. We all became certified to run chainsaws, granted at varying degrees. We all ran chainsaws all day every day. Eventually all of the VetsWork GreenCorps members went to Fire School where we learned how to be good wildland firefighters. We came back to our crew ready to fight fire, but realistically we are a vegetation crew which means we thin and thin a lot. We spent the next several weeks thinning until finally we were given a fire assignment. This summer we spent 20 days on three different fire assignments and almost that much on prescribed fires in our region.

The 2016 VetsWork GreenCorps crew.

The 2016 VetsWork GreenCorps crew.

When I came out to Oregon I didn’t have a plan for my future or what Leslie, my wife, would be doing. While I was in the VetsWork GreenCorps program each crew member was offered positions to transition from AmeriCorps members to 1039 Temporary Seasonal Employees with the Forest. Almost everyone who was offered accepted the position. Nearly at the same time we were all offered to apply for an apprenticeship program through the Forest Service. Simultaneously my wife found a job working for the Umatilla Forest at the Headquarters office just half an hour away. She ended up getting the position and when I finished the VetsWork GreenCorps program I went home, got her and all of our stuff and moved to Eastern Oregon. When I returned I was told I would be given the opportunity to interview for the apprenticeship program. Almost six weeks later I found out that I was offered the position. I immediately accepted and now I am currently in the program. It is a three to five year career development program through the Forest Service that culminates into a permanent position as a GS5 on the North Fork John Day Ranger District.

My story is not a common one. The fact that I started the season as someone who never really had any interaction in natural resources, the Forest Service or this region of the United States to now having what basically equates to a permanent position is pretty rare. But to also have my wife find a position on the same forest with a very similar career path is astonishing. I feel truly blessed I found the MAI AmeriCorps VetsWork GreenCorps program that gave the opportunity for me and my family to pursue a career that truly fits us.

Honoring Veterans 2016: Mary Dawn Kidd

 Every year, many returning veterans continue their service to our country by participating in 21CSC programs. Several 21CSC member organizations operate programs specifically designed to engage former military service members in public lands stewardship. Throughout November, we will feature stories about some of these programs and the extraordinary people who serve in them. 

From Conservation Legacy –
A Podcast Interview with Mary Dawn Kidd, Southwest Conservation Corps, Veterans Fire Corps 

Honoring Veterans 2016: Darrin Grant


Every year, many returning veterans continue their service to our country by participating in 21CSC programs. Several 21CSC member organizations operate programs specifically designed to engage former military service members in public lands stewardship. Throughout November, we will feature stories about some of these programs and the extraordinary people who serve in them. 

From Mt. Adams Institute – “Fire Fever”

Darrin Grant joined the Army in 1994 as a Watercraft Engineer (88L). His three year enlistment turned into a 20 year career. Here are his thoughts on his VetsWork AmeriCorps internship in his position as a Natural Resources Management Intern on the Monongahela National Forest:

There is something that calls to the men and women who have served their country in the Armed Forces.  It quietly gnaws at them from somewhere down deep where they can never quite understand it. I think the military is the single biggest paradox in the world.  When you’re in most of the time you want out and when you finally get out for some inescapable reason you want back in; or at some level of the human psyche you think you do.

I think that for a lot of veterans like myself there will never be another real job.  I think that it’s important to note that I actually have a real job right now. What I mean is this; after being in charge of millions of dollars of equipment and squads or even platoons of personnel the prospect of a conventional 9-5 job does not sit well with most veterans.  Additionally, some lack skill sets and experience required for the career path they may want to cross over to.  For myself it was never a question of finding another career; it was finding something that I love doing again. There is a huge gap that appears when you transition out of the military and generally speaking the longer the enlistment time the more deployments and therefore the larger the gap.  Unfortunately most of the veterans I know are people in that gap.  The key is finding something to fill the gap that has similar experiences with the military and that you will enjoy.

Me and the crew taking a quick break.

Me and the crew taking a quick break.

As part of my VetsWork AmeriCorps internship that is operated by the Mt. Adams Institute, I was fortunate enough to become Red Card certified and sent out west with a wildland firefighting crew.  While in Wyoming our crew was able to help contain two different fires. When I got to my first fire everything just sort of clicked, like I was supposed to be doing this and nothing else.  Part of the reason I felt so at home is there are a lot of similarities between wildland firefighting and the military. Too many to mention, really.  However one is significant to me: in the beginning of the Incident Response Planning Guide (IRPG), which is like the wildland firefighter’s bible, on page V you will find the Army’s 11 Leadership Principals almost word for word.  I guess they figured since they have been around since 1948 they wouldn’t change them!

Being on a fire for 14 days pulling 16 hour shifts and sleeping in your tent is like this bizarre but mostly great combination of Basic Training, prison camp, and a resort in the Rockies.  In basic training you meet a bunch of guys you don’t know, eat MRE’s, tell a lot of bad jokes and fart whenever you want.  However by the end of it you all survived and bonded and it really developed you for the better as a person.  Alright, so obviously I’ve never been to a prison camp…however at times (mostly cold trailing) fire was a toilsome task. Sometimes it was just downright punishing due to the sun and the smoke or just the grade of the slope we were actually standing and working on. However in fire just like anything else there is down time and for all that hard work there is rest. The money is better than prison camp too.  Lastly, if you are lucky enough to land on a large fire as we did for our last 9 days out you will have a catering service, supply tent and hot showers; all the comforts of home. Not to mention we were looking at the snowcapped peaks of Yellowstone National Park!

Remember how no matter what happens in your life you will always remember your Basic Training? Wildland firefighting has that same effect.  No matter what, you will always remember the sound of the crackle and the smells…you will always remember your first fire.  To the members of the CAC-1 Crew out of West Virginia if you are reading this I hope you enjoyed the post and THANK YOU!  Especially to Bravo Squad and the crew Bosses who shared both nuggets of wisdom and tidbits of ridiculousness, not necessarily in that order.  So here’s to always having a “Pirate Tuesday” and may none of us ever have to grid three miles of desert sage again!

The CAC-1 crew out of West Virginia

The CAC-1 crew out of West Virginia

Veterans in the 21CSC: Ryan Shepard – California Conservation Corps

Ryan Shepherd was born in Indiana in 1986. He lived there until he was 10 years old, at which point his family moved to Colorado for five years, and then finally settled in Arizona in 2004.

Ryan’s mother raised him and his younger brother by herself.

During his high school years, Ryan was very active in athletics, participating in football, wrestling, track and field, and cross-country running. His mother encouraged him to be involved in extracurricular activities beyond just sports, so Ryan also served as a member of the student council, and participated in his school’s Future Business Leaders of America program. Ryan’s mother instilled in him the desire to be part of something larger and more important than just himself, to always help others, to try his best at whatever he did, and – most importantly – to never give up on anything he tried out to accomplish.

Shortly after moving to Arizona in 2004, Ryan Joined the United States Marine Corps and became an Aviation Ordinance Technician. During his service, Ryan was deployed to Iraq five times and visited 15 different countries. He received an honorable discharge from the Marines in 2008.

Ryan explained that his time in the Marines helped him realize just how blessed we are as Americans. Other countries around the world do not enjoy the same freedoms or access to food and resources. In particular, Ryan stated that it was difficult to see young children in other countries not only living in harsh poverty, but just living to survive another day amidst war and violence. Ryan has learned to appreciate the simple things in life that most of us take for granted.

After leaving the Marines, Ryan made the decision to enroll in the Motorcycle Mechanics Institute. Ryan graduated with honors, maintaining a 3.93 GPA in 2011, and was immediately offered a job at a Harley Davidson dealership in New Mexico. Ryan accepted the position, believing he was on the path to his dream career. However, after a few short months as a motorcycle mechanic, Ryan realized that he could never make very much money as a motorcycle mechanic. He took a managerial job at Domino’s Pizza in New Mexico, later transferring to a Domino’s Pizza in Arizona so he could live with his brother.

While visiting his mother in San Diego in 2012, Ryan looked for local jobs on Craig’s List. He ended up contacting a California Conservation Corps (CCC) recruiter to inquire about what had appeared to be a government position that didn’t require an entrance exam. The next thing Ryan knew he was in Corpsmember training with several other veterans, having flashbacks of his time in the Marines. After training, Ryan was assigned to the San Diego’s North County Satellite.

While serving as an AmeriCorps member in the CCC, Ryan completed a 40-hour wildland firefighter training; wildreness first aid and CPR training; food handlers training; leadership training; and S-212 chainsaw training. He was twice offered seasonal firefighter positions with the U.S. Forest Service, but he turned them down for personal health reasons. Ryan went on to become a CCC intern with CAL-TRANS for seven months, during which time he was promoted to Crewleader and joined the Corpsmember Advisory Board. Ryan took special interest in sharing his knowledge of small engine repair with his fellow Corpsmembers and CCC staff. He often stayed after work to repair CCC power tools and teach others. He always displayed the compassion, instilled by his mother, to help others.

Despite doing well on the Conservationist One exam, Ryan accepted a permanent position with one of the California Conservation Corps’ project sponsors, River Partners, as the Southern California Regional Lead Foreman in August 2015. The position pays prevailing wage ($15.00 hr to start) and came with a company truck for him to commute to and from various job sites. The position allows Ryan to continue to work with CCC Corpsmembers as a Technical Advisor for crews. Further, it allows Ryan to continue in a career that he is passionate about, where he can continue to teach Corpsmembers and help them develop the skills and mind set they need to be successful in both the CCC and in life.

Ryan hopes to return to the CCC one day as a Conservationist One, but he feels that until the right position is offered to him he is content to finally be in a career where he can make a difference in protecting the environment and encouraging today’s youth. To that end, Ryan has become a part of something much larger than himself; he makes a difference and has made himself and his mother very proud.

Veterans in the 21CSC: Joshua “Mitch” Shannon – Southwest Conservation Corps


From Southwest Conservation Corps

After graduating from high school in Northern Illinois, Mitch decided to join the United States Marine Corps. He feels fortunate to have been deployed 11 times – eight of which were combat deployments – to a variety of places, including Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa. During his time in the Marines, Mitch worked with four different infantry units and gained a great deal of experience. However, when he completed his service in 2012 and began looking for a civilian job, Mitch discovered that there were few careers where he could apply the skills he learned as an infantryman.

During his time in the military, Mitch got married and had two kids. Completing his service allowed him and his family to move to Alabama to give his kids the opportunity to get to know more of their relatives. Mitch was pursuing a degree in nursing when a friend told him about Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC) and its AmeriCorps-based Veterans Fire Corps program. As his friend explained, the Corps would give Mitch the opportunity to learn about wildfires and get involved in careers in the outdoors. Mitch decided to apply and started with SCC in spring of 2015 along with the friend that had introduced the idea.

Mitch feels that SCC taught him a lot about wildland fire, conservation and living and working in the outdoors. Though he wasn’t completely sold on being in wildland fire as a long-term career, the Veterans Fire Corps program gave him some of the hard skills needed to be valuable for positions with federal land management agencies. His time with SCC also gave Mitch the opportunity to network with supervisors that work within the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management. Mitch isn’t certain about he wants to do after the Corps, but he knows he wants to continue working outdoors and eventually be able to find a permanent position with a land management agency somewhere in Colorado, where he and his family currently live.

Veterans in the 21CSC: Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork GreenCorps Program

2015-VW-GC-Group copy

From Mt. Adams Institute

In 2014 Mt. Adams Institute and the Umatilla National Forest launched a new wildlands firefighting training program for military veterans ages 19-35. The VetsWork GreenCorps program trains military veterans for potential careers in wildlands firefighting and prevention.

The program entails 12 weeks of hands-on training in which participants receive U.S. Forest Service instruction in safety, chainsaw use, tool use, wildland firefighting, and crew organization. Veterans work on fuel reduction, leadership training, and exposure to fire suppression. A recent 10-member VetsWork crew worked alongside an experienced 10-member Forest Service crew (also veterans) on a large-scale forest thinning project that had been a priority for a number of years, but had been on hold due to budget restrictions. This “Umatilla Vet Crew” thinned an incredible 48 acres.

The impact on the Corpsmembers was equally impressive.

“The VetsWork GreenCorps program is intended to support military veterans as they transition back into civilian life by providing them with this opportunity to explore a potential career in service to public lands and the natural resources that abound in our region,” said Brendan Norman, Executive Director of the Mt. Adams Institute.

At the conclusion of the program, eight of the ten members of the Umatilla Crew were immediately hired as seasonal firefighters at the Umatilla National Forest. During this past wildfire season, which was one of the worst in recent memory, they were able to put their skills to good use. All have been invited back to be seasonal members of the Forest Service component of the Umatilla Vet Crew, supporting next year’s VetsWork GreenCorps members.

“This is a great program to get on the fast track into employment with the U.S. Forest Service,” said 2015 VetsWork graduate Russell Vansteel. “It’s a big time commitment, but it was well worth it to me.

The Umatilla National Forest leadership has committed to ongoing support of the VetsWork GreenCorps program and is looking forward to another successful year in 2016.

To learn more, check out a video about the VetsWork: GreenCorps program on the Mt. Adam Institute’s website, or visit the Umatilla Veteran Crew Facebook page to see the work they have been engaged in since completing the program.