Category Archives: Wildland Firefighting

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




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.

Veterans in the 21CSC: Chandler Goering – Arizona Conservation Corps

DSCF2084(Chandler pictured front row, right)


From Arizona Conservation Corps

When Chandler Goering moved to Arizona, he knew he wanted to get into wildland firefighting. After serving in the Army National Guard, including two years of active duty as an Infantry Sergeant in Iraq and Kuwait, he earned a degree in fire science and started applying for jobs. When he couldn’t find the sort of job opportunity he was looking for, a recruiter told him about the Veteran Fire Corps program with the Arizona Conservation Corps (AZCC), explaining that it was a good way to get a foot in the door and gain practical skills.

Chandler will complete his six-month AmeriCorps term on November 11th. He will have spent a season working on a fuels mitigation crew for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on three districts in Arizona, put in hundreds of hours running a chainsaw in the process, and completed coursework for all Firefighter I & II certifications. When the program ends, Chandler will return home to Minnesota for the winter where he has accepted an EMT position. He plans to spend this time applying for wildland firefighting jobs for the 2016 season.

The practical skills Chandler gained aren’t the only valuable aspect of his AmeriCorps experience. When asked what he’ll remember most about his time with Arizona Conservation Corps, Chandler talks about people: being part of a crew, being more sociable, and interacting with project managers and fire personnel within the BLM. He learned about different career opportunities and how to be more successful applying for positions. Chandler also made connections with public lands management employees who offered to refer him to hiring managers and put in a good word.

Nearly all alumni who have applied for firefighter positions after exiting the Veteran Fire Corps program have succeeded in landing a position. Considering Chandler’s positive attitude and drive, we’re expecting that he will be on a wildfire crew next summer.


Veterans in the 21CSC: Kris Pedings – Southwest Conservation Corps



From Southwest Conservation Corps, Durango, CO

As a kid, Kris remembers wanting to be a soldier, or a cowboy or a firefighter; always wanting to do something challenging and rewarding. He worked construction for a number of years in order to put himself through school in criminal justice. After finishing school he took time to see the world by serving in the Peace Corps in an agricultural program in Ecuador, and teaching English in China for several months. After returning to the United States, Kris started looking into the military and wanted to try his hand at the Special Forces; he felt drawn to how elite it felt, and how hard it would be to become successful. After more than a year of strenuous training, he was placed as a Special Forces engineer Sergeant with the 5th group at Fort Campbell, KY.

After three years and a couple of deployments, things started to slow down and deployments started to get cancelled. This led him start thinking about a career with a Hotshot Fire crew or as a Smokejumper, someone who parachutes into a remote region to fight wildfires. Kris started contacting supervisors to get some insight. During this time, Kris worked on getting all of the necessary certifications to serve on a fire crew, but he found it difficult to finalize many of the certifications without the required field days. His search led him to phone calls with a couple of Fire Management Officers who highly recommended the Veterans Fire Corps (VFC) program, an AmeriCorps program of Southwest Conservation Corps.

Kris ended up applying to the VFC program and started just two days after getting his terminal leave and finishing up with the military. He found the VFC program to be just what he needed to pursue a career in wildland firefighting. The certifications, work experience and networking would help set him up for success within the federal land management agencies. Kris is currently sending out resumes to several Hotshot crews that are stationed with Smokejumping units. He is about to start a month-long Emergency Medical Technician course that will prepare him even further for a job in wildland firefighting.

Veterans Turn Firefighters in California Program, Part of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps

The California Conservation Corps enrolls veterans to assist with firefighting efforts as an official program of 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

At a California Conservation Corps center in the Sierra foothills, 50 military veterans were put through their paces this week, mastering a 40-hour wildland fire training led by members of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management.

After completing the course, the veterans became part of the nationwide Veterans Green Corps, that also includes veterans in the Student Conservation Association and the Southwest Conservation Corps. Many Corps programs have also developed Veterans Conservation Corps programs with other partners including Rocky Mountain Youth Corps (Colorado), Montana Conservation Corps, Maine Conservation Corps, Nevada Conservation Corps, Washington Conservation Corps, Utah Conservation Corps and Western Colorado Conservation Corps. These programs are all part of the new 21st Century Conservation Service Corps.

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