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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

Mitch

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

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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 : Zachary Dancy – Southwest Conservation Corps

Zachary

Crew Leader, Veteran Fire Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps, Durango, CO

Before joining the Army National Guard, Zach worked as a Licensed Practitioner Nurse at a Specialty practice in western Colorado for four years. He found this experience to be very rewarding, but also very challenging with long days and nights; burnout was a big reality. Looking for something different, but still in the medical field, he joined the National Guard. After preliminary screening it was determined that he would be fit to work as a medic (MOS 68W), and he quickly jumped on the opportunity.

Zach shipped out to basic training at Ft. Jackson, SC, and then to occupational training at Fot. Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX. Shortly after finishing all of his training he was unexpectedly deployed to Bagram, Afghanistan for a year where he worked in the 947th Engineering Unit from Colorado. After his deployment he returned stateside and was active until spring 2015 when he took his current position as a Crew Leader for the AmeriCorps-based Veterans Fire Corps Program at Southwest Conservation Corps (SCC).

Before becoming a Crew Leader with SCC, Zach was involved with the Veterans Fire Corps program through Arizona Conservation Corps in Tuscon. There he came to really enjoy the work, as well as the people he got to work with. Every day he is excited to go out into the field and help others progress and succeed in the Veterans Fire Corps program. Though fire has become a lingering interest for Zach, for now he wants to stay involved in VFC programs for the foreseeable future.

 

Veterans in the 21CSC : Emily Hovendick – California Conservation Corps

From California Conservation Corps

Emily Hovendick grew up in Wyoming and served in the US Navy for two terms. She was an aviation mechanic and finished her military career as an E6. She then attended University of California, Irvine and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Archeology. In November 2014, Emily joined the California Conservation Corps’ (CCC) Camarillo Center as a Fisheries Veteran Corpsmember. She was hired to assist with population status and trend monitoring of southern California steelhead, and to help restore critical habitat for these endangered fish.

Emily worked with many of the CCC’s partner agencies and organizations, including the CA Department of Fish and Wildlife, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, South Coast Habitat Restoration, Mountain Restoration Trust, The Nature Conservancy, and Ojai Valley Land Conservancy. She worked on a variety of restoration projects, including non-native species eradication, barrier removals, and native planting projects. Emily performed over 30 miles of various types of surveys to locate and quantify steelhead habitat, spawning activity, and population status. She also attended numerous trainings through which she learned about safe herbicide usage, proper grant writing, and various field survey techniques. Emily also attended the annual Salmonid Restoration Federation Conference in Santa Rosa, CA.

Emily took advantage of all of the resources the CCC offered, including the AmeriCorps scholarship opportunity.  In May 2015, Emily left the CCC to take a job with the U.S. Forest Service as a training archeologist/firefighter. She earned this position with the fieldwork experience she gained with the CCC. Emily was always one of the hardest working Corpsmembers on any CCC project and repeatedly received praised from sponsors. She is greatly missed at the Camarillo Center!

Veterans in the 21CSC : Great Basin Institute – Nevada Conservation Corps

Veterans Conservation Corps (NCA)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Veterans Conservation Corps Begins Works in Nevada’s Sloan Canyon NCA

On September 26th in Henderson, NV, five AmeriCorps members with Nevada Conservation Corps’ Veterans Conservation Corps program were joined by community volunteers, Congresswoman Dina Titus, Councilwoman Debra March, NV Energy Vice President for Government and Community Relations Judy Stokey and representatives from partnering organizations to launch the “From Military Service to Green Service” partnership at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area. The event was covered by KTNV Channel 13 News.

One of the veterans, Ryan Richards of Reno, NV, left the Marine Corps after four years of service and decided to become involved with environmental service through Nevada Conservation Corps’ Veterans program. The program provides young military veterans opportunities to work outdoors building trails, improving habitats and protecting Native American cultural resources at Sloan Canyon National Conservation Area.

“This is a great opportunity for newly separated military veterans to gain work experience and training in a new career field,” said Richards. “I am happy and thankful for all of the participating organizations that are sponsoring this partnership.”

The partnership is supported by NV Energy Foundation, which provided the Conservation Lands Foundation a $75,000 grant in support of the Veterans Conservation Corps. Additional partners include the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), City of Henderson, Nevada Conservation Corps, and volunteers with Friends of Sloan Canyon. The veterans are also AmeriCorps members and will receive AmeriCorps Education Awards at the completion of their terms of service.

“Our support of the Veterans Conservation Corps is an extension of our commitment to honor the men and women who have served our country,” said Paul Caudill, NV Energy President and Chief Executive Officer. Caudill is also Chair of the NV Energy Foundation. “Not only will this program provide employment to local veterans, it will make a positive lasting impact on Sloan Canyon and the benefits it provides to the local community.”

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

Kris

 

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 and the 21CSC: Matt West – Mt. Adams Institute

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Provided by the Mt. Adams Institute

Matt West is a U.S. Navy veteran in his second full-time term with VetsWork: Environment, an AmeriCorps program through the Mt. Adams Institute that supports career development for veterans seeking a civilian career in natural resource and public lands management.

Matt serves with the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA), where he engages other veterans in service opportunities that restore the natural environment of the South Puget Sound and Joint Base Lewis McCord area. Matt designed an internship program for veterans with a community partner, the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), that has helped over 25 veterans develop job skills in the environmental restoration sector. This program has doubled in size in its second year.

Matt is passionate about helping other veterans connect with the natural world. He believes there is a mutual benefit when veterans work on environmental restoration projects: the land benefits from attention, and – equally important for Matt – are the personal and potentially therapeutic affects of this work for Corpsmembers. Matt says, “By offering veterans a chance to heal the Earth, I have witnessed incredible transitions of incredible people doing incredible work.”

Matt’s civic engagement was also demonstrated through his personal Community Action Project. He worked closely with local organizations to secure donated materials, equipment and land, to create an edible garden for the community. The garden is situated in an urban neighborhood where children from 60 percent of the households receive free or reduced cost school lunches. Matt’s objectives were multi-dimensional: he sought to engage veterans in the project to engage their ethic for community service; he wanted to provide access to healthy food options for this low-income community; and he wanted to demonstrate to local residents the value of growing local, healthy food. The garden has been installed and the community is actively engaged in its maintenance. It was an incredible project with clear community impacts.

Through all of Matt’s experiences with VetsWork, he came to realize something: he loves service. Although he has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and thought he would continue looking for a career in that field, Matt has discovered that he finds value and purpose in helping others.

Over the course of his 18 months in the program, Matt has developed a place for himself and his family in the national service world. He was even recently asked to share his thoughts about his experience to an audience of 200 supporters, including Washington State representatives and Veterans Affairs officials.

As a result of his hard work at his site and in his community, Matt was recently offered an employment contract with his sponsoring organization to support the internship program he developed as a VetsWork AmeriCorps member. He will begin this position at the end of his term of service.

Faces of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps: Dale Thomas of American Conservation Experience

Dale Thomas Snake Training

This summer we plan to highlight several of the participants in the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps (21CSC). American Conservation Experience is a 21CSC program operator. To view all Faces of the 21CSC stories, please click here.  

American Conservation Experience is proud to showcase a former AmeriCorps member, Crew Leader, and United States Veteran, Dale Thomas.

Dale has had a long history of service. Not only in serving his community through volunteerism, but also serving his country. For 7 years Dale served with the Arizona Army National Guard, 819th Engineer Company.

Joining the National Guard was the way he was going to help pay for his college tuition and do something meaningful with his life. Continue reading