VetsWork: Getting Started on the Mark Twain National Forest

Brandon Radford Header

Hi, my name is Brandon Radford. I grew up on a farm, surrounded by very small communities. I spent a lot of time outside with my brothers and sisters, while I was growing up. We enjoyed the forest near us and spent much of our summers swimming and fishing in the Black River, which flowed near our home. I helped with our family farm, logging operation, & sawmill business.

I am a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom. I joined the VetsWork program at the very last minute, because I just so happened to be lucky enough to stumble across a Forest Service employee who gently nudged me into the program. I had 17 days to get everything submitted which included rushing around to get my fingerprints done (2 different sets at 2 different places), get my driving record from the DMV, fill out paperwork, and submit documents. I was also working a normal job still, so I still had to give them notice and do my employee out-processing with them too. Fortunately I got this done in time for the weeklong program orientation.


The orientation week went a lot smoother than I thought it would. I met a group of unique individuals and was able to get a complete understanding of what the program was. Oh yeah, I had just quit a job that I enjoyed to start an internship without a guaranteed job at the end…. And I did not even know what the program was all about or who I was actually doing the program with (Forest Service, Dept. of Agriculture, Mt. Adams Institute, or AmeriCorps). Unfortunately this was not my first blind leap of faith, but it was one that seems to have paid off.

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The orientation was similar to some others that I had done before, but the Mt. Adams Institute crew brought the best approach and the most balanced schedule I have ever had in similar orientations…even though I had to drive nearly 4 hours to attend. They had a variety of training items: inside and outside activities, boring and fun activities, active and inactive activities. The activities were all perfectly balanced and well arranged. We got to do a sloppy trail hike through the mud, haul four trailer loads onto a semi-swamp public trail, quick PowerPoint presentations, ice breakers (always awkward), watch videos, and hung out around evening fires. They were able to get a diverse group of veterans to engage in the activities and commit to the program. This requires a very unique touch. The food was very good, even though the first dinner set the standards a little high (all you can each fried chicken dinner at a lodge resort). The next day/week’s breakfast and lunches (Panera!) were good but hard to compete with the first dinner. The housing was described as modest in the orientation packet, but it was really good. Only thing that it was missing was Wi-Fi, but the days were so full that you didn’t miss it. The best aspect of the training was the fourth day. This was the supervisor day. Our Forest Service supervisors came in to build our work plan for the next ten months and we did a little trail maintenance on the local USFS trail and had lunch at an awesome waterfall. My supervisor and I explained what we each needed from one another and he seemed to mold the next ten month’s agenda around what I wanted out of the program.

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My first day at my placement site was spent training in Rolla, Missouri. I knocked out the required driver safety and first aid trainings. Jane even brought another VetsWork member up to get hers done as well. The next day I linked up with my engineering supervisor, Amy Crews. Oh yeah, again, I forgot to mention that I am being shared between the engineering department in the Rolla Supervisors Office and the Recreation Department at the Potosi District office.  I am scheduled to work two days in Potosi and two days in Rolla. Back to day 2. Amy introduced me around the office and by the end of the day, Amy had assigned me 40 different projects. Turns out, it wasn’t difficult for her to find work for me after all. She continues to add additional projects each week to that list. She is great to work with, because she is a good teacher and easy going. The next morning we went to Ava, Missouri to teach the Recreation crew about the new water system testing procedures and policies. This was supposed to be a quick training, and we planned on visiting some dams that afternoon. We started talking about some problems the Recreation crew in Ava were dealing with and then overshot the training time by just a bit. We made it back to Rolla around 7 p.m. and we didn’t go to any of the dams. The next day I did some more dam research and started to design a quick dam inspection checklist for the Recreation crews on the districts to use every year.

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All and all, the first two weeks of the program have been good. Next time, I’ll share more about the projects that I’m working on.

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