VetsWork: All Good Things Must Come To An End – A Story of Success         

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I write this with an unusual mixture of sadness and excitement. It’s a weird feeling to think that this will be my final blog for the Mt. Adams Institute, as my time in the program will soon come to an abrupt end.

It seems like yesterday that my husband, Jim, and I made the move in February from bustling Champaign, Illinois to rural Doniphan, Missouri in search of “A Better Beginning.” Since I began service on the Mark Twain National Forest in March, it has been a whirlwind. Over the past 6 months, 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.




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And now, only six months after starting the VetsWork Intern Program, 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.



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.

I would encourage anyone interested in the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program to strongly consider the opportunity. While the pay is minimal, the hours are long at times, and the requirements may seem stringent and time consuming, it is worth it.

Trust me, it’s worth it.

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VetsWork: Getting Started on the Mark Twain National Forest

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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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VetsWork: “My Office Views on the Mark Twain National Forest”

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A Missouri treasure at Turners Mill

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Won’t find this in the city. Pines Overlook – Red Bluff Recreation Area

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Mark Twain was first named Clark National Forest

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Old Silver Mines late 1800’s and closed in the 1930’s

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There’s something you don’t see every day, big whistle tube aka corrugated metal pipe, RR tracks on top.

Working for the Forest Service or any other related agency, does have its perks! If any of these places spark your interests, this may be the job for you! I couldn’t imagine better office views!

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VetsWork: “Enjoy What You Do, Do What You Enjoy”


Greer Spring View: Thanks to the Forest Service, this view is no longer only available to private land owners, but is now open to the general public; at least those who dare trek the old mule supply route by foot anyways, down from Greer Mill to the Greer Cabins. Gratefully, I was a part of the initial actions to restore the grounds and be one of the first to see inside the cabin and gaze upon the spring from an old deck that still stands strong today (well, mostly) believed to be built between the 20’s and 40’s.

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Greer Cabins: The cabins were built in the 1920’s and remodeled again in the 1940’s. They stand as both an architectural artifact and an homage to the creativity from almost a century ago. The view alone is very serene and calming and is a great reward for hikers and adventurers alike. And to think, I would never have had an opportunity such as this without the Mt. Adams Institute and the wonderful VetsWork program.

Greer Mill: Built in 1899, Greer Mill is unique because the cables that ran the mill were 3/4 of a mile from the spring, an incredible distance for the technology at the time. I got a chance to meet with some of the members of HistoriCorps, a group dedicated to preserving history utilizing volunteers, as they jacked up the foundation to its proper height. I witnessed a piece of history in the name of preserving history, something meaningful and inspiring to write home about.

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Epitome: These signs can be found at the camping area located at Greer Spring Recreation Area. To me, they not only map the area or list boring rules, they engage visitors by advertising all the joys available to those willing to seek them.


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VetsWork: Mid-year reflection on the Mark Twain National Forest


As we break for the 4th of July holiday, “It’s all downhill from here…” my supervisor mentions. The summer solstice has passed and I too have reached the midpoint of my internship with the Forest Service via the Mt Adams Institute VetsWork program. So far I have explored a plethora of places I have never been before and have made some new friends along the way. Not to mention getting some awesome training with some chainsaws.

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Up ahead, I still have big plans for the White Oak Trail and the Woodchuck Trail which have become the focus of most of my attention outside of my regular duties. I plan on getting some heavy equipment certifications, as well; which I am pretty excited about. Some days, as I ponder over the historical natural areas and their beauty, it’s easy to forget this is work. But, the job we accomplish each day leaves our parks and recreation areas more beautiful than before and it’s something to be proud of.

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VetsWork: Wilderness Areas – Not Always Sunshine and Rainbows


This past month has been really exciting getting to work in Wilderness areas. As an inspiring Wilderness Technician this hands on experience is making me appreciate them more and more. I love the whole wilderness character aspect of them and that it’s a place to get away from all the BS that life throws at you. They’re a place to get some solitude and gain that primitive feeling I enjoy. In the month of May I have been cleaning up the trail on both Rock Pile and Bell Mountain Wilderness with the help of 9 AmeriCorps crew members out of Denver. It feels good getting back into the leadership role and is great experience leading a trail crew working with crosscut saws and various other trail tools. Its hard work and I love it, getting dirty everyday going home feeling like I made a difference. I tell my crew that this job isn’t always sunshine and rainbows so don’t be afraid to get down and dirty. Below is picture taken at Bell Mountain Wilderness which covers 9,027 acres and is part of the St. Francois Mountains.

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Here’s a picture of the crew heading into Rock Pile Wilderness to get some work done. In May, we brushed and logged out a 4 mile trail in the Rock Pile Wilderness, a wilderness area covering 4,131 acres. The crewmembers are between the ages of 18-24 both male and female and from all over the U.S. Their duty station is out of Denver, Colorado where they’ll report back to once their gig is up here in mid-July.

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I have also gained my red card certification and am now a Firefighter Type 2 so I am really hoping to get out west this summer and get a fire under my belt. That would be a great experience and good way to get on with the U.S. Forest Service at the end of my VetsWork internship.

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VetsWork: Career Building – From Dream to Reality.


Hello all! Only a few months into my new internship with the Forest Service and all is going well. This internship is a time of exploration to learn what I like most and to get a better sense for career/college direction hereafter. I have had many opportunities already to connect with several departments with an array of activities and trainings. This includes work with administrative/clerical, archeology, engineering, fire, recreation, and timber.


Although I have had more exposure in some departments over others, I have begun to get an understanding of each one in itself. As time goes on, this will help me find my niche and reach my goal of deciding an area of study for the Forest Service or any other related agency. Soon, I will connect with other areas as well to further learning and keep this goal moving forward.

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To be honest, in the back of my mind I do have an idea already of what I may like to pursue as a career. However, I am allowing all experiences/trainings and internship completion before choosing. My career choice needs to be definite. There are many traveling opportunities working for the Department of Agriculture and travelling to new places is a favorite pastime and I do welcome this…depending on where it is of course. Not sure what is to come at or near the end of my internship but am very grateful for this time spent with the VetsWork program on the Mark Twain National Forest gaining new skills and trainings to aid in my future.

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VetsWork: Settling in at the Poplar Bluff Ranger District


So far the move to Poplar Bluff, MO to take this internship has been completely smooth. I grew up in a town less than twenty miles from here and have been hunting and fishing on the National Forest in this area since I was child. Being familiar with the area and having numerous family and friends nearby has made the transition a lot easier than I had originally thought it was going to be.


Cave exploring at the Vetswork orientation near Ft Leonardwood, MO.

 Upon arriving here the first thing I noticed was how good the working environment throughout the district is. From my supervisor to coworkers and even other volunteers, everyone seems upbeat and extremely willing to accept a newcomer and show them the ropes. This was a huge relief. Sometimes during my eight years in the Army I learned that when you arrive at a new duty station, people can expect you to instantly know your way around and all the duties you’re responsible for without giving you too much direction. That wasn’t the case here. Everyone so far has been nothing but friendly and helpful.


Largemouth fishing during time off on the Mark Twain National Forest

My actual duties so far with the Engineering group have been a blast. Each day we are out in the field, dealing mostly with the forest roads. From documenting to layout and design, they have a fairly complicated work load but do a great job explaining it all to me. Although I’ve been in a similar job field since graduation, the Forest Service has its own unique challenges and standards on keeping the road system operational. But again, my supervisors have been great teachers and I’m picking up the duty scope well I believe.


These turkeys must know we’re working and not hunting…

It’s Springtime here in Missouri, and the forest is in bloom. The plants and trees are bright and full of color, making the scenery spectacular. However, it presents its own challenges. Line of sight visibility while out doing our work becomes impaired, nats and mosquitos guard the damp areas, and hornets, wasps, yellow jackets, and snakes are some of the other friendly critters lying in wait to greet somebody getting close to their homes. It’s also turkey season in Missouri right now which brings people from all over the country by the waves trying to tag out on one of our “budget birds.” Coincidentally, they tend to pick camping areas in the exact same spots that we may have work scheduled for. But oh well, if I said these were complaints, I’d be lying. I’m having a lot of fun learning the trade, and doing it in some of the most beautiful places in the state are just another bonus to working with the Forest Service.


An out-of-state hunter visiting the Mark Twain bags another one of Missouri’s “Budget Birds…”

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VetsWork: “I wasn’t born on the river, but I got there as soon as possible.”


I cherish every day that I can wake to the great outdoors. The word “work” doesn’t even come to mind. Since moving here to Doniphan, MO I’ve come to appreciate the “tubing” culture that has evolved around Current River. There is a sign above one of the patrons of 11 Point Ranger District which sums up the mindset of the locals: “I wasn’t born on the river, but I got there as soon as possible.” I patiently wait for summer to be a part of this experience and explore the Current River for myself.


As a part of the VetsWork Program I intend to leave my mark on what has become my favorite area along the Current, Float Camp Recreation Area. There are 2 trails, White Oak and Woodchuck Nature Trails. Float Camp and its coinciding trails were established in the 50’s as interpretive trails. The trails and its interpretive signage have fallen on the way side and I plan to restore the trails as they were originally intended many years ago for future generations to enjoy many more years to come.



Being a part of AmeriCorps has not only opened my eyes to many aspects of the Forest Service, but what the forest has to offer. On a daily basis I am surrounded my many like-minded individuals who have the same passion for nature and I learn something from them every day.


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VetsWork: The Truth of the Forest isn’t Universal.

I have had a long history with forest service roads. Seemingly simple arteries, these roads have carried me towards many expeditions into the heart of Missouri’s wilds. Traveling them evokes many fond memories of time spent with close friends and family. Though, to simply travel the roads does not instill a true sense of the forest they access. To me that truth was found in hiking the forests. Engaging only as an observer, I viewed the forests as a thing to be experienced but otherwise undisturbed.

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The truth of the forest however is not universal. A logger’s truth is a more practical one, though contrary to my own. Viewing the forest as a resource to be utilized the roads take on a far greater importance. They give life to the industry and provide means to those whose livelihood depends on the forest.

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During my first month working alongside the Forest Service I have found truth of the forest to be rather a matter of perspective. In gaining a greater understanding of the work involved in maintaining the Forest Service roads, I have come to view the forest as an organism to be cared for, allowing for it’s continual use while minimizing disruption, rather than an artifact to be preserved and protected from human interference.

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I become acquainted with the many facets of the Forest Service that work together to ensure that roads not only provide access but do so in a way that protects the forest or the at very least minimizes damage. I am quite fortunate to have a supervisor who exhibits a genuine interest in exposing me to as many areas of Forest Service responsibility as I am able to experience. Though we are focusing primarily on the roads I have been able interact with the other disciplines to some degree.

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Focusing on the roads I have begun to appreciate them as far more than ordinary pathways of dirt and gravel. The level of planning goes far beyond the road itself. Considerations for the impacts on wildlife, the effects on the watershed or disruption of historical heritage must be accounted for. While this can lead to frustrating levels of bureaucracy it is all essential to keeping the forest healthy.

I consider myself fortunate to be able to be a part of the process of keeping these lands healthy for future use.

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VetsWork: “First Month – Round 2”

Jason-Griffith-Blog-HeaderA little over a month into my second round of the VetsWork Program is going well. We are gearing up for the start of the recreation season. This entails getting all of the campgrounds cleaned, mowed, limbs removed, trees trimmed, hazard trees felled, and water systems restored. We are currently working on Markham Springs campground. The winter months have not been kind to the area in regards to leaf litter, broken limbs and downed trees.

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Markham Springs

I am looking forward to the opportunity to work on a joint project with the Missouri Department of Conservation. We will be doing a fish inventory survey at two of the lakes on the Eleven Point Ranger District. This will entail a late night working after dark on the lakes pulling in fish with dip nets and recording their species and size.

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Campsite at Markham Springs after clearing leaves.

The people I work with here on Zone 2 (Eleven Point and Poplar Bluff Ranger Districts) have been very welcoming. I have known several of them for a few years and they treat me like another member of the family.

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Bubbling Spring at Markham

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Putting up a sign with Anthony Lee and 2 fellow VetsWork interns: Cole York (Right) and Jarrett Chilton (Center)


VetsWork: “First Month on The Job”


I moved from Carbondale, IL to a small town named Park Hills which is only a 25 minute drive into work every day. It has all the essentials you need such as a grocery store, gas station, Mexican restaurant, and gym, plus the rent is super cheap! The Forest Service office in Potosi has been very welcoming and helpful in getting the hang of things. The employees are very friendly and have on numerous occasions let me know that if I have any questions about anything, don’t hesitate to ask them. I’ve been getting out with the recreation folks a lot getting all the parks up and running for opening day. This includes cutting down hazard trees, getting the water systems up and running for clean drinking water, signage, and basic maintenance. I have also gone out with the wilderness and trails technician and logged out a couple trails for the upcoming season getting them up to standards for folks that hike them. In addition I’ve joined the timber crew learning to mark trees and see how that whole process works. My supervisor is very insightful, explaining how the Forest Service works, helping me get all settled in, pushing my paper work through, and answering any questions I have.

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(Rock Pile Wilderness area, one of the three wilderness areas we are responsible for at the Potosi District)

The schedule is really nice, I’ve been alternating between five- nine hour days one week and four- nine hour days the next. So I basically have a three day weekend every other week. Once the season starts to warm up I’ll be switching to four- 10 hour days regularly. This flexibility allows me to work 40 and be done for the week or come in and accumulate some extra time so I can take a day or two off if I have something planned.   Starting in late April an AmeriCorps crew is going to be out here working with us on fixing up some trails. I’ll be working alongside the wilderness and trails tech here, but once he feels I have the hang of it he plans on turning that over to me. So, I’ll be getting some real good hands-on-learning of how to run a trail crew which is very exciting to me being an aspiring wilderness and trails tech.

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(Marble Creek Recreation Area, swimming hole)

When I am not working there are a lot of trails here in my neck of the woods that I am going to have to explore. I enjoy backpacking and plan on making some of them a weekend trip for the longer trails. I also enjoy mountain biking and there are some well-known trails out here such as the Berryman Trail. I can’t wait for the summer season to be in full swing so I can head down to the river and get my float on as well.

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(Council Bluff Recreation Area)

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(Annual Silver Mines Recreation Area Kayak Race)