Meet Michael Zsembik, 2020 VetsWork AmeriCorps Intern!

I grew up deep in the heart of Texas, in the capital Austin. I enjoy mountain biking, bird watching, and as silly as it sounds getting butterflies to land on my fingers. During my Naval service, my ship responded to the 2010 earthquake disaster in Port au Prince, Haiti and sailed through the straights of Magellan at the tip of South America within three months. My family is probably my biggest support system and I truly cherish them for that and try to remind them how much they mean to me more often than not.

I chose to be a Mt. Adams Institute AmeriCorps intern because I can gain valuable real world experience in the field I studied in college and truly make impactful change in the natural world that all life depends on. I also chose Mt. Adams Institute because it helps veterans find new professional pathways where they can apply the sense of service and integrity learned to environmental stewardship. I would say I am most excited about being in the forest and connecting to the land in a more meaningful way far from distractions. I am thrilled to cultivate a professional skill set with a hands on approach.

VetsWork: Wild and Wonderful West Virginia

Mae Godfrey is serving an 11-month VetsWork Environment AmeriCorps internship as a wildlife management intern on the Monongahela National Forest. This internship offers an opportunity to gain valuable knowledge and work experiences assisting in various program areas of the U.S. Forest Service, with an emphasis in ecology and wildlife. Continue Reading…

VetsWork: Gaining Elevation

As I look out my window today I find it hard to believe it’s the 25th of January. When my family and I arrived here last April there was more snow on the ground than there is right now, and it seemed a lot colder. Since then I have learned and experienced a whole lot. I am not certain if I would refer to myself as a natural resource manager…however I know that I am definitely no longer a marine maintenance technician! I have had the privilege to work alongside a group of outstanding individuals here in the Monongahela National Forest, and for that I am grateful. My VetsWork AmeriCorps internship is nearing the end, and with it, the final blog. I will be heading west soon as a seasonal firefighter.

This program has allowed me some incredible opportunities and helped to bridge a gap that hasn’t been filled since I left the United States Army. I want to thank everyone who has helped me find my place this year, and given me a jump-start towards an awesome position in Wildland Fire! Without your leadership, guidance, training, and mentorship I would not be looking forward to an exciting new career. As usual I want to thank my family, friends, and especially my wife, who has met every challenge with me along the way. May God bless each and every one of you throughout the year and may you continue to “care for the land and serve people.”

For anyone interested in pursuing ANY future plans, dreams, aspirations, goals, or even whims; I hope that you will follow your instincts! If you feel like you are stuck, perhaps it’s finally time to do something about it. Change is good! It helps to refine us as the people we were meant to become. How will you know who you are unless you try new things and experience different circumstances in your life? Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, once said, “you cannot change your destination overnight, but you can change your direction.” In my life I have seen a whole lot of both–especially as a full time RV’er. However I have learned throughout the process that everything starts from within. You cannot make a change in your life, no matter how small, unless YOU effect that change. I leave you with some of the many pictures of the district, and the wonderful and wild places I have seen as a VetsWork AmeriCorps member. Thanks again to AmeriCorps, Mt. Adams Institute, the VetsWork program, and everyone on the Monongahela for a great year!

Early morning sunrise over the Gauley River

Fall colors on display at the Cranberry Glades

A giant root ball from a Red Oak that fell during a tornado

Rhododendron, the State flower of West Virginia

Another day done…thanks Lord!

Summit Lake fishing area and campground

Turkey tail fungus on one of the many snags throughout the forest

Falls of Hills Creek (Middle Falls)

Bergamot flower from the Monarda didyma plant more commonly referred to as Scarlet Beebalm

Reflections of West Virginia on the Cranberry River in the wilderness

Training with the White Sulphur Springs Fire Crew

VetsWork: “Calling All Veterans”

Darrin Grant

Are you the kind of individual that wakes up in the morning and hits the snooze button about 4 times? Typically you dread getting out of bed and starting the workday routine because most likely it will look like a takeout from the movie Groundhogs Day? Have you have come to realize that quite possibly the biggest achievement in your life was something you did while you were on active duty? Well if you are still reading this then you are about to find out how an Army diesel engine mechanic became a Natural Resource Management Intern without any additional training. I am not going to give you my whole life story here but I figured some background music would be nice…

First Tree

First Tree

I grew up in north Idaho at a place called Priest Lake and was surrounded by over a million acres of National Forest, so it goes without saying that I was the type of kid that grew up more outside than inside. My parents owned a marina on the east side of the lake. As a result I had more chores than the average kid but I also had a lot more freedom. Times are different now in most places, however I am grateful for the experiences I had growing up, it prepared me for life! I ended up putting my love for the water and my love for engines together and I joined the Army as a Watercraft Engineer. I bet most of you didn’t know the Army has boats; well I didn’t either until I joined! During my time in I was able to see a lot of places, some nice…some not so nice. However through it all I decided to stay in and make it a career. The Armed Forces are unlike any other job out there; and it is extremely challenging to someone who has not served to try to explain what it is that we do… therefor I am not going to explain. I will simple say thank you to all the leaders who helped me throughout the years, to my wonderful supportive family and to my Lord and Savior. Without this positive support group I wouldn’t be where I am today!

Cranberry Tree's

Cranberry Tree’s

So how did I get to where I currently am in the Gauley District located within the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia?   Shortly before transitioning out of the Army in 2014 my wife and I decided we wanted to travel and visit friends and family around the states. I purchased a used travel trailer and adapted it for a family of three with a toddler. We decided to go “all in” and to sell the house rather than have an anchor (no pun intended). I had a lot of leave saved up from deployments so we traveled on full pay for almost four months. To make a long story shorter we ended up loving the “full timer” life style so much we actually did it for two years. This brings us again to this job!

Gauley River

Gauley River

Most people in the Armed forces love the teamwork, the esprit de corps and brotherhood of working together for a greater purpose. I was ready to be part of a team again; I wanted to be part of something bigger than me. What could be better than helping to preserve all the natural resources I had just enjoyed for the past two years? Like many Veterans I tried the USA jobs, I put a resume on several websites and got the typical recruiting companies offering me jobs that I was not interested in. Then one day I found a website called Cool Works, and wandered upon a company called Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) whose mission is to “strengthen the connection between people and the natural world through education, service learning, career development, and research.” Based in Washington State MAI runs VetsWork AmeriCorps, a career development program for Veterans interested in the natural resources field. It’s through this program that I am serving with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS).

Red Oak Knob

Red Oak Knob

Let me paint you a picture…the morning air is crisp as you prepare to hike up the ridge. Dew is still on the grass and mist hangs in the air over the valley below from the river. You can hear the sound of water rushing along its banks, but it not loud enough to keep you from hearing the local wildlife. As you near the top a turkey takes flight and soars back down the south ridge. You check your map and realize that you are almost to your destination as the sun peeks through the oaks, and burns off the mist…yes it’s going to be another great day in the forest.

Working for the USFS is not just walking around in the woods marking timber, or measuring the diameter of trees either.   I personally find myself doing something different every week, and working with professional, friendly, and family oriented people. MAI has over 36 internships that Veterans like you can apply for similar to mine. For those of us who want something different and still want to make a difference while working together with people VetsWork is a terrific program. Depending on where you are in life and your individual choice, it may even lead into a career with the USFS. This is a network based program so you get out what you put into it! One side note here, most jobs within the natural resources field are in a low stress environment. If you put the wrong co-ordinates in your GPS no one gets blown up….you just end up walking in the wood a little longer than you expected! So what are you waiting for? Wouldn’t it be nice to do something you have always wanted to do…maybe even dreamed of doing before you joined, instead of just a job? Myself and other Veterans like me are examples that it can be done; we are now living our dreams!

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