VetsWork: A Relief to a Concern

Starting out I didn’t know what to expect or how any of this would truly turn out. Honestly, it was a bit nerve racking and I was worried that I may be making a risky gamble on a too good to be true posting on the internet (I think we have all heard horror stories of those). Well in the last few weeks I found the answer to my concerns and it’s the one that I wish I would have been able to read before I drove from North Carolina to Oregon for a posting I found online. First off Mt. Adams Institute’s (MAI) recruitment coordinator, Katie, is as nice if not even nicer in person than on the phone when you first speak to her. Aaron, Laura, and Erica also go above and beyond expectations and they are some of the most awesome down to earth individuals I have ever met. But I digress, the MAI staff has been very supportive and have made me feel like I can go to them for anything that I may need; they truly care about their mission and I truly believe that they want me to succeed in this endeavor.

In regards to the Forest Service, I was very unsure what to expect with the business culture and working environment at my Forest Service site. I was pleased to find it very inviting and friendly and they make me feel like I am one of them; they are very accepting. It has been a very pleasant experience, except the fact that I am so far away from my family. That has been the most difficult part, but that was to be expected as it is never easy but it is not the first time I have had to leave my family for an extended period (hence the veteran part). I have been able to do the job that I have been given as a VetsWork AmeriCorps intern as well as see what other Forest Service employees’ positions and duties are, and have been invited from time-to-time to go along with them and help in their day-to-day work. I’m indeed off to a good start and I am looking forward to where it is going to lead me into the future.

Columbia River Gorge

VetsWork: Getting To Know My New Office – Mt. Hood National Forest

 

My name is Ryan Toth, and I am one of two Mt. Adams Institute, AmeriCorps interns working as a recreation site surveyor for the Mt. Hood Ranger District in the little town of Parkdale, OR. So far during my first few weeks it has been quite the adventure going up on the mountain and doing a little bit of exploring while working and getting my qualifications.

 

Mt. Hood National Forest

My supervisor and their co-workers have been more than helpful during my transition into this internship; basically showing me the ropes of how things work around the district, and how the next year will be. I have already been offered to go out with multiple departments throughout the ranger district, as well as out of town trainings that I’m really looking forward to. I had no idea of all the jobs that the U.S. Forest Service has to offer, and really hope I don’t have a hard time choosing when it comes down to applying for jobs with them after my internship.

So far on the work aspect of things, we have started fixing up the discrepancies for the upcoming safety inspection, started making signs for local campgrounds, completed a few online training courses, and tuned up some snowmobiles for us to ride. We took the snowmobiles out and rode up to the Clear Lake fire watch, where we delivered tools and checked on the family currently renting it out. After we saw everything to be shipshape, we road to the other side of Clear Lake, looking at local campgrounds we will be upgrading, as well as doing a bit of exploring in my new office (Mt. Hood). Although a lot of it was still under a couple feet of snow, it was good to travel around and get a small glimpse of what I will be working on.

Clear Lake

I decided to attend what seemed to be a team building/safety meeting for the engineering department of the Forest Service, and was able to meet and greet most of the engineers based out of Mt. Hood National Forest headquarters in Sandy, OR. There I was able to learn a lot about their positions and how they operate when they are not in the field working. I also obtained potential fieldwork opportunities outside of my internship duties, in order to get a better understanding of the engineering field for future employment. I’m going to be learning quite a bit throughout the next year, so I am really looking forward to getting to know each department more in depth.

VetsWork: Reflecting On This Year

Mike BishopThe last time I had written one of these blogs I was preparing for my transfer to the Crescent Ranger District in July. Now as I write my final blog of the year, I have less than a month left in the program. It’s gone by fast to say the least. Someone who does not have a passion for natural resource management cannot last in a program as demanding as this one. But, if you do have that passion and can somehow make it to the end, there are ample opportunities for you afterwards.

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Many have already left this program with job offers, some have been made offers afterwards, and others are looking forward to continuing their education in the New Year. If someone were to tell you this program offers nothing but a monthly paycheck below minimum wage, they’d be lying to you. Putting job offers and prospects to the side, this program allowed me to gain invaluable on the job training with the Forest Service. I have acquired new qualifications that only seasoned employees can gain, and yet I have never technically been employed by the federal government. I have been to the majority of all our recreation sites on the forest, while many seasonal employees are usually restricted to working on their designated districts. I have had the opportunity of meeting new people I am happy to call co-workers and friends. I have gained the vast knowledge of the outdoors surrounding my community in Central Oregon. All in all, I come out of this with a better understanding of where I am currently and where I want to go in the future.

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Confidence is the feeling you have before walking into a situation without fully understanding it. When I started this program in February, I knew very little, if anything at all, about what was in store for me and where I was going. As General George Patton said, “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”, and with that aphorism, I went for it. I jumped on an opportunity that looked promising, and I had nothing to rely on but my gut feeling. As I look back at this year, on both professional and personal aspects, this has been a very good year for me. I have surpassed my own self-expectations and come out of this program as a better person.

For future interns of this program, I pass on the same advice I was given when I started that I did not always follow. Take the initiative. Don’t wait for anyone to set goals for you, only you can do that. Don’t be afraid to reach across the hall and befriend a co-worker not in your department, you’ll need them someday. Be very outspoken. General Patton also said “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”; you’ll encounter this on a daily basis when working in bureaucracy. Walk in to every situation with confidence, and yet don’t be afraid to ask questions. When given a task to complete, show with proper certainty that you will complete it, look to others for guidance; but the course on how you will achieve it is ultimately yours to form and follow.

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On a closing note, the greatest reward this program has brought me was the reestablished faith in the men and women who served, and who continue to serve this country. After serving in Afghanistan and the years that followed it, I became disenfranchised with the state of our country. I sunk into the same depression that has become an epidemic with our military veterans. We carry a great burden that the rest of society does not. We have been faced with many truths that some will never see in their lifetimes. We are bound to a binding and resilient moral code others are not. The future of this country lies within our veterans. We all have made sacrifices most civilians will choose to never make. Some veterans have left this Earth and can no longer tell their stories. We have an unwritten oath to continue their legacy so they may never be forgotten. It is our responsibility to carry on the fight and make this country a better one for them and for all of us.

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VetsWork: 1000 Hours In and a Month to Go. Finishing Strong.

Verna Gonzales

Over 1000 hours in and we are a little more than one month away from the end of the internship. The summer has been somewhat of a blur, but I am happy to announce that the job search has commenced and a few of those positions have been referred to the hiring manager. Just waiting on the phone call (s)… In the meantime, Tony has in store TONS of back country overnight trips which will test my physical strength, endurance, and definitely the knees.

img_20160707_113647Hells Canyon in early summer with a thunderstorm rolling in.

The views have been amazing and the people I’ve connected with are becoming bittersweet because I know I’ll have to leave soon to pursue my career and education. Let the good times roll, as the song says. I’m working hard, but hardly feel its effects as it is work that I am genuinely enjoying. The training experiences have been phenomenal. One included learning how to restore and repair historic windows.

img_20160624_064709Historic Window Training

The number one most treasured thing about the internship is being able to get a first-hand glimpse at the work involved in this Archeology position with the Forest Service. I can pick and choose the sides I like and the sides I do not like, and am able to make a clearer decision on the next steps I’ll be taking. Today I will be taking steps to help my strength and stamina for next week’s back-country trip (I’m just going on a 2 hour hike after work). Next month I will be taking tons of GIS classes to help grow my knowledge base in the technology needed for this position. Next year I hope to enroll at Adams State University for their Master’s program in Cultural Resource Management.

img_20160824_170505Mormon Flat Cabin Circa estimated early 1900s

My supervisor, Tony, has been an awesome mentor and I cannot thank him enough for putting up with all my questions. Which reminds me, for those future interns: Ask as many questions as you can possibly think of! I’m getting quite comfortable with mapping, the pace and compass method, using GPS technology, and my overall map reading skills have definitely seen some improvement. On the personal side, I was able to receive guests this summer which helped boost my mood ten-fold. Seeing familiar faces and introducing them to a little slice of heaven was definitely needed!

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VetsWork: “A Year of Reflection, Clarity and growth”

 

Brian Cummings

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Maxwell Lake trail, beautiful country

This year so far has been amazing. I have had the opportunity to go on adventures I have always dreamed of doing. Thankfully, I am literally living the dream.

One of the most exciting highlights so far, I had the opportunity to reside in a Guard Station in the Lostine River Corridor on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest for a couple months. It was a great time and setting for reflection and also close to trails.

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Guard station in Lostline River Cooridor

Over the duration of this internship I’ve had a great learning experience. The last two months or so I am actually applying the skills I have learned and it’s coming together like a jigsaw puzzle. It is exciting and I can’t wait to hopefully do this permanently.

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Marking boundary for Cold Canal timber sale

Over the course of the internship I have learned and have become qualified in a number of skills; wildland firefighting (Red Carded) marking trees and setting/marking boundary for timber sales in accordance of a prescription. I have even got into taking technical Pre-Cruise plots for stands for inventory purposes. Hope to keep learning and soak it up like a sponge. It is amazing how much I have learned and applied since I started this journey.

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Picture of Fire school at Mt. Emily

The Wallowa-Whitman National Forest is so diverse and vast. It is mind boggling how one side of the Forest is Hells Canyon and the other corner you have an Alpine forest. I find myself extremely lucky for this opportunity.

In conclusion, I am looking forward to the rest of my adventure. Hope to gain more experience and skills to help pursue my career in Forestry. I really feel this internship has helped me with skills and finding connections that will help me achieve my goal of a career in Forest or Recreation Management. I am excited for the future and what it holds.

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Public Lands Stewards: “Let’s measure smiles!”

Erynne van Zee

“Let’s measure smiles!” is by far my favorite camp quote from this summer. I am staffing MacGyver Camp this week, a design-build-tinkering camp where students use teamwork, creativity, and tools to design and build benches, water filtration systems, and ultimately an “elevated village” (we’re trying not to instill the idea that a treehouse is a must because a house on stilts would be just as cool!). As students built benches Tuesday morning and learned to use various tools, one camper practiced using a measuring tape by measuring everyone’s smiles. Just one of those moments where I stood back and smiled, soaking in the charm and playfulness of the gesture.

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As a Public Lands Stewards Intern with Cascade Mountain School camps this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to fill almost too many roles to count: camp “logistics guru”, shuttle driver, overnight counselor, chef, Band-Aid dispenser, hiker, gardener, fundraiser, the list goes on. I’ve spoken Spanish with parents, mastered booster-seat-tetras in the van, and counted views of five different mountains (Mt. Adams, Mt. Hood, Mt. Jefferson, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier) from the top of Steamboat Mountain. Each role brings new challenges, learning opportunities, and excitement, but most importantly, the diversity of roles I’m playing allows me to be involved in sharing the outdoors with students ages 6 to 18, making science fun, developing teamwork and outdoors skills, and encouraging students to be creative and curious.

There are many happy memories and stories to share from this summer, so here are my favorite photos from each camp I’ve worked at. Enjoy!

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Black Butte School tours Mountain Laurel Jerseys raw milk dairy in Trout Lake.

Photo 3Mountain Camp 1 camps out the last night.

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A student drinks from his rainwater catchment system at MacGyver Day camp.

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Campers finish up each day at Farm Camp with raspberry picking at Broadfork Farm.

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High School Mountain to Valley students gear up for their four day backpack through the Mt. Adams Wilderness.

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The view from Stagman Ridge where Mountain to Valley students hiked out from backpacking.

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Nature Art Camp students created a “wild-being” with natural materials they found around campus.

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Students learn to sew bags from cloth they solar printed at Nature Art Camp

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MacGyver Overnight campers come to a consensus about their “elevated village” design. They designed the entire structure themselves.

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VetsWork: “Welcome to the Wild Side!”

Kyle Davies

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Elk are nature’s version of loiterers. Always hanging around.

I’ve seen a lot of things in my life. The sun getting blotted out by a sandstorm, a river swallowing a tank and a whole line of cars sliding downhill on a sheet of ice to name a few. I’ve learned to keep a careful eye on nature. The truly troubling thing about nature is that it keeps track of us as well. I’m going to show you some of nature’s watchers.

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Just because you can’t see him doesn’t mean he doesn’t see you.

First up is the sneaky lizard. He is rather subtle in his observation habits. I was able to obtain this photo while doing fence inventory in the Upper Imnaha area. It was a day of dodging rattlesnakes and climbing steep hills to make this photo happen. You probably can’t see it, but he had a clear glint of amusement in his eyes as he watched me. Next is the combined air and water watcher.

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Air or water there is no cover from the watchful eyes of these ducks.

These can be found patrolling the local water developments in the Chesnimnus Allotment. While some people in city parks try bribing them with food I would not recommend trying it out in their native habitats. I knew a man that lost a whole arm to a hungry duck out in the wild. They also like to use ducklings as bait to lure in the unwary. I would say approach with caution, but it’s far safer not to approach at all. The one good thing about ducks is that they make a lot of noise when moving fast so you at least have some warning to hightail it. The next one doesn’t share that reassuring trait.

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Chipmunks, nature’s stealth missiles.

They are among the smallest of nature’s observers, but should not be underestimated. When necessary they are able to move with a speed that must be seen to be believed. A chipmunk could be 50 feet away and then you blink and its only 25 feet away. They put horror movie monsters to shame in terms of unnatural speed. If you ever find yourself pursued by one make sure that you have someone with you that runs slower than you do. Also a light dusting of nuts to enhance your decoy is a good idea.

When out in nature make sure to keep an eye out. It is beautiful, but it is also perilous out there in the wild. You can be sure that there is always something out there keeping an eye on you.

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VetsWork: “The Right Stuff”

Michael McGraw

Tbe Right Stuff. Yes, I have borrowed this title from Tom Wolfe’s recounting of NASA’s first astronauts in the U.S. space program. While I may not have the qualities and characteristics described by Wolfe as needed to be a NASA astronaut, I have found another government agency where I might have The Right Stuff required for success.

1In a flight suit and getting ready to go up in the air, but not to space

Working in the VetsWork Environment program with the Forest Service has afforded me the opportunity to pursue my passions and apply my abilities in a fruitful manner towards objectives I consider more than worthwhile. While working on projects to manage our public lands I’ve been able to research, analyze, and write in varying ways to help complete Forest Service projects. There have been opportunities for me to interact with the public by receiving their input and feedback so we could design projects in the best possible way.

3The view from atop Eagle Cap summit

But one of the biggest positives in this experience so far has been the people I’ve had a chance to work with and for in the Forest Service. They have allowed me to take on these responsibilities and roles without hesitation, which have contributed to me developing a knowledge base in the natural resource field. This has absolutely been one of the key aspects contributing to having such a positive and beneficial experience in this program. It is this trust and mentorship I’ve received that now positions me to use my skills and newly acquired knowledge to move forward with a career in the natural resource field.

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I am most grateful for this present opportunity and try to take advantage of everything it provides. I am excited for what the future holds, and I will always remember where this path started. I have no doubt that this path I have chosen is the right way forward. It is full of The Right Stuff.

4Taking a break while running through the Eagle Cap

 

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Public Lands Stewards: Protecting Endangered and Threatened Species

Greg Hendricks

As a Refuge Technician at Conboy National Wildlife Refuge I work to protect and enhance endangered and threatened species. At Conboy our mission is to help the Oregon Spotted Frog and Greater Sandhill Cranes gain a stronger foothold in their remaining habitat.

In the afternoon I head out with Joe Kobler, my Public Lands Stewards Americorps workmate and friend. We drive through rough roadways along canals studded with levees that control the water levels in the refuge and throughout the entire Glenwood valley. When we arrive at one of the predesignated sites we unravel our 15 foot fyke nets and wade out into the waterways. We tie the cinch end of the net tightly to an anchor point and drive the edges onto the rebar that hold it in place. After ensuring the net is taut, we rumble off to the next site.

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When we wake in the morning we head straight out to the sites we set the previous afternoon to gather in our nets. We take note of water temperature and enter any pertinent data in our trusty Rite in the Rain field book. We look through our catch and return any Oregon Spotted Frog adults and bag up any bullfrogs, a direct predator of the Oregon Spotted Frog in the region. We slowly sift through the remaining catch to identify any spotted frog tadpoles, keeping count and gently returning them to the water. We bag up hundreds of brown bullhead catfish, an invasive competitor for food with the Oregon Spotted Frog.   We carefully write the site number on the bags and are off again to the next site.

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Around mid-morning we head back to the station and take the bullfrogs directly to the freezer for later shipment to my stomach. Using the old boom box we found in the corner of the station we throw in a mixed CD a friend made for me. As tunes rasp out from the dusty speakers we mix water and a powder which relaxes the fish, then measure the brown bullhead and bullfrog tadpoles. After finishing the count we take the brown bullhead to “the boneyard” where we keep fed a thriving variety of fervently working decomposers. We spend an interim period between counting the morning’s catch and setting the afternoon’s sites doing a variety of work from building more fyke nets to setting out into the wetlands to search for Greater Sandhill Crane nests with the refuge biologist Sara Mcfall. After setting the afternoon nets for a second day we head back to the bunkhouse with gorgeous views of Mt. Adams looming in the distance. Tomorrow, more sites will be cleansed of bull frogs and bullhead and the chances for the continued survival and success of the Oregon Spotted Frog will increase.

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GreenCorps: “A Day in the Life”

Mark Waldo

My name is Mark Waldo and I’m from Milwaukie, Oregon. I was in the Army for 3 years as a Combat Engineer. This is my first time with the VetsWork GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program of the Mt. Adams Institute. Through this program we are working with the Umatilla Vet Crew in Ukiah, OR doing fuel reduction and getting the needed training for wildland firefighting.  It it sounded like a neat program, and I thought I’d check it out.

This blog shows what we do every day when we work on our fuel reduction projects.

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This is me (in the front) and Frank (with the beard) another GreenCorps member about to start our day and cut down some trees. Frank is cutting and I’m swamping, which means I make some nice piles of all the stuff he cuts. We’re trying to get 10-20 feet spacing between the trees. The burn piles are 4 x 4 foot and chest high. We usually run a tank of gas through the chainsaw and then take turns swamping, this way we conserve energy because believe it or not, cutting does get pretty tiring.

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This is me wearing all the personal protective equipment (PPE) needed to run a chainsaw. This includes a hard hat, 8-inch high leather boots, long sleeve shirt, eye protection, ear protection, gloves, chaps, and a positive attitude!

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These are a few of the trees we slaughtered today. By removing the small trees, the remaining trees have more opportunities to grow and we are able to minimize the fuel if a fire were to pass through this area. All in all, I think it was a pretty successful day. Now we top the saws off with fuel, head back to our crew bunk house, and clean the saws. This is pretty much the rundown of a typical day on the Umatilla Vet Crew.

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GreenCorps: “On My Way” Wildland Firefighting with the Umatilla Veteran Crew

Dyllon Hatcher

Coming from a small mountain town of Susanville in Northern California, I’ve always loved the outdoors. Growing up in the Ponderosa forests full of deer and small woodland creatures made me feel like I had a connection with the woods and the nature around me. After a small amount of time in the military, I wound up in the wonderful city of Portland, Oregon, which for me was a big change from the edge of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. I love the city and what it has to offer, but I found myself missing the dry air of the eastern side of the western states. After working for the city in the Parks and Recreation Department, a coworker of mine brought me a Craigslist ad for VetsWork GreenCorps, an AmeriCorps program of the Mt. Adams institute.

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Thompson Peak in Janesville.  

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Portland, Oregon.

As a veteran’s program I was instantly interested and started my application as soon as I could. After months of phone calls, emails, and applications I finally found out I was accepted. My particular internship was for wildland firefighting. Although I ran into bumps in my road to success, some car problems and money issues, I managed to make my way to the Mt. Adams Institute in Trout Lake, WA for our orientation. This is where I got to meet my group of fellow veterans who will join me in the new adventure. After our initial meet and greet, a few awesome activities, pack test and paperwork, we traveled to Ukiah, OR where we are on our way to be a part of the Umatilla Veterans Crew.

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Mt. Adams in Trout Lake, Washington.

Now I am currently learning how to become a wildland firefighter, something I honestly never thought that I would be able to do. Under the supervision of some great leaders, I am working on and becoming certified in chainsaw operation, first aid, cpr and lots of other great things to come. I live in an awesome bunkhouse with some great people who all have helped to serve this country and like myself, strive to become a greater help to not only the community, but to the forest and the land around us. I can’t wait for the rest of my internship to play out, and look forward to all of the great memories to be made. I’m on my way to success.

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VetsWork: Full Circle – Oregon to the Sky and Back

Tyson Schoenmoser

Hi! My name is Tyson Schoenmoser and I am currently working as a VetsWork AmeriCorps natural resources intern for the Forest Service on the Deschutes National Forest here in beautiful Bend, Oregon. I come from the small town of La Grande, Oregon where I grew up loving the outdoors and its endless activities. Fly fishing, white water rafting, snowboarding and hiking are at the top of my fun list.

After graduating high school I started my first season as a wildland firefighter. I’ll never forget my first fire call and how excited I was to get out in the woods and on the job. Although this would prove to be one of the most intense, dangerous and physically demanding jobs I had ever done, my excitement and passion for the job never wavered. I continued on as a wildland firefighter for the next 3 years filling my summers while attending the Oregon Institute of Technology. Unfortunately the inherent danger of the job ended my last season in heartbreak. While in route to the Hayman fire, the largest in Colorado history, one of the vehicles in our convoy was involved in a fatal accident that claimed the lives of 5 of our crew members including my girlfriend, Retha Shirley. This was a huge turning point in my life and is what lead me to joining the Air Force.

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Joining the military proved to be one of the best decisions I ever made. It was where I would meet my future wife and many lifelong friends. The training and experience I acquired over 8 years on active duty has been irreplaceable and helped me to become the person I am today. During my time in service I was a C-130 Hercules crew chief and had the great opportunity to be stationed overseas at Yokota Air Base, Japan.

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As with most jobs in the military my work required me to be away for extended periods, sometimes unsure of when I might come back home to see my family. Over the years this began to take its toll and the difficult decision to separate had to be made. After my separation from the Air Force and transition back into civilian life I was on the search for another career opportunity that would not only fulfill my passions but also serve an important purpose. The Forest Service was an option I had pursued to no avail as job openings seemed to be few and with qualification standards difficult to obtain. It wasn’t until I stumbled across Mt. Adams Institute and their VetsWork AmeriCorps program that I realized this could become a reality. In many ways I feel that I’ve come full circle and it feels great to get back out in the forest doing a job I’m passionate about.

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The timing of program couldn’t have been better. My wife Eileen and our new baby girl Scarlett had just relocated back to Oregon to put down roots and raise our family when the opportunity presented itself.

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I started my natural resources internship the beginning of February and have truly loved the experience thus far. I’ve been working at the Bend-Fort Rock Ranger District within the Timber and Silviculture departments. In the last couple months I have received a ton of on the job training working with pre-sale crews preparing timber units for harvest. I have also had many other opportunities going out with the timber sale administrator, reforestation and restoration projects, and planting cottonwood trees at the Clarno project… and I’m not even half way through the internship yet! I’m really looking forward to the future of this internship and feel I will come away with the training and experience needed to obtain a permanent Forest Service position.

My Office

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VetsWork: Excited on a New Adventure

Brian Cummings

My whole life it has been always a dream of mine to work in the Forest. Finally, I am living it for a whole year. I will admit at first, I was a little hesitant because I have worked seasonal jobs which never turned into permanent positions. Consequently, you can probably see why the hesitation. Over the last couple of months since I have been in the VetsWork program. Thankfully, I have been eased and the hesitation has turned to a fire to learn and gain experience. Mt Adams Institute has given me an opportunity to jumpstart a career that once was a dream to a reality.

Blog 1 Moraine Trail above Wallowa Lake

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The last few months I have been learning different things in my field. I have been learning hands on like I am an actual Forestry Technician and it’s only the beginning. My sponsor has me going to trainings and actually out in the field. If I have questions the team is eager to share their knowledge.

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I am beginning to realize this could actually turn into something great for the future. I am excited and ready and eager to learn more. Also the networking with people in the field or out in the community is awesome.

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Blog 1 Imnaha Canyon

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