VetsWork: Not Everyone is Made for the Woods, and that’s OKAY!

Some people are good at marketing, landscaping, masonry, finance, etc., and some people are good at communication, organization and all things administrative. Hello, my name is Heather Vaughan. I entered the VetsWork AmeriCorps program in April of 2016 in conjunction with my retirement from the Air Force. The program supported my transition back into the civilian world and was a wonderful catalyst for career transitioning. During the last 15 years of my military career I had been in an office the majority of the time, doing shift work, as required by my jobs. The VetsWork internship sounded like a good opportunity to break away from the desk and return to nature and the outdoor experience I had grown to miss. I underestimated just how outdoorsy it would require me to be though. The daily tick checks and hornet scares definitely put a damper on my desire to go hiking and exploring during my own personal time. And, to my surprise, I missed the office. I missed planning and organizing for events, interacting with people, and generally helping out through the administrative skills I had gained over a lifetime. Luckily my supervisor and Mt. Adams Institute program coordinator recognized that I was much more of an asset manned with a computer and telephone than I was with a Pulaski and radio.

 

My new office on the Pisgah National Forest.

 

The internship gave me a great perspective about what I’m good at; communicating with the public, planning, and organizing. Of course I could be good at surveying, trail maintenance, fire suppression support and all the recreation technician jobs the forestry has to offer, but I prefer to work at something that comes natural to me. That is why I was very happy to take a job as a customer service representative for the Forest Service. Advocating for the environment while assisting the public is right up my alley and the VetsWork internship really allowed me to explore other career options while still being true to my skill set. Not everyone has to be a fire fighter or recreation tech. I’m very happy with a new career in which I will still be able to enjoy nature at my leisure and engage with the public on behalf of the environment. This last year I learned, and wanted to share with others, that you need to be true to your character, recognize what you enjoy doing, and just go for it.

Hanging out at Wiseman’s View overlooking Hawksbill Mountain.

VetsWork: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”

Heather Vaughan

After transitioning out of the military, I found myself longing for a job where I could get out from behind a desk and make a positive impact on the community immediately around me. The VetsWork Internship has given me exactly that. One of my biggest passions is educating people about how they can make a better tomorrow through caring for and working with our environment. Because let’s face it, things are kind of a mess right now in the world and we have to pick our battles carefully so as to not get overwhelmed. Well, conservation and preservation of our natural resources is the battle that I’m going to be fighting. And it all starts with education. So while there will always be the necessary jobs at the Forest Service, (making sure camp sites are maintained and doing paperwork), there are the more rewarding tasks of educating the community on how to live in harmony with the environment and preserve it. Having an office that is mostly outside is also a huge perk for me, as I’m a natural tree-hugger. Science has even proven that hugging a tree every so often is good for you!

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This was a delightful way of teaching cub scouts all about the Leave No Trace (LNT) principles and how to make a clean camp. Using the “Talking Hat” to keep order, we discussed all the good and bad things about the camp that had been set up. The older kids nailed all the rules of LNT that had been broken including the wild flowers that had been picked. (Leave what you find, take only pictures.) One of the best things about teaching kids these principles is that they will go back home and hopefully pass this knowledge on to their parents. Kids can be great reminders of the things that we should be doing right.

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For those of us that love being outdoors, sometimes it can be hard to look around the woods, beach, or mountains and see the pollutants of previous hikers and tourists. It can be discouraging even to know that our fellow human beings can be capable of. I’ve nearly spent a whole day on vacation just cleaning up fireworks along an area of the beach. Seeing the plastic and remainders of old campsites is disheartening. But if you ever do feel that way, remember what Edward Hale said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do”.

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Trail maintenance is a huge part of the Forest Service. Fall and winter are the heavy trail maintenance times. So in preparation for that, I attended a week long class on how to maintain trails. Drainage was a huge portion of the class and understanding how people use trails. Needless to say, it was a great week to be outside.

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I’m happy to be a part of the Forest Service and for anyone else out there thinking about a career change, just know that taking a step out of our comfort zone can be very rewarding. I was very timid about retiring from the military after having only know that since I was 17. This VetsWork position reaffirmed my decision to retire from the military. I can still serve my country through AmeriCorps and feel a great job satisfaction. If we could all be so lucky as to find meaningful work that we love to do, we would be a lot better off. Taking the opportunity that was presented to me through VetsWork has been a great experience and I have no doubt it will take me places. In the meantime, I’ll enjoy my days working towards the good of conservation, educating the community about Leave No Trace, and maintaining the trails. Come visit the Pisgah National Forest to see all the great work being done. Hope to see you out and about the Grandfather Ranger District!

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