VetsWork: From the Coast Guard in Alaska to Fisheries in the Wallowas

Richard Castillo

Hello I’m Richard. I am a Fisheries/Aquatics Intern in the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest and for the next 8 months (possibly more?) I will be calling beautiful Joseph, Oregon home. I grew up in Crescent City, Ca, surrounded by the majestic redwoods and the crystal clear Smith River. That is where my love for the outdoor began. I spent a majority of my teenage years exploring, hunting, fishing, and hiking that beautiful area, but sadly when I was 17 years old I had to move to a small town near Sacramento, Ca.

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Crescent City, CA, Battery Point Lighthouse

Once I turned 18 I bounced around for a few years working various mechanic jobs up and down Interstate 5, trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. I had always wanted to join the military since I was young, but life choices took me in a different direction. However, one day I was changing a headlight on a Toyota Prius (The earlier models were a pain in the rear!) and it dawned on me how I missed the outdoors and a sense of adventure.   So the next day I quit the position at Toyota and moved back to Crescent City, where a majority of my family and girlfriend (now wife) were.

This is where a few friends of mine introduced me to the Coast Guard and some of the roles played by Law Enforcement and Search and Rescue. I was very intrigued, but near the same time I was also introduced to a very high paying position to work corrections at Pelican Bay State Prison. So, after spending sometime exploring my old stomping grounds, I decided I would take the money and try out for the prison. After successfully passing all their required testing I was placed on a waiting list for their next academy. This gave me a plethora of time to think… and thankfully continue to explore the beautiful North Coast of California and Southern Oregon. But, while waiting for the academy it hit me that I would not be happy in that position, dealing with prisoners and being trapped in a concrete building for 8 to 16 hours a day. That is when I decided to join the Coast Guard and serve our country.

My perception of the Coast guard was pretty limited (like a majority of our nation) to only what my friends and the recruiter told me. So after spending about a year and a half going through the entry process, I shipped out to basic training in Cape May, New Jersey. Those eight weeks were very intense, but I was prepared physically and mentally. The first few weeks were by far the toughest, but once you figure out their game it becomes a lot easier. After basic I was stationed on a 378’ cutter called the Munro out of Kodiak, Alaska and I was in utter shock because I had no idea the Coast Guard had boats that big (My recruiter left that part out).


USCG Cutter

I married my wife in route to Kodiak and I think she was as nervous as I was, but we instantly fell in love with Kodiak. Although cold, the beauty, freedom, and sense of adventure just makes it near impossible not to love that place. While on the Munro I got the chance to explore a majority of the Aleutian Islands, Nome, Hawaii, and even Japan. After serving 2 years on the Munro we were transferred to a small Surf Station in Fort Bragg, California, with our first baby on the way and family only 4 hours away, it was a good move. Although not as beautiful as Crescent City or Alaska we had fun exploring other areas of Northern California and meeting some great friends along the way. After spending 2 years in Fort Bragg, my Enlistment was up and I had the option to get out or reenlist. Since we had another baby on the way, we decided to get out and find something a little more stable to raise our family.


After applying for a myriad of fish and wildlife jobs on the west coast, I was turned down for most of them for lack of experience. That is when I stumbled on to the Mt. Adams Institute: VetsWork AmeriCorps program and it would give me just the experience I needed to fulfill the job requirements for these amazing fish and wildlife positions. My family and I were extremely nervous to make the move with no guaranteed position at the end, but after being here for a couple weeks now and seeing the beauty of this place and the amazing opportunities working in the field I am beyond excited.


My wife and I did take the advice that I learned from our VetsWork Orientation, to use this time to network from the beginning. We have already met a bunch of great people through the Forest Service, Nez Perce Tribe, friends, church, and just meeting people walking around or eating at the local restaurants. This internship has already positively affected me professionally and personally within the first few weeks. This opportunity the Mt. Adams Institute provides for veterans is priceless. I am adrenalized for the experience I will gain and the doors this internship will open.

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