VetsWork: “The Best Way to Find Yourself…”

Robert DiTomasso

As I walk down yet another trail in the Nantahala Forest I think back on these last few months and still have trouble believing this is all real. I wonder when I am going to wake up from this dream. A short time ago I had a typical 9-5 type job working for a major cable company and was pretty much resigned to the fact that this would be my life: punching a clock for a pay check and benefits. When asked what else I would rather be doing I usually drew a blank. I had no clear idea of what I would rather be doing, I just didn’t want to be a “cable guy” any more. About the closest thing I could come to for an answer when really pressed was that I wanted to do something outdoors, in nature. I wanted trees, water and beautiful vistas. I still can’t believe that that is exactly what I got.

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One day my wife sent me a few links for Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) job listings and it sounded too good to be true. Truth be told it sounded a little scary. I can’t give up a steady pay check and decent benefits for this. Who am I kidding, I have a wife and two kids. The ship has sailed for opportunities like this. I put off starting the process and a part of me thought it would be best to just continue to keep “forgetting” to get started and wait until the deadline passed me by. That would be best for everyone I thought. Luckily, my wife wouldn’t allow me to do that. Through her encouragement, help, and assurance that this would be good for our whole family I applied and was accepted into this internship with the beautiful Nantahala National Forest.

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My days range from simply mowing one of our many recreations sites to hiking several miles in one of our Wilderness locations while clearing, repairing and surveying trails. I’ve had my lunch breaks by secluded waterfalls, raging rivers and at majestic mountain tops. I have also began building a relationship with a few of our local volunteer groups who do work on some of our many trails. My main missions is to help facilitate a positive and enjoyable experience for the locals and visitors who play in our amazing Forest.

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I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors and often regretted not spending more time in nature as I got older. I believe that when people spend time in the natural environment they are more likely to respect and take care of it, even if it is as simple as making sure to clean up after yourself practicing “leave no trace” wherever one goes. This job has afforded me the chance to get back in nature and to help others who share my interests. It doesn’t get much better than seeing a hiker on the trail and having them thank you for making that experience more enjoyable. Or helping someone find that waterfall their friend told them about, or where the road to Wayah Bald is located (a must see if you’re ever in the area). As I continue down this new path I will be given even more responsibilities and experiences meant to further my understanding of land management and recreation maintenance. I look forward to those new challenges. Through the help and guidance of my sponsor here on site and the MAI team I am confident there will be a place for me in our nations Forests. I am so excited for the future.

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Wearing the VetsWork uniform and driving around in a US Forest Service truck is worlds better than that of my civilian job. To my fellow veterans, whether you are just getting out of the military or, like me, spent years in the private sector, this program is a life changer. While in the military I served my country and through that service I felt pride in myself. This program has allowed me to serve once again and discover a new sense of pride.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Mahatma Gandhi

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