VetsWork: “My Dream is a Dream No Longer”


In a strange series of fortunate events, my wife and I are moving off the Mt. Adams Ranger District after two incredible years in a 1932 Ranger Assistant cabin built by the very capable young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps. It’s a dream cabin without a doubt, but finding our own place has been a goal of ours knowing that we’d love to stay in the area after my last internship. We knew moving out of this Forest Service cabin would be bittersweet and have soaked up each day enjoying Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter in all their Cascadian majesty. 


After three years in the VetsWork program I’ve exhausted AmeriCorps’ 4 term limit, having also been a member of the Public Lands Stewards program in 2013. Through the Mt. Adams Institute I have served in the the Mt. Hood National Forest, Gifford Pinchot Headquarters and the Mt. Adams Ranger District. In each position I had the pleasure of exploring local hikes, getting to know the communities and creating great memories with my wife, coworkers and friends. This current position here in Trout Lake, Washington has been the luminous cherry on top of the mountain and now we hope to create our own place, although temporary, where we can continue to work & play in this valley of dreams. I’d say more about it, but I’d hate for people to have a romantic sense of this place without knowing the work required to be here. I love it for many lofty reasons, but also because of the hard work and the great people this environment creates. Its a trade off of struggles living so close to nature versus living in a city. There’s no traffic or buildings obscuring the open view of the horizon, but there’s also no public transportation, major stores, fast food, movie theaters or music venues (or lots of people). The solitude is wonderful, if you enjoy your own company. If you don’t, you could go a lil stir crazy, especially in the Winter.


To me, the hard work it takes to be in the forest year round is just too much fun and so rewarding, I don’t know how I could ever go back to a city. Thankfully we have been offered a very unique opportunity to reside in a stretch of land on the Washington side of the Columbia, just as close to both my wife and I’s workplaces.


So whats so special about this place? It’s almost completely off-grid; No power, century-old spring-fed water and no cell service at all! This can be daunting for some, but for me it makes me smile just thinking about it.


The past several months we have been preparing for this move in big ways. I purchased a sweet little 1997 red Mazda truck to haul wood and handle light amounts of snow. I didn’t think I would ever fall in love with a truck, but with a tape deck and the soundtrack from the movie Stand By Me, I feel like a time-traveler. If you haven’t seen the movie (and you should) it was filmed in a small town north of Eugene, called Brownsville (Castle Rock in the film). What Ive been feeling is a kind of nostalgia for a place I’ve never been, for an era not my own. Imagine crossing old bridges, hauling wood to an off-grid cabin and blasting this old tune. Good times.

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When I don’t have rainbows and unicorn filling my head with what the winter will be like, I imagine the complete opposite.


So I also now have an old snowmobile and am still piling up as much wood as possible. We have an old propane stove, a new propane fridge all with new gas lines, regulator, gauges and shut of valves. We’ll store lots of water, but the spring apparently works through Winter. Currently Ive been building our outhouse which about as happy as I can get working on a poop throne. Ive loved outhouses way before I started cleaning them for the Forest Service. In fact theres a great little book called The Vanishing American Outhouse which comically details all the problems of indoor plumbing (acoustical mainly) and how some of the best ideas came from sitting in outhouses! Ha!



All the materials for everything we build at this place have mainly come from the Rebuild-It Center in Hood River. They’ve got it all and its cheap! Otherwise there’s a lot of old lumber on the property that we are taking advantage of.


A huge bit of progress was getting a new phone line dug and connected, so now we are spoiled with that and limited internet. It took some patience and thankfully my supervisors allowed me to work my schedule around the installation.


Its a humble little cabin and while many think, “Wow, you’re going to live in there?!”… I am encouraged by so many who remind me that they have lived in cabins like this and even with a few kiddos!



Living with less, pulling myself through the eye of a needle, is exactly what most of my heroes have done or did through their best years.

One Mans Wilderness by Richard Proenneke is another inspiring read (The film adaptation is called Alone in the Wilderness). In it he journals his adventure of building a log cabin at the age of fifty in the Alaskan Wilderness and would go on to live there for 30 some-odd years in peace and harmony, only leaving when hauling water from a frozen lake became too difficult. From his writings you hear of the awesome beauty of his new home, the solitude, seasons, but also the effort put into being where your heart calls.


With this new home we’ll be steeped in nature and learning valuable practical skills that will not only benefit my work with the Forest Service, but as Richard Proennekke said, [quote align=”center” color=”#999999″]”(Our) dream is a dream no longer.”[/quote]

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VetsWork: On the Road – The Portable Mike Bishop

Mike Bishop

This path I have chosen has been both a professional and personal undertaking. When it comes to committing yourself to a new agency, new surroundings and a new way of life, there are many unknowns that come with it. Taking that leap of faith was the very first step I had to take in order to begin this journey with Mt. Adams Institute (MAI) and the U.S. Forest Service.

I stumbled upon MAI’s webpage one cold afternoon in western Maryland by chance. The job listing was for a one year internship with the Deschutes National Forest in Sisters and Crescent, Oregon. Without hesitation, I applied for the position right away.

I was greeted with a phone call from Katie Schmidt, MAI’s recruitment coordinator, within several hours after applying for VetsWork AmeriCorps. She showed interest in my application and we eventually arranged an interview with the Deschutes National Forest. My interview for the Special Uses position was facilitated by Meria Page, Sommer Moyer and Bill Munro. I was greeted with professionalism, character and kindness as I spoke to the three on the phone. After the phone interview, I had a better understanding of what they were seeking and what the expectations were.

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I waited several days to hear word on the results. I still recall the moment when I finally heard back from Katie. I was rejoiced to hear I was offered the position with the Deschutes National Forest. After the phone call, I began to map out how I was going to get from Maryland to Oregon within a two week time period.

Within days, I had sold my old Jeep Wrangler; a cherished possession I held which served no practical purpose whatsoever outside of Bel Air, MD. I decided to pathways with it; opting for a more suitable four wheeled friend, a Subaru Outback. I gave away furniture, sold items that had some trace of monetary value, and began to store away personal possessions in brown storage boxes.

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I was slated to begin my cross-country expedition on Monday, February 1st. I packed up the car the day prior. Once I was finished, I sat down and contemplated what was going to happen next. It had been several years since I first read a Jack Kerouac book. Would my journey west be as exhilarating and picturesque as I thought it would have been when I was seventeen? Would the car I bought, which sat in the driveway for barely just one week, even make it a quarter of the way there? What type of unforeseen events could arise along a strip of road 3,000 miles long? I was jumping off a cliff.

On the first night of the journey, I had reached the state of Iowa. It occurred to me, that late night, what significance February 1st held. It was on that very day, in 1905 when the management of the once called Forest Reserves were transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Agriculture. This new agency was to be called the Forest Service, and the Forest Reserves scattered across this land were eventually renamed National Forests. It was nice slice of fate that my departure coincided with such a momentous date.

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I successfully completed the drive to Oregon that week on time, with no delays. After driving for a week, I was finally rewarded with the Mt. Adams team as well as the fellow interns who chose the same path as I did. After a successful week orientation, I was finally on my way to Sisters, Oregon. On my first day, I was greeted with firm handshakes and warm welcomes. My supervisor, Sommer Moyer, made it her mission to provide me with the materials and resources needed in order to tackle the challenging, but rewarding work of Special Uses. As the days went by, her kindness and passion for her work shined through. I am proud to call her a mentor and friend now.

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My favorite aspect of Special Uses is having the opportunity to meet interesting entrepreneurs who want to hold events on Forest Service Lands. I love seeing the interaction and connection that the Forest has with the local communities and people it serves. I am currently tackling a project to re-issue expired land and recreation permits. By accomplishing this large task, I am able to see the entire process of issuing a permit from start to finish.

Another exceptional aspect of this internship is that it provides me with opportunities to broaden my overall experience by allowing me to work with other specialists outside of the Special Uses office. I had the opportunity to suit up in waders for three days with our fish biologists Nate Dachtler and Mike Riehle; participating in the annual Chinook Salmon Fry releases.

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So far, it’s been quite the experience; to say the least. It’s been a fascinating, challenging and rewarding process. The knowledge and skills I will gain this year will stay with me for a lifetime. My time that will be spent in Sisters, and Crescent later in the year, will always be with me and cherished forever. I am blessed to be working with a team of exceptional and passionate experts, in a place that defines beauty.

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VetsWork: Lessons from the Washington State Veterans Conservation Corps


Well well well… Whos the little guy now? Haha it’s still me but I at least got to speak up for us little people to some who have the power to change and effect how legislation is made for U.S. Veterans. I was recently asked to speak at the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) ( in Seattle; specifically I spoke to the Task Force on Military and Veteran Affairs (

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Let’s see, who was there??? There was (I won’t use their names just because it seems cooler) : The Program Director for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration (REPI) Program, A couple Major Generals (I was seeing stars!!!), five state senators, 25 people whose first name is “Honorable”, 12 State Representatives, several state majority WHIP’s, and more high dollar suits than in Donald Trump’s collection.

I think you get it…

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I was way out classed, (if you don’t think so look at the agenda … yes that is my name on the same agenda as the 22nd United States Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates) but what I lack in class I make up for in expertise, experience, intelligence, diligence, and working with and for veterans every day whom are facing issues these suits have the chance to help with greatly. You see that picture above^? That was the opening slide to my presentation but it just said the title of our presentation “From Military Service to Green Service”. Although I was in a nice new suit they got a bead on me straight away.

Oh yeah the room I was giving the presentation in was, well… just look at the view…

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Okay, so why was I there? Well the Mt. Adams VetsWork position I have held for close to two years now at the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs as the Veterans Conservation Corps ( Intern Coordinator. I work on the program we have with the Center for Natural Lands Management (CNLM), South Sound Prairies Program ( or ).

Whew that’s a lot of titles… I do like my titles hehe.

This program was one of the first Sentinel Landscapes designated by the Department of Defense and NCSL heard about the great things we are doing with both Veterans and Environmental restoration. They wanted us to talk about the whole program. So I was the last to talk but I do believe I took up most of the time. Around 15 minutes and I won’t bore you like my last blog and just have you read my whole spiel, but I will let you know I spent a good week writing it. These are some of the highlights.

I started off by talking about how “this program is very personal to me because I was just recently an unemployed veteran with a bachelor’s degree just like 20% of the veterans who enter the VCC program.” Then about the veterans I work with, “some are getting adjusted to living in doors, some of the veterans are working on their Master’s thesis. And although every veteran is different in our program, I always strive to find ways to help them become more successful. Many employment programs for veterans concentrate heavily on job placement and these programs are great for some veterans, but for many, job placement is only a piece of the puzzle. At the VCC we take a holistic approach to each veteran providing individual insight and opportunities.”  Then “The environmental work the veterans engage in is meant as an opportunity to connect to a new mission but many times it is simply a tool the VCC uses to get veterans to confront the hard issues they may be going through. Sometimes we look at it metaphorically where by removing invasive and detrimental plant species from fragile ecosystems the veterans are also removing these things from themselves and revealing the natural state beneath.”

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Next was mostly programmatic information about how the VCC recruits, supports, and coordinates with other partners. Somewhat boring stuff to be putting into a blog but was very useful information for this kind of presentation. Then I talked a bit about the kinds of supports we hook the veterans into such as “Behavioral Health Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Trumatic Brain Injury (TBI) program, Homeless Veteran Reintegration Program, the Veterans Innovation Program, the Veterans Stewardship Fund, the County Veterans Assistance Fund, the Vet Corps, King County Veterans Program, WorkSource, Veterans Service Officers, Medical Claims, the Federal VA, Supportive Services for Veterans and Families, Rally Point Six and the list goes on.” And talking about other benefits the VCC program has for interns such as participation in workshops which include: Resume Writing, Job searching skills, Networking , Federal and State Application Process, Mock interviews, Ecological Restoration, Botany, Invasive species, Aquatic systems, Native Seed production, and Prairie Science. Additionally, every VCC intern engages the public in volunteering opportunities such as the creation of a Community Edible Hedge in Olympia, and Creation of a veteran’s farm at the Orting Soldiers home.

Overall I really enjoyed this oportunity and I would have put more of my feelings and emotion into this but I had to acknowladge that I am working for a state govenrment so I did not want to bite the hand that feeds me so to speak. But I did leave them with this message “The overarching point is that most workplaces are not equipped to deal with veterans whom are dealing with PTSD, TBI, or Military Sexual Trauma (MST). In the VCC it doesn’t matter the level of professional or personal skills the veterans have when they enter, during their time with us we expose them to opportunities to increase the capacity for them to be successful by the time they exit. This success is not able to happen with just an organization like the VCC, it is only possible with the collaboration with organizations like the CNLM. If you truly want to help veterans and your natural resources in kind, please take home this lesson of collaboration because giving a veteran a job does not equal successful veteran transition. It is born out of understanding, patience, training, opportunity, and in my opinion contributing to the communities the veterans sacrificed themselves for in military service.

As the VCC says “Any country worth defending, is worth preserving.”

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VetsWork: “Community and Farming. Going back to our roots.”


On March 26th I participated in the Ground Operations event in Olympia. Looking back on the event I feel more than honored to have been asked to speak and participate in a panel after the screening of a documentary that exemplifies some of the most pressing issues facing America.

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The night started with the County Commissioner setting up the format of the night and then he brought on the project coordinator, Mark Oravsky. Mark shared with us his (all too common) veteran transition story of battling with issues of depression, drug abuse, and suicidal tendencies. His story is not uncommon considering 22 veterans do the unspeakable act of ending their glorious lives every day! He also shared with us his experience with “professionals” in dealing with veteran transitions and how they filled him with pills that left him a shell of a person.

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Mark Oravsky, Picture by Jo Arlow

Fortunately for us Mark is an amazingly strong individual who found himself through non-traditional transitioning methods. His methods of transition are not hard to find. Hell, they are not even new. They are as old as human history itself. Community and Farming. That’s all it takes. We simply must go back to our roots. We are all humans and we all need humans to survive. This simple metric has lead Mark to be an active community leader and advocate. He truly is an inspirational person that I feel honored to work shoulder to shoulder with.

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Photo By Jo Arlow

Mark used his experiences to bring the community together in such a way that we could have an intelligent conversation about these pressing issues. He brought in local experts who also have found innovative forms of strengthening our community and sustainability.

The panel included individuals with a proven track record who have dedicated their lives to this issue and he felt I was worthy of being on this prestigious panel. During the panel I was sitting next to Lourdes E. Alvarado Ramos (Alfie) who is the Washington Department of Veterans Affairs (WDVA) Director.


Alfie speaking and me being nervous – Photo by Jo Arlo

So there I was waiting for my turn to speak, fiddling with my loosely written speech and after several people who had amazing and thoughtful things to say. I was starting to wonder why I was up there. Alfie goes up and, like a pro and wonderful veteran advocate that she is, speaks about how the WDVA is finding all kinds of new ways to approach transitioning veterans. Now it was my turn. I started off telling the crowd I was nervous and I laughed… nervously of course. Then I just took a deep breath and took the opportunity Mark had granted me and let loose all the things I have seen and experienced working as the VetsWork VCC Intern Coordinator.

I started by saying something like this:
“My name is Matthew West and I am a transitioning Navy veteran. I am a father and husband. I am an environmental steward. I am a first generation college grad. I am an AmeriCorps volunteer. I am a VetsWork Intern. I am a WDVA and Center for Natural Lands Management Intern and I am the Veterans Conservation Corps (VCC) South Sound Internship Coordinator” (Whew…I took a deep breath and laughed a little with the crowd). “I find myself here representing all of these organizations with the common thread of serving veterans and/or the environment. Without any one of these organizations I fear I would be unemployed or employed but undervalued.” (Dead silence fell over the crowd…I let it linger).

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Matthew West

“I know this is true because I work with veterans whom are consistently undervalued by American society. For the past two days I have had the opportunity to meet and interview veterans for VCC internships. These internships are designed as non-traditional transition methods which have been created from the teachings of the late John Beal.

John Beal was a Vietnam Veteran who suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress, drug and alcohol abuse, and after his health started deteriorating he was told by doctors that he had 5-6 months to live.” (Again I let that sink, in.)

“Around that time Beal found a refrigerator that was dumped into Hamm Creek (near his home) which is a tributary to the Duwamish River, one of the most polluted rivers in the country. He went home, grabbed a shovel, dug out the fridge and in the process he found a mission that gave his life purpose and meaning.” (I held back tears at this point and after a second to gather myself I told them the good news.)

“John continued his work in restoring Hamm creek and other local waterways for another 25 years.” (I’m not sure if there really was any clapping at this point, but in my mind there was a great response to this information.) “He found that by healing the earth he was in fact was healing himself. This basic premise is what we do at the VCC. By offering veterans a chance to heal the earth I have witnessed incredible transitions of incredible people doing incredible work.

Which reminds me…

Any country worth defending is worth preserving.

Thank you.”

At this point there was, in fact, a very loud and standing applause. I turned around to find Alfi trying to tell me how great my speech was but couldn’t really hear her though the clapping. They were still clapping well after I sat down.

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Photo By Jo Arlow

After the event ended I was filled with energy and excitement. I am so grateful that there are so many people that truly wish to help the community. Every person involved is a hero in my book. I know there is much work to be done, but with organizations like GRuB, Growing Veterans, Ground Operations, Rainier Therapeutic Riding, OlyFloat, the Eastside Urban Farm and Garden Center, WDVA, Enterprise for Equity, Veterans Conservation Corps, and of course the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program, we will begin the process of inherently changing the culture of community to one that keeps humans connected to the Earth. In return, the Earth will continue to feed us, even heal our hidden wounds and we will never let a single person be left behind.

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The Missing Social Network


Team, Network, Social

What’s missing in the civilian workforce that our military veterans have come to depend upon?

What Vets Miss Most Is What Most Civilians Fear
Business Insider (NY), November 26, 2013
What rescued her was a stint with AmeriCorps, the federal community service organization, which gave her a job that led to full-time employment with a national nonprofit. AmeriCorps offered my friend three crucial things: a new mission, a new purpose, and a strong, supportive social network in which people were actually invested in one another’s well-being and success.

This article from the Business Insider suggests that a significant element missing from the civilian world for transitioning military veterans is the sense of social connection in all aspects of everyday life.  Where once there was a defining team ethic; where every action of an individual impacted the welfare of the entire team, now individualism and independence are the norm.  What we think of as teamwork or collaboration on specific projects seems anti-social next to the intense interconnectedness of a military squad.

This insightful perspective gives a focus for constructing an effective transition from the military culture to the civilian workforce culture. Individual service men and women may seek opportunities for replacing the strong social network or may be unaware of this potential missing link, but as a program designed to support this transition VetsWork intentionally incorporates this attribute within its very structure.  We are an AmeriCorps program with all of the values of team and cohesion inherent in the national service model.  We train as a group from the outset and throughout the year.  We structure Pod meetings to maintain the group dynamic.  We encourage regular connection through social media and technological strategies.  We know how valuable a sense of connectedness is.  If this article accurately represents the experience of our military veterans, then we know it is even more crucial for VetsWork.  Read this article and let us know what you think.  Look at our VetsWork information in this flyer and this brochure and see for yourself how VetsWork can support this career transition.

Visit our website at for more information.  See our job listings at


VetsWork Jobs: Supporting the Career Transition


There is a lot of chatter about this transition from the military culture to a civilian culture.  There are a number of research studies on the matter (see this from Pew Research among many more).  Books have been written like  “The Military to Civilian Transition Guide” by Savino and Krannich.  There are also numerous resources for support on the internet (Real Warriors).  Without intentional planning, though, this transition remains largely unsupported.

There are many factors that will determine success for our returning heroes, but one of the largest indicators seems to be tied to a community of supports.  Religion was identified in the Pew Research study as a key indicator of success.  This highlights the need for a community that is available as a system of supports for a wide range of transitional barriers.  One of those barriers is adjusting to civilian workplace culture and expectations.  This can be a barrier from both sides of the fence.  Veterans may struggle to adjust to the civilian workplace environment.  Employers may not understand the military ethic and highly trained strategies.  In either case, it is a matter of understanding and communication that makes the difference.

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Additionally, that community of supports is essential in supporting specific needs as they arise.  Being able to identify when help is needed is the first step.  Helping to locate resources is essential.  Whether it is post-traumatic stress, medical benefits, childcare, or military benefits a strong support system is essential to successful transition.  We know that our returning veterans have developed a strong reliance on a team.  That’s been their life in the military.  The civilian environment is very different.  It becomes very isolating.


At the Mt. Adams Institute, we have designed VetsWork to be that system of supports.  We intentionally structure training for veterans and supervisors to create common understanding of this transition.  We build in team structures that include other veterans to connect with on a regular basis.  We connect with state and federal support agencies to ensure veterans are getting the services and benefits they need.  We work with specialists in the field of military to civilian transitions to better understand the issues and make sure we’re prepared to be there for our members.  VetsWork is that community of supports that the research says is so important.  Our mission is to make the transition a seamless and effective process.  We want to be more than just a job opportunity.  We want to be a powerful resource in transitioning to a new and exciting career after the military.

Log on to our website at to see how VetsWork has been designed to support veterans and natural resource agencies looking to hire them.  Also, visit the jobs page at to see what internships are available.  Get started on your new career with VetsWork. We’re here for you.