Veterans Day Celebration: Julian Rodriguez
Our Outreach Coordinator had the pleasure of sitting down with a group of current and former VetsWork Interns to discuss their service, current roles, and connections to the outdoors. Read below about Julian Rodriguez, Wilderness Recreation Technician for the Tongass National Forest.
Wilderness Recreation Technician for the Tongass National Forest
Tell me about your current position.
Admiralty Island sports a 32-mile long canoe route that crosses the island. I was able to work on various sections of the trail. The trail was officially built by the CCC in the 1930’s, but the Tlingit people used the trail for thousands of years before that. And bears used the trail before them, and still do.
My favorite part of trail work was logging/brushing out the trail. Why? Well what other job allows you to eat fresh picked berries while working. However, I am not a fan of building trails. One of my most treasured memories of the summer was eating lunch alone on the bank of a river with an old growth tree supporting my back. Surrounded by the many shades of green. Although, after five minutes of peace the insects found me and had lunch too.
Admiralty Island houses 11 cabins. I helped maintain eight of them over the summer. Many were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The oldest cabin, Big Shaheen, was built in 1935.
Maintaining the cabins was my favorite part of the internship. Cleaning and rebuilding the fire pits at the cabins was one of the first tasks that I learned to do. I enjoyed working on the fire pits because it was always a mess. The best part of working at the cabins was the ability to escape the elements. Also, it was nice to have the ability to dry off our work clothes after working in the rain for 10 hours.
General tool maintenance:
Before this internship I had never actually used any trail tools. Axes, Pulaskis, and cross-cut saws were tools that I only saw in movies. Especially the cross-cut. If you have never used a cross-cut it is an experience. Now I can not only use these tools, but I can also maintain them.
The Kootznoowoo Wilderness area is located on Admiralty Island and is almost a million acres of wilderness. Before this internship I assumed that the word wilderness was a synonym for outdoors. And it might be but the government designation of wilderness is much different. I encourage you to do some research on the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness is not just “outdoors” but the most raw form of outdoors. It is untrammeled land.
One early morning, as I was waiting for some water to boil for my morning coffee, I saw a brown bear. I had maybe a minute to observe this elusive creature as it walked up the beach looking for clams. Then out of nowhere it bolted towards the woods. It’s hard to explain, but I could hear it running from a half a mile away. Picture an NFL linebacker with twice the body mass and faster. I’ll never forget that image.
What is your favorite part about your position?
Seeing where these cabins are located: Hands down: seeing how remote the cabins are located is by far my favorite part.
Stumbling upon people in the wilderness: The remoteness also provided a sense of wishing someone was there to share the moment with them. It was rare, but every now and then I would run into someone in the wilderness. One time a nice lady gave our group a zip lock full of brownies.
Drinking coffee on the last morning of a trip.
What is one thing you have learned so far?
Thanks to the Vetswork program I am understanding work life balance. In the military I didn’t have that. I worked with the same people I spent my personal time with. It all blurred together for me. Now I understand that work and personal life need to balance each other out. They should complement each other.
This line of work:
I think that the Forest Service is not for me. I might even say that working for the government is not in my immediate future.
One of the most valuable things I learned is that the people doing this work are just normal people.
A young woman from the “middle of nowhere, Illinois.” Another from Vermont. A 21 year old kid in college from Minnesota. A New Yorker looking to escape to Alaska. A veteran nomad. These are the types of people who are the backbone of the Forest Service.
Every spring seasonal workers from around the country flock to federal lands usually for about six months. These workers are mostly twenty something year olds, some in college completing internships and others, trying to find permanent work with the Forest Service. These people are the reason we get to enjoy the beauty of nature in a safe way. So, next time you are walking on a maintained trail, or staying at a cabin, think about the hours spent by not just this generation, but every generation before us.
Tell me about your connection to the outdoors.
My connection to the outdoors started around 2015. But to understand that you must know about where I grew up. I moved around a lot as a kid mostly around different towns in New Jersey, the Garden state. As a kid I remember running around the local town park or maybe a school playground. Also, I played baseball for a few years. These were my outdoor experiences.
Whenever I think about the “outdoors,” I think of human made structures. I never would have imagined that places like the Admiralty Island National monument existed. I literally was scared of going into the “woods.” Growing up I thought that the outdoors was for animals. I viewed the outdoors as dangerous when I should have been finding my harmony with the land instead
As a kid growing up the closest I got to the outdoors was by watching Disney movies. Tarzan, A Bug’s Life, Pocahontas, Jurassic Park, The Lion King, The Little Mermaid or maybe Indian Jones, Crocodile Dundee and if my uncle was babysitting, maybe Rambo or Platoon. Needless to say that serving my internship in one of the most remote places in the country changed that view.
What draws you to the natural world?
Not sure I know. It’s more of a feeling. I feel at peace when I’m out there. Maybe it’s the lack of humans, electronics, or the simplicity of life. I know it’s a cliché but it really makes you realize what is important in life.
How do you feel about working/living in the outdoors?
- Fresh air and natural light
- New office every day/week
- Nature controls the weather (But if you are paying attention it warns you.)
- Creature comforts are in low supply
Why do you think is it important to protect public lands and natural resources?
There is a healing process that I experienced with my interaction with the land. If libraries are the knowledge centers of a community then public lands should be the grounding centers of a community.
Service is a major focus of AmeriCorps. What does service mean to you?
What made you decide to continue serving our country after your military service?
Loyalty to my country.
As a veteran, what was the transition like from active duty service to corps membership?
I started my transition nearly ten years ago. It has not been easy, but it has been informative. In that time I obtained a bachelor’s degree and gained a wide spectrum of knowledge through both paid and unpaid work. I sold automobiles, did some day trading and was a research assistant. I have worked in food pantries, a dance studio and a bookstore.
Some Veterans return home after their tour in the service. Some look for that place to call home when they end their service. I lived in Florida, Oregon, California and Alaska. I have traveled across the country in almost every way possible. Plane, train, and one of my favorite American pastimes: driving. I feel at home everywhere in the country, but I feel most at home in Oregon.
In my travels I was able to interact with humans from all walks of life. This interaction with others, especially those different from me, helped me better understand who I would become, or transition into. It didn’t matter if I was talking to a 60 year old in Isabella, PR, a Saudi Arabian in Portland, or a young woman in Juneau, AK I was always able to connect with people. In that connection I was able to “find” another piece of myself.
The Army does a great job at dissolving who you are. I am not saying this is malicious, but it happens. So, part of my transition was to re-establish myself as a human. My AmeriCorps service, by way of the Mount Adams Institute, empowered me to find more of myself. They provide an outlet for Veterans to continue their service, but in our own unique way.
Do you think other veterans could benefit from similar opportunities?
Yes. 100%. If a career in natural resources has even crossed your mind then you need to find a VetsWork position that sounds fun.
How has VetsWork affected your career goals?
VetsWork has made it possible for me to see how I can combine two of my favorite passions: psychology and nature. The healing nature of the land.
Do you have any funny stories to share?
One day I walked into the wilderness office and my supervisor, Sean, came up to me and asked me if I wanted to do kayak wet exit training and I said ‘sure.” I had no idea what that meant. Little did I know that a few hours later I would be upside down in a kayak in freezing water.