Who are you? Where are you?
My name is Chad Noah Isaac Christopher, but people just call me “Chad,” which obviously irks me to no end. I was formerly a Staff Sergeant in the United States Air Force, where I worked in various intelligence disciplines over the course of my 6 year enlistment, which was primarily spent at Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia. I share that piece of background with you because it is one the many reasons I am where I am: a quiet mountain town in the northeast corner of Oregon, known as Joseph. I’m in this snow capped paradise as a writer/analyst intern with the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest Service. I received this internship through the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork program, which falls under the broad umbrella of AmeriCorps, who’s goal is helping people like myself transition into another form of community service, caring for our public lands.
I am telling you all of this because I’ve been asked to document my experience, but it’s something I’m happy to do, for a cause that I’m proud to support. I hope that in the end, these words are found useful to someone who might find themselves on a similar life trajectory to mine, who want to know more about what it means to be an AmeriCorps & VetsWork member.
So what do you consider your “life trajectory”?
I’m talking about wanting to give other vets—who might share a few of my interests and confusions after completing their military service— a better insight into this opportunity.
Understood, but are you purposely trying to avoid answering the intent of my question?
Oh, Touché. I don’t like telling my life story, and I have compiled a lot of evidence that suggests most people aren’t all that interested. However, since you asked, I’ll drop my biased and brief history on your dome one time, and it will never be spoken of again.
I was born in 1986 in Santa Rosa, California. My mother raised my older brother Louie and I by herself until 1990, when she met and married the love of her life, Marnel Christopher. We lived in the small town of Ukiah, to the north of Santa Rosa, in apartment complexes and trailer parks until I was six years old, when our little family picked up and moved to Aurora, Colorado.
Chad/Mom – Mom and I (ca. 1990) Chad/Dad – Dad and I (ca. 1990)
A quick rundown of our time in that wonderful state:
- We attended church regularly, although I never developed any profound connection to the church or the belief, despite my openness to such things.
- I was home-schooled the majority of my youth, with some christian charter schools mixed in for good measure.
- I had an intensely active imagination, and my best friend David and I would play as make believe heroes or spies around our neighborhood nearly into our teens. We both loved sports and outdoor adventures, and would regularly be outside in the street, throwing the football or playing hockey well after dark.
- My older brother introduced me to hip-hop, and I immediately started creating my own raps, an activity I continue to this day.
- My father worked relentlessly at construction, to support what became a large family of four children, and I loved to go to work with him whenever it was viable.
bball – my breaks are for shooting hoops
We moved back to Ukiah as I entered my teens, and I started to attend public school. I did well during my final five years of mandatory education, but by the time I graduated high school, I had acquired a good job with a good future, working for UPS. I didn’t envision college or military in the plans.
Eventually though, I wanted to get away. I wanted a new adventure, to do something noble, to accomplish great things. So, at the age of eighteen I enlisted in the armed services. My stories are too numerous and my feelings are too complex to dive into that time, but again I performed well, and constantly volunteered for different duties and deployments. I learned a lot during that period, and did a fair amount of maturing, but I felt like I lost a lot as well, and was dead set on not reenlisting. I wanted to use the GI Bill to go to college, but my only end game was to learn some stuff, and to make enough money to pay the rent. After nearly three years of taking a wide variety of classes, no one subject grabbed me. I could see myself being a chemist, or an astronomer, or a politician, or an architect, or a construction worker, or a receptionist… it was all good to me. Eventually though, I burned out. It’s hard to press forward without an idea which direction to go. I did whatever work I could get for a little over a year, but nothing ever felt right, felt secure, or felt like it had a defined future, like some place I could happily imagine myself years down the road. Finally, one sleepless night, I found myself on Craigslist looking for a new adventure, some distant place where I could start fresh.
menucha sponsors – Meeting our forest service sponsors
So, this fresh start is with VetsWork and the Forest Service and all those other programs you seem a little confused about?
Right. I saw the job opportunity and felt a tingling in my skin. To work as a writer, on behalf of deer and trees and streams? I could be a kind of real life, literary Lorax! The forest has always been my favorite place, and mountains and rivers have always been an undefined inspiration in my life. I’ve loved writing for as long as I can remember, and in all of my past songs and stories you’ll find similes and metaphors referencing aspects of the natural world. Redwoods rising from fields of ferns resonate in my heart. Deep valleys and winding waters are thoughts that bring me peace. I know that it won’t all be sunshine and rainbows, and that I’ll have to do my fair share of technical writing, full of acronyms and jargon that bring nobody joy to read, but that’s okay too, because the mission won’t be accomplished from a few lines of prose or poetry. There is a need for people to write reports and regulations, and if I can be of use in that regard, I’ll have a more sure chance of making a true and lasting impact.
multnomah falls – Ooh aah, Multnomah Falls
Okay, so how was it… I mean, like, joining VetsWork?
It was a whirlwind, babe. Two weeks after seeing the job post, I was driving up to northern Oregon to participate in a week long orientation with 13 other veterans who were going to work different jobs for the Forest Service in Oregon and Washington. We met at retreat called Menucha in Corbett, Oregon,where the food and facilities were top notch, and the staff was even better. More importantly though, the staff of Mt. Adams Institute was extremely kind and down to earth, and took us through in-processing gracefully.
They also took us on a hike up Multnomah Falls, the second tallest year-round waterfall in the US, and had us do some community service planting native plants along the shore of the Columbia River, and clearing a fallen tree from a local school’s soccer field.
riverrehab – Riparian rehab on White Salmon River delta
I can’t say enough good things about the veterans I met there. They are all hard workers, considerate, and know how to have a good time. We bonded like a big family in that short time, and I’m looking forward to our quarterly meetings together. At the end of the week, we met the people that are going to be our bosses for the next ten and a half months. Again, I felt an instant connection and understanding, this time with Kris Stein, one of the District Rangers here. She showed up to greet me because this office is currently without a head writer, and until they fill that position, I’ll be answering directly to her. It’s a little frightening, but mostly it’s extremely exciting. They haven’t had this intern position here before, so together Kris and I are shaping it into something that will make us both happy, and satisfy needs the office has had for a long time.
Cool. I’m genuinely happy for you.
That means a lot, thanks. I’ve already written my first story about a tree that fell on one of the heritage buildings here. I took pictures to go along with the article, and made a minute and a half video of our archeologist talking about the damage, and what it means. It’s getting published in our forest’s quarterly magazine!
lakehouse – I’m staying here now
You got any goals you want to accomplish during this short period in your life?
Mmm, good question. I want one of my stories to get posted on the National US Forest Service website. I want to develop a friendship with one of the many deer I’ve seen around here, without feeding it or tackling it, of course. I want to drastically improve mí español. I want to stop referring to myself as king of the drama queens. I want to gain 15 pounds (UK currency). I want to lose 20 pounds (weight). I want to be a part of making at least 20 songs. I want to publish another fictional short story and I want a Peter Forsberg Quebec Nordique’s home jersey.