VetsWork: Checking In

by | VetsWork

Let me introduce myself, my name is Jeff Wohlrab. I retired from the Air Force earlier this year and started almost immediately with the Mt. Adams Institute. My new job title is a mouthful, I’m a Forestry Technician (Recreation) Intern with the VetsWork program, serving on the Chattooga River Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest, part of the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Region 8. Whew! I won’t be getting business cards.

I had no idea what to expect when I started. Since this is my first check in, I only have about 400 hours under my belt, so I still have a lot to learn. First off, the northern Georgia mountains are absolutely beautiful. We have a bit over 261,000 acres of national forest to maintain, along with over 250 miles of trails, another 250 miles of roads, and over a dozen campgrounds and recreation areas. It’s a big job, and we don’t have enough people or money. That’s where interns come in.

We’re necessary. I was surprised to learn the Forest Service is split into two distinct career paths, technical and professional. The professional series are the managers. They have specialized degrees and experience, and they get paid more. Most of the Forest Service is made up of the technician series. Technicians can work in timber, recreation, fire, or a number of other areas within the service. The pay grades are much lower and eligibility for most of these jobs require less education.

The MAI interns fall under the technician series. For example, in the past two months I’ve used a GPS to mark old logging trails, helped treat hemlocks to resist woolly adelgid attacks, been the Public Information Officer for two 2,000+ acre prescribed burns, cleared trails in the wilderness, and collected fees from campsites and recreation areas. For the most part, though, I’ve been picking up trash and cleaning bathrooms.

The mission of the USDA Forest Service is to take care of the forest for the people, and the public loves the forests. On any given day, our district has hundreds or thousands of people out hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, or simply sightseeing in the mountains. These forests are a national treasure, and maintaining public access is a huge undertaking. Trees have to be cleared from roads, the roads have to be repaired and graded, and we have to maintain facilities and trash for public use.

It’s a lot of work, but the days spent next to trickling mountain streams or gazing in awe at waterfalls falling down granite steps are amazing, and the thanks from our visitors makes it all worthwhile.