VetsWork: Opportunity During a Pandemic

by | Field Notes, VetsWork

Early in the year of 2020, around the months of February and March, there had been some recent suspicions about a possible virus that could come across borders to the United States.

Around this time, I was getting ready to move near Tacoma, Washington; I had already been applying and interviewing for possible work in this area. Upon a successful move at the beginning of March, talks of the COVID-19 virus became loud and clear with more cases popping up daily.

Fast forward to May, I came across an organization that was seeking veterans for public lands internships. The organization I speak of was Mt. Adams Institute, and the program that caught my interest was called VetsWork Environment. This program provides veterans the opportunity to gain experience in areas such as conservation, facility maintenance, wildlife management, and forestry, among others.  I saw an opportunity for a biological science technician via the VetsWork program and seized it.

My current internship is located at the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, in Leavenworth, WA. This area was quite a different experience coming from my prior living environment, which was mainly a big city. The city of Leavenworth is modeled after a Bavarian village as part of a civic initiative that began in the 1960s. This style that the city has decided to adopt makes for a very different visual experience, which is why it is one of the top tourist locations in the state of Washington. The National Fish Hatchery is located a few miles down the road from the city and is centered in a beautiful location that has lush forests and mountains all around. Also, since it is a hatchery it sits directly on top of a beautiful river that allows for activities such as boating, fishing, and lots more of summertime fun.

I started my internship in July, which as you can guess, was incredibly hot. But I took it as part of the learning curve, and wow was it quite the physical learning curve to adjust to. A lot of the tasks in the first month pertained to fish culture, which includes feeding the fish, cleaning the raceways, performing maintenance where needed, doing work on trails, etc. All those activities required a level of physical activity that I was not used to, thus caused a lot of soreness. But I did not mind, because this is why I am here. Thanks to the VetsWork program, I got the chance to learn many things about fish culture such as feeding, cleaning, and watching for different behaviors. I got chances to observe and learn from the animal care technician and veterinarian, giving opportunities to delve into the laboratory side of caring for the fish, such as looking for disease. Recently, I obtained a vital skill that I will need in the future called, PIT tagging. This is done to keep concise records of the fish travel paths when they are released from the hatchery. 

My internship is a total of 10.5 months, and I am about a third of the way complete, I have nothing but excitement looking toward the future of the internship. 

Written by:

Matthew Cornelius, VetsWork 2020

Bioligical Science Technician, Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Technician