The U.S. Forest Service actively recruits eligible veterans for multiple occupations. Currently, veterans make up over 12 percent of the Forest Service workforce. The agency values the experience, commitment and work ethic that veterans bring to the job, as well as their significant skills and abilities.
Two programs are of particular importance to veterans who are seeking an opportunity to get their boot in the door and improve their chances of being hired by a land management agency.
In its third year, nationally, the Veterans Fire Corps program is operated as a partnership with the Student Conservation Association. It’s a collaborative initiative that builds upon the knowledge, leadership experience and training of men and women who served in the armed forces, retraining them and refocusing their mission to protecting public lands from the threat of wildfire.
The experience and training provided in the program are designed to prepare participants to meet pressing conservation needs on public lands while providing job training for future employment in the wildland firefighting field.
“The work is tough and dirty but is purpose-driven, which I believe is very attractive to veterans,” said Lew Sovocool, a former Veterans Fire Corps leader and supervisor. “There’s also the excitement and adrenaline rush that pushed us toward the military (and) a sense of national service of which all of us are proud to be a part.”
Todd Pechota, fire staff officer for the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota, is a strong proponent of the Veterans Fire Corps. “The program is a great way for the forest to provide training and experience which may lead to career opportunities for our veterans. The teams increase our capability to fight fire, reduce hazardous fuels and complete work in other resource areas.”
Mike Madalena is a former Marine with combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s passionate about the program and feels one of the best parts of the Veterans Fire Corps is that it is therapeutic. “It’s about saving lives, really helping each other out and talking things out. Veterans that leave the service and get into this program can fill the void of team camaraderie and get structure and organization back in their lives.”
Working through a partnership with Veterans Green Jobs, the California Conservation Corps has numerous crews made up of young U.S. military veterans. Several crews are working directly with the Forest Service where they’re receiving training and hands-on work experience in forestry and firefighting skills through the California Conservation Corps Veterans Program.
For veterans on these forestry crews, it’s a chance to work on fuel reduction and wildfire education projects. They also learn crew organization, how to use a chain saw and wildland firefighting safety. After completing 500 hours of work experience, veterans may become eligible for the Forest Service’s Wildland Firefighter Apprenticeship Program, which can lead to journey-level positions.
Funding for the crews is provided by the Forest Service through a partnership with the California Conservation Corps as well from the operating budget of the California State Assembly.
Programs such as these are a win-win for veterans as well as the Forest Service. It gives veterans an opportunity to learn a new skill and determine if firefighting is something they want to do as a follow-on career. It gives the Forest Service additional people to help suppress wildland fires and reduce hazardous fuels.
The U.S. Forest Service is proud to provide opportunities such as these to the men and women who wish to continue to help their country after their service or while they are still on duty in the military Reserves or National Guard.