Veterans Return To Service – As Wildland Firefighters

It’s no surprise that many veterans pursue careers in the emergency services. Public safety employers value veterans for their ability to effectively manage critical situations as a team among other skills. Those who have served in the military are often driven to continue serving their communities and enjoy the familiar sense of camaraderie.  Those who also enjoy the outdoors and dirty, grueling manual labor are often drawn to wildland firefighting.

Although many veterans start their wildland firefighting careers by taking an entry-level seasonal position with the United States Forest Service (USFS) or another federal agency, some are making the transition in a program tailor-made for them – the Veterans Fire Corps. Through a cooperative effort of the USFS, AmeriCorps and conservation corps across the West, the program aims to prepare post-9/11 vets to become leaders in wildland firefighting, land management or other related fields.

Veterans selected for one of these programs work together as a crew for 3-6 months as they learn and gain valuable hands-on experience. They earn a stipend and graduate the program with several certifications that make them more competitive and qualify them for more positions nationwide. Crew leaders and instructors are often alums of the Veterans Fire Corps themselves. Because the VFC not only offers job training and certification but also the support of fellow veterans, many graduates credit the program as a huge help in their transition not only into the civilian workforce, but back to civilian life in general.

FiremanFormer U.S. Marine Michael A. Madalena understands the difficulties faced by those leaving the armed forces. “That can be a tough road, as I know firsthand. But it’s been easier for me now that I’m again part of a team. We have a uniform again and a real sense of importance that we felt in the military. Having that fellowship, trusting someone with your life, is important to a lot of returning veterans,” he wrote in a 2013 article for Stars & Stripes while working as a VFC Crew Leader.

The California Conservation Corps and the Arizona Conservation Corps facilitate VFC programs in their respective states and accept applications on a rolling basis. The Southwest Conservation Corps operates crews in Colorado and New Mexico and will accept applications for the 2016 season in December of 2015. The national-level Student Conservation Association, which places crews in Arizona and South Dakota, will accept applications for 2016 sometime in the near future. Although each crew is based out of a particular location, travel is often part of the job. VFC crews have assisted with everything from prescribed burns in Florida to the Hurricane Sandy response in New Jersey.

Clearly, it’s not just veterans benefitting from this program. VFC crews tirelessly perform mitigation work and other land management tasks year-round, helping to prevent dangerous wildfires and improving the health of our forests. Agencies such as the USFS and National Park Service value the program as a pipeline of highly-qualified and motivated talent. Many program graduates easily find a position through connections they made during their service. With more property and people at risk due to wildfire than ever before, young men and women who first stood up to protect our country in the armed forces are continuing that fight back home as firefighters and stewards of public land.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

Lauren Ratzloff

Lauren found a passion for both public service and writing early, spending many of her high school days either volunteering for the local search and rescue team or writing for the school paper. A Colorado native, she has worked as a 911 dispatcher, EMT and medical assistant. Nowadays she’s in Texas with her husband, a firefighter/paramedic, and pursuing her B.S. and freelance writing. An avid outdoorswoman, she never feels more at home than when she’s on the trail or the water.

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