The Veterans Green Corps helps unemployed veterans find green pathways to what they desire most: continued, meaningful service.
They are part of the nonprofit Southwest Conservation Corps’ Veterans Green Corps (VGC), an effort to fight 21 percent unemployment among veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, through environmental career transition. VGC provides opportunities that consistently make the difference for this unique group: crews of other returned soldiers sorting through similar experiences; job skills that are in demand in the conservation sector; the gritty, hard work they crave; and a chance to continue service to their country.
Many vets are still dealing with the psychological effects of war—19 percent of all troops returning from Iraq and 11.3 percent coming home from Afghanistan suffer mental health problems—and some VGC corpsmembers claim the time spent outdoors among fellow veterans has helped alleviate anxiety and post traumatic stress. For most though, VGC simply speaks to the sense of valor, unity, and service that first attracted them to the military.
Amy Foss, Southwest Conservation Corps’ Director of Operations, recounts the words she hears repeatedly from these vets, “I’m not broken. I don’t need help. I need job skills.”
The work isn’t easy. For some, cutting firebreaks and sawyering ladder fuels (combustible vegetation like dead trees) is the hardest test of their endurance since basic training. VGC corpsmembers attend chainsaw training, fire behavior, and wildland firefighting courses through local forest partners to earn their “Red Cards.” With this qualification and experience, they can build toward adrenaline-rich positions on hotshot and smokejumper crews suppressing wildfires from land and air. Coupling their certifications from VGC with a veterans’ preference for employment at federal agencies, a future in wildland fire mitigation holds real promise.
All photos courtesy Southwest Conservation Corps