Veterans Green Corps program offers former troops a chance at forest jobs

Veterans Green Corps program offers former troops a chance at forest jobs

31 August 2011

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USA — When he left the Army, Iraq war veteran John Gallagher had little idea what he would do. The infantryman had few job skills, couldn’t abide the idea of sitting behind a desk and would be entering a

job market where veterans are unemployed at a rate of more than 13 percent. “I wanted something to get me on my feet,” said Gallagher, 26.

John Gallagher, an Iraqi war veteran from Redding, Calif., is a member of the Veterans Green Corps, a group that has partnered with the California Conservation Corps and U.S. Forest Service to train military veterans for jobs in the forest service. On Thursday, Aug. 31, 2011 the green corps was working to restore the Angora fire area near South Lake Tahoe. / Marilyn Newton / RGJ

On Wednesday, Gallagher was among a crew on a fire-scarred ridge at Lake Tahoe, toppling dead trees with a chain saw in an effort to restore land burned by the Angora Fire of 2007.

“We’re all excited to be a part of this,” Gallagher said of a pilot program he hopes will help secure him a job on a Hotshot firefighting crew.

Officials with the U.S. Forest Service and California Conservation Corps on Wednesday showcased the Veterans Green Corps, a $1.5 million experiment designed to employ veterans to conduct forest health and wildfire prevention work.

The vets receive training that could make them desirable hires for full-time firefighting and forestry jobs, said Randy Moore, regional forester.

The program offers an important opportunity for veterans, many returning from combat in Afghanistan or Iraq, who come home to an uncertain job market, said David Muraki, director of the California Conservation Corps.

“It really provides an important opportunity during what really is a tough transition,” Muraki said.

The veterans are also providing a needed boost in manpower at the site of the Angora Fire, which blasted through tinder-dry forest and destroyed 254 homes outside South Lake Tahoe in June 2007.

The restoration project, delayed by a legal challenge, is now proceeding on a fast track as winter approaches, said Nancy Gibson, supervisor of the Forest Service’s Tahoe unit.

“We honestly couldn’t do it without their help,” Gibson said. “We really need to get a lot of this work done before the rainy season.”

In the Angora burn area, the veteran crew is felling trees and piling the wood for burning. The veterans will labor alongside Forest Service workers through October, clearing brush, thinning vegetation and conducting prescribed burning.

For Gallagher, the job offers an important chance to move on after military service.

“Nothing is going to be handed to you, so you’ve got to work on it,” he said.

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