James Love enlisted in the Marines right out of high school, 11 years ago. By the time he reported for duty at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego as assigned, on the morning of September 11, 2001, the world had already changed forever.
After eight years in uniform, including two tours of Iraq, Sgt. Love is continuing his service to our country through the Student Conservation Association’s (SCA) Veterans Fire Corps, an innovative career preparedness program that trains young military vets in wildfire fighting and mitigation. This program and many others like it are made possible with the support of federal and military employees through the Combined Federal Campaign each year.
SCA, an EarthShare member organization, conducts the Veterans Fire Corps in partnership with the US Forest Service, employing protocols familiar to those in uniform to aid the transition back to civilian life. Love says that for him, it’s made all the difference in the world. “I was interested in the Veterans Fire Corps because it was specifically geared towards recent era military veterans, meaning I would be working with fellow veterans that have had experiences and general customs similar to my own, unlike 95% of the young college kids I am surrounded by in school,” he says.
Love’s unit works the Kaibab National Forest outside Williams, AZ. “I’m surprised by how serious everyone takes fire in northern Arizona,” he observes. “It probably has to do with the fact that the city is literally surrounded by the forest.” His crew alternates between preemptive prescribed burns and thinning operations.
Davon Goodwin earned a Purple Heart with the Army Reserve in Afghanistan before signing on with SCA. “I didn’t think being a wildland firefighter was this physically demanding and stressful,” states the 23-year-old Pittsburgh native. “But I like that we are still giving back to our country by restoring and improving the conditions in our nation’s forests.”
In addition to their work with SCA, both Love and Goodwin are pursuing their college degrees and agree that their experiences at Kaibab are invaluable. “I am not only fulfilling my internship requirements for college,” says Love, “but I’m providing a service to the environment and giving back to the local community.” Adds Goodwin, “As a biology and botany major, this work can really tell you a lot about the current ecosystem. My career goals are to become an agronomist and help to make agriculture sustainable for the world.”
Other corps members note that if they are able to mount a career with a federal resource management agency, their time in uniform will count toward their government pension. “’All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence,’” says Goodwin, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “I have served my country in war and this program gives me the ability to serve my country in a whole new way.”
Click here to learn more about the Veterans Fire Corps.