After serving in the military, many veterans can use three things: a job, fellow service members to talk to about their experiences, and some time spent in nature to decompress. The Veterans Fire Corps (VFC) provides all this and more.
Stephen Cooper, an Air Force veteran now doing logging work with the Fire Corps in the San Juan National Forest of western Colorado, told Jim Mimiaga of the Cortez Journal, “I was slipping, not doing well in school, abusing alcohol, basically not adjusting.” Then he joined VFC. “It changed my life and helped me get back on track. Now I’m a supervisor for other veterans that had the same issues I had, and I’m in my final semester at Fort Lewis College.”
The veterans train in all aspects of forestry and engage in fire mitigation, thinning trees to prevent forest fires. They also train as wilderness firefighters, a career that many of them pursue after their stints in the corps.
Cooper said the structure of the program and the physical outdoor work helps former soldiers find their way after serving in war. “It is therapeutic for veterans, many who are disabled and have witnessed horrific things in war,” Cooper said. “When we get out of the military, what’s missing is other vets to talk to. Civilians don’t understand what we’ve been through, and it can lead to more suffering in the form of isolation, depression and alcohol abuse.”
Veteran Ross Schumaker writes on the VFC website, “With the combination of all the classes, contacts, and me being a badass, I have landed a job on a fire engine for the upcoming season and plan on making wildland firefighting my career.”