How A Program In The White Mountains Provides A ‘Holistic Host’ Of Opportunities For Veterans
A program for veterans in the White Mountains offers the opportunity to transition back to civilian life and pursue a career in the outdoors. It’s the only one of its kind in the nation. About 15 veterans have come through the program since it began in 2017 and have gone on to become wilderness firefighters or take on jobs with the federal government.
All Things Considered host Peter Biello spoke with Jessie Dubuque, an assistant district ranger and wildlife biologist at White Mountain National Forest, and Anna White, a U.S. Army veteran who’s currently enrolled in the program. Below is a transcription of their conversation.
Peter Biello: This is All Things Considered from NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. A program to help veterans transition to civilian lives in the White Mountains was put on hold last year because of the pandemic. But this summer it's back. The Armed Forces Conservation Corps gives veterans the opportunity to do meaningful work in the outdoors and potentially start a career with the Forest Service. Jessie Dubuque is an assistant district ranger and wildlife biologist at White Mountain National Forest, and she runs the program there. And Anna White is an Army veteran participating in the program. Jessie and Anna, thank you very much for speaking with me.
Jessie Dubuque: Thank you for having us.
Anna White: Thank you.
Peter Biello: I'll start with you, Jessie. What has it been like getting this program up and running again after not having it last year?
Jessie Dubuque: Well, it's been a really fantastic addition to our Ranger station at the Saco Ranger District. Anna and Spencer both bring depth and wealth of knowledge about the armed forces, and they add and contribute a whole bunch of diversity and enthusiasm to our seasonal workforce.
Peter Biello: That's Spencer Adolphi, he's the other veteran currently in the program this year. And Anna, I read that you joined the Army at age 18 and you worked as an aerial sensor operator and flight instructor. You were deployed to NATO missions in Africa and Central America. What has your transition back to civilian life been like?
Anna White: It's almost been like two different worlds. Working under Jessie has definitely been eye-opening for me in many different ways because there are some aspects that are similar to military. You have your supervisor and chain of command pretty much off of them. But it's definitely two different worlds for sure.
Peter Biello: Are you saying there is a structure to military life that this program, to some extent, gives you that you wouldn't have in ordinary civilian life?
Anna White: They give me more leniency on what I want to do rather than a structured schedule in place already. They ask me what I want to do and really care about my interests rather than just assuming and making a program for everyone. It's more per person.
Peter Biello: So, in your transition back to civilian life, was there a particular need that you had? And if so, did this program help you address it?
Anna White: One thousand percent. I am an aspiring wildlife biologist, I start school to major in that in January, and being under Jessie, who is our wildlife biologist for the Saco District, it couldn't have been a better match because she's become a mentor for me pretty much, and she's definitely given me opportunities that are very eye-opening in so many different ways. And so I've had many experiences I don't think I didn't even know existed before coming here.
Peter Biello: Can you give me an example?
Anna White: An endangered duck in New Hampshire is a loon. I didn't even know what a loon was, but now I'm so familiar with them and have done surveys with them and put out signs to protect their nesting areas. So, just things like that, just opportunities and meeting different people from different federal agencies and state agencies who are wildlife biologists as well, and talking to them and learning their experiences has definitely made me, I would say, a lot more well-rounded and preparing myself into going into this field.
Peter Biello: Jessie, how many people have come through this program since it began a few years ago?
Jessie Dubuque: I believe Anna and Spencer are officially the fourteenth and fifteenth individuals that have been part of the Armed Forces Conservation Corps. It started in 2017 and it's been a really interesting and dynamic program. We've had anywhere from two to six people per year that have been through the variety of trainings that all of our seasonal employees take, including first aid, wilderness first aid, ATV, chainsaw training, that sort of thing. And Anna and Spencer are also currently taking our wildland firefighting basic training, 130,190 course this week. So, yeah, they've had a holistic host of different kinds of trainings and opportunities.
Peter Biello: And can you tell me about some of what previous participants in this program have gone on to do career wise?
Jessie Dubuque: I think the most directly relatable experience that someone's had with permanent federal employment, we had a woman about two years ago who pursued wildland firefighting as a career and she got into the Wildland Firefighter Apprentice program, and she's pursuing that to become a permanent wildland firefighter out west.
Peter Biello: Anna, is there something about being outside working in nature that in itself is helpful to you with the transition from military life to civilian life?
Anna White: I would say so. I grew up in a city, so I barely have any experience prior to the military outdoors. And while we were outside with the military, I was always training so you didn't really enjoy it as much as you could have. But since being here, I've gone hiking and go camping and it brings a lot of peace.
Peter Biello: This program that you're running is the only one of its kind in the country. Why do you think it's important for places, maybe states outside New Hampshire, to offer something like this?
Jessie Dubuque: I think that this program provides a holistic host of opportunities for veterans and we, as civilians, I personally feel like we have an obligation and a duty to provide an opportunity for them to get their feet back underneath them in natural resources and transition back in a way that's beneficial to them. But also through us, we learn a lot from them and their experiences and we have an obligation to take care of them for all the sacrifices that they've made.
Peter Biello: Jessie Dubuque is an assistant district ranger and wildlife biologist at White Mountain National Forest, where she runs the Armed Forces Conservation Corps program. And Anna White is a U.S. Army veteran who is currently in the program. Thank you for speaking with me.
Anna White: Thank you for having us.
Jessie Dubuque: Thank you.