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New Program Source of Jobs for War Veterans

War veterans find employment through new programs War veterans find employment through new programs 
by Jim Casey, Peninsula Daily News

From the sun-scorched Iraqi desert with deadly enemies all around to a misty forest glade surrounded by silent trees — the transformation sounds too good to believe.

But it’s among benefits belonging to the state’s Veterans Conservation Corps, designed to help vets return to civilian life.

It started three years ago for Vietnam War vets with post-traumatic stress disorder but has widened to include all veterans, whether or not they are disabled.

And the program of the Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs could get bigger and better still.

Ed Bowen of Lake Ozette is Clallam and Jefferson counties’ VCC field coordinator, and Jeff Reyes is his Kitsap County counterpart, although he lives in Clallam County.

Both are high on the program that can put vets to work outdoors and — if they want — to take nine months of environmental training that can lead to higher employment…

     

‘Sideline’ program grows
"What was a sideline program wound up getting a lot of money from the government," Reyes said about the Veterans Environmental Academy at Olympic College in Bremerton.

It spread there from its debut at Green River Community College in Auburn, which the 2006-07 Legislature funded first.

It also is presented at Spokane Community College.

Vets who live in Clallam or Jefferson county are eligible to attend the academy, which will pay them a monthly $1,000 stipend that can be added to $1,200 a month from the GI Bill.

Most vets can get tuition assistance, too.

The program also will help Clallam and Jefferson county students find housing in Kitsap County, making it possible for them to study and support their families simultaneously.

‘Green-collar’ jobs
And when they graduate, "there are jobs out there," Reyes said.

"Green-collar jobs, there are more of them out there."

The academy will start in September and has eight to nine slots still open of the 12 to 13 that will compose its first class.

Candidates are encouraged to apply in June.

Any vet returning from Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Noble Eagle — support duty for the war in Iraq — is eligible.

The curriculum for the Environmental Science/Natural Resources program includes environmental science, geography, geology, economics, wetland ecology, wetlands restoration, environmental remediation,  English and math.

From there, a vet could continue his or her education, Reyes said, quoting state veterans affairs department director John Lee:

"Once a person gets into school, you kind of get that education bug."

At Peninsula College?
Reyes, an ex-Marine, and Bowen, a career Air Force veteran, said they’d like to see the academy offered by Peninsula College at all its campuses — Forks, Port Angeles and Port Townsend.

The courses could be tailored to give grads the best chances for jobs.

"We find out what the community needs," Bowen said.

"Stormwater management might be an issue here in PA, but they might need noxious weed control out in the West End."

Other possibilities include agriculture, fertilizers/herbicide, timber surveys, collecting data for geographic information systems, or GIS, and what is called "ground truthing" for Light Detection and Ranging images.

Because stands of Douglas fir grow to an almost uniform height regardless of the features of the ground beneath them, LIDAR maps of them must be "truthed" on the ground.

Historic preservation skills
Historic preservation is another possibility, Bowen said.

Projects could include authentically restoring the barn on the Cowan Ranch at Hoko River State Park or replacing the tiles on roofs at early 20th century Fort Worden.

"We actually have a community need," he said, "and the vet fits that part of the puzzle."

Rather than a one-size-fits-all academy curriculum, Bowen would rather design the courses to fit the need.

"I’d love to hear back from the community," he said and gave an example:

"Hey, state parks, I’ve got a bunch of vets here. Can you put them up at Fort Worden and teach them tile replacement?"

Another place perfect for training vets would be the U.S. Forest Service’s Snyder Work Camp that usually stands vacant, he said.

Vets interested in the Veterans Conservation Corps, the Veterans Environmental Academy or both should call Bowen, 360-452-8008, Reyes, 360-670-9112, or VCC Coordinator Mark Fischer, 360-725-2224.

They also may e-mail Reyes at jeff_r_vcc@msn.com or Fischer at markf@dva.wa.gov.


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