Lew Sovocool, Wildland Firefighter, U.S. Forest Service
With a degree in environmental economics from Cornell University and five years’ experience as an officer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Lew Sovocool was sought by corporate headhunters. But the corporate world didn’t appeal to him. He didn’t know exactly what kind of career he was looking for, but he knew he had these two prerequisites: to work outdoors, and to live in a picturesque place.
In March 2010, Lew got his wish when he heard about Veterans Green Jobs. The Southwest Conservation Corps suggested that he might be a good candidate for a crew leader role, where he would help train all-veteran crews on natural resource management projects. He packed his bags, left his home in Alabama, and headed to Durango, Colorado.
“This kind of work really appeals to veterans,” says Lew. “They get to work outside, not sit behind a desk, and be part of a team in beautiful areas.”
Ultimately, Lew stayed on well past the two-month stint he originally signed up for. He was asked to continue through the summer as a field supervisor. With the Durango program’s focus on fire mitigation and fuel reduction with the U.S. Forest Service, Lew’s job was to put equipment, tools and training in place to allow the crews to respond to fires. He then filled the role of saw crew supervisor for a while.
The chance to work in many different positions was not so unlike the military, where soldiers do whatever it takes to get the job done. And, according to Lew, the parallels between wildland fire fighting and the military are attractive to vets: “It’s the same level of excitement, momentum and hard work.”
Conservation work was not entirely new to Lew. In college, he had worked for the Student Conservation Association, where he was involved in trail building and wildland fire mitigation. When he left the Army, he was compelled to look for those kinds of opportunities. With the discovery of Veterans Green Jobs, his true passion revealed itself.
“The program definitely piqued my interest in forestry,” Lew recalls. So for him, Veterans Green Jobs was a good stepping stone to his next life phase. He now has plans to pursue a graduate degree in forestry in 2011.
Veterans Green Jobs offered another point of interest for Lew: the chance to work with a crew of like-minded veterans. “Vets are facing the same stuff everyone else is. They’re trying to find jobs – and the skills to get the jobs,” he says, describing a lack of continuity before and after the military when it comes to career transition. “As an infantryman, a guy might be an outstanding soldier. But his military job might not translate well into a civilian job.”
That’s where Veterans Green Jobs has the power to open doors for vets. By offering transferable skills and the training needed to look for jobs in the natural resources field, the program helps vets bridge the gap between their service to their country and a career-based service to the environment.
Having done tours in Iraq and Afghanistan himself, Lew knows what it’s like to want to find meaningful opportunities here at home.
In the end, he feels that while people come from all different backgrounds, “Most are looking for a higher purpose in what they are doing.”