'A Country Worth Defending is Worth Preserving'

Introduction
by Kate Riley, Snohomish Conservation District:

Puget Sound Conservation Districts (PSCD) are known to be the "boots-on-the-ground" efforts to maintain and restore a healthy and thriving Puget Sound. The approach to implementing community-based green-stormwater infrastructure projects is no exception. To grow their capacity to do this work, the PSCDs formed a new partnership with the state Department of Veteran Affairs and its Conservation Corps Program. This program places military veterans with conservation organizations for benefits ranging from eco-therapy to green-job development.

Taylor Pesce at work as part of the first Veteran Stormwater Action Team. Photo courtesy of the Snohomish Conservation District.

Through support from the Boeing Company and The Nature Conservancy, the first Veteran Stormwater Action Team based out of the Snohomish Conservation District (SCD) was established. During the first two crews of this action team, the SCD has mentored eight veterans, with two advancing to supervisory roles. This action team has been trained on green stormwater infrastructure, habitat restoration, construction management and community engagement.

As they act as boots on the ground with partners across the region, these veterans have inspired residents across Puget Sound to see that a country worth defending is worth preserving. Below are a couple of their stories.

'I Began to Feel Satisfaction and Passion' 
by Chris Rodriguez

After finishing my enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, I was lacking a clear vision. I struggled with the transition from military life back to civilian life. Over the following years with the support of my family, I put my energy into apprenticeship programs and higher education. I worked as a journeyman boilermaker for five years and taught elementary-school grades 4 through 6 for more than three years. 

Chris Rodriguez. Photo courtesy of Snohomish Conservation District. 

After struggling to find the next best thing and feeling unsatisfied with my work, I heard about an opportunity with the Snohomish Conservation District — an all-veteran crew partnering with the Washington State Department of Veteran Affairs.

After interviewing for the position, the Snohomish Conservation District offered me a supervisor role in leading the veterans in the field installing green-stormwater techniques like rain gardens. Here I found something I excel in, and, more important, I began to feel satisfaction and passion in engaging the community and educating homeowners. 

This position has given me an opportunity to use both my work history and military training. Within just a few short weeks, our crew is working closely together like a military unit. After all, a country worth defending is worth preserving. This is my new mission in life.  I traded my rifle in for a shovel.

Helping Me Find My Niche
by Taylor Pesce

Growing up in Snohomish County, I've always felt grounded to the natural environment around me (how can you not when you live in an area this beautiful?). Being able to give back to my county by building rain gardens, rehabilitating land and talking to landowners about our environment is a great opportunity to ensure our communities stay healthy for future generations. We just finished building rain gardens and barrel systems in an amazing neighborhood in Lynnwood. People were constantly coming up and asking, "What was going on?" and, “How can I do these things on my property?” The engagement with curious neighbors and the turnout for the community planting day was extremely rewarding.

Taylor Pesce at work with the Veteran Stormwater Action Team. Photo courtesy of Snohomish Conservation District.

After getting out of the Marine Corps in 2007, I worked in various trades at Boeing until I left to attend Everett Community College to get my associate's degree in environmental studies and geographic information system (GIS). Entering the Veterans Conservation Corps has been a great opportunity for me. The support and partnership with the Washington Department of Veteran Affairs has made this life transition easier for me and my family. Being able to get my foot in the door and make a name for myself will help me get into the type of work I could see myself doing — such as environmental education or habitat restoration planning. This opportunity to work with Snohomish Conservation District and other partners will no doubt give me the tools and knowledge to find my niche.