2022 Corpsmember of the Year: Aaron Conner, Southeast Conservation Corps
Every year at The Corps Network’s National Conference, we honor a select group of exceptional Corpsmembers from our member Service and Conservation Corps. These young adults have exceeded the expectations of their Corps by exhibiting outstanding leadership skills and demonstrating an earnest commitment to service and civic engagement. The Corpsmembers of the Year are role models; their personal stories and accomplishments are an inspiration to Corpsmembers nationwide. Learn more about The Corps Network 2022 National Conference, taking place virtually April 4 – 6.
“Aaron Conner was a dedicated member who served with integrity and professionalism his entire 10-month Veteran Fire Crew season.”
Before joining Southeast Conservation Corps (SECC), Aaron worked several civilian jobs, went to college for Geography and Urban Planning, and served nine years with the Army National Guard. After his deployment to the Middle East in 2019, Aaron sought a post-service career path that would be challenging physically and mentally. He wanted to find a sense of comradery, purpose, and accomplishment, which led him to SECC’s Veteran’s Fire Crew (VFC).
During his 10-month VFC season as an AmeriCorps member with SECC, Aaron attained his basic wildland firefighting certifications, including S-212, S-190, S-130, I 100, IS 700, L180, and completed Wilderness First Aid training. He was also able to participate in Administratively Determined (AD) duty during his term with SECC. AD allows SECC leaders and AmeriCorps members to deploy to active wildfires, allowing VFC members a comprehensive view of wildland fire fighting. Only members who excel in their training and demonstrate the ability to deploy safely can participate.
Despite not being a leader in the Corps himself, “Aaron was the ever-present cool head and worked to connect with everyone on the crew.” His supervisors with the U.S. Forest Service said that, “His can-do attitude has brought a sense of leadership and accomplishment that can be valued and emulated through any non-profit organization, and has brought pride, not only to himself but others as well.”
Aaron believes that joining the crew helped him cope with some of the challenges veterans face and allowed him to make connections with like-minded people. Serving as a Wildland Firefighter proved challenging and fulfilling, allowing him to find new ways to tackle problems, face his own psychological hurdles, and meet people from all walks of life. Though he was offered wildland firefighting positions with resource management agencies, Aaron wants to give back to fellow veterans and is continuing to serve with SECC as a Crew Leader in 2022.
Aaron believes that more fire crews are needed across the country to fight the growing issue of wildland fires. These fires affect air quality, natural resources, and threaten homes and lives. To do this he believes more awareness and outreach is needed, particularly in the veteran community. For non-veterans aged 18+, Aaron thinks that awareness of the benefits of environmental stewardship would attract new participants to the Corps Movement. As he says, “Now is the time to become more active in our communities, to take up the mantel of civic leadership, and to advocate for environmental stewardship.”