Rediscovering Your Purpose: A Marine’s Journey to the Veterans Conservation Corps

Entering just his third month with the Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps, Bradley Melson has already earned the title of Assistant Team Leader, received his fleet driver certification and is currently working on becoming a certified wildland firefighter. Since enrolling in the program, Melson has acquired a new quality of life by rediscovering his purpose, all while battling through his recent diagnosis of PTSD.

Bradley grew up in Simi Valley, CA and joined the Marine Corps straight out of high school. In his five-year contract with the Marines, he served two combat deployments in Afghanistan as an Infantry T.O.W. Gunner. Just two months shy of his contract ending, Bradley sustained a football injury that would change his life forever. To ease Bradley’s physical pain, the doctor prescribed opioid pain killers. Upon recovering from his injury, and after the prescription expired, Bradley continued to seek out drug use as a way to cope with stress.

“I realized that it [opioids] not only blocked my physical pain, but my mental pain as well,” said Bradley.

After failing a routine drug test, Bradley was dismissed from the Marine Corps.

“When I first got out, I was pretty much lost in the beginning and didn’t really know what to do,” he said.

Faced with the reality of not receiving an honorable discharge or veterans’ benefits, Bradley knew he had to find work as a civilian. For the next few years, Bradley worked in the service industry in Hollywood, CA. During his tenure as a bartender, Bradley found himself at a low point. He was unfulfilled and surrounded by alcohol and drug use in a triggering environment.

After four years in Hollywood, Bradley drove from California to Delaware to reunite with his father, in search of a fresh start. Unsure of what to do next, he spoke with a friend who informed him of the benefits of volunteering. In his search for local volunteer options, he discovered the Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps.

The Veterans Conservation Corps is an AmeriCorps program focused on engaging military veterans and military family in environmental stewardship activities and trail work throughout Delaware State Parks. As an outdoor enthusiast, Bradley saw this as an ideal opportunity. He saw this program as a way to give back to Mother Nature.

Since starting the program in September 2019, Bradley has fully immersed himself in the conservation of state parks. His hard work paid off, earning him a promotion to Assistant Team Leader and his fleet driver certification. Upon completing the program and earning his wildland firefighter credentials, Bradley plans to go back out West and fight wildfires. In the future, he wants to go back to school and study archaeology.

There are many Veterans like Bradley who often miss the lack of comradery they felt in the military. Bradley recommends that all Veterans who feel unfulfilled to “volunteer, volunteer, volunteer!” Many Veterans are selfless people by nature, and programs like the Delaware State Parks Veterans Conservation Corps help them feel that purpose again.

“Having a purpose really helps me with my PTSD,” said Bradley. “The program has helped me a lot, even with the short time that I’ve been in it.”