Corpsmember Profile: Taking the Step – A Marine Shares His Experience with the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Program

Following the tragic events of 9/11, Adam Hale understood the emotional toll that people endured and felt it was his duty to represent his country. Fulfilling his life-long passion of wanting to help others, Adam enlisted in the Marine Corps.

Stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, Adam traveled all over the world. Shortly after serving his second tour, Adam sustained multiple injuries during service that led him to an early medical retirement. Forced with having to return to American soil, Adam decided to move back to his small hometown of Mt. Vernon, KY.

“I promised my dad before he died that, if I made it out of the Marine Corps alive, I’d come back home.”

Honoring his dad’s promise, Adam healed from his injuries and began working on his family’s farm, where he and his 17 siblings were born and raised. Unfulfilled with duties on the farm, Adam was thinking of his next venture in life. At the time, he toyed with the idea of stepping into law enforcement but didn’t feel that was where he belonged. In talking with a friend about his next steps, Adam learned about the Mt. Adams Institute VetsWork Environment program.

VetsWork is an eleven-month career development internship program for military veterans interested in the natural resources management, public lands, and environment sector. VetsWork participants are placed at local, state, and federal land management agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service, where they provide project support while learning about various career paths.

“I had a buddy that went through the program (twice) who told me how it was compiled of a bunch of Vets who were in the same situation or background. That’s what drove me towards the program – just being around people who connected to me,” said Adam.

Two months after separating from the Marine Corps, Adam attended his first day of orientation with VetsWork. In his first official project assignment with the program – following strict national forest guidelines ­– Adam helped preserve the historic Redbird office located on the Daniel Boone National Forest. Working directly with the Head Engineer for Region 8 of the U.S. Forest Service, Adam assisted with a majority of the structural remodeling, rounding out a broad scope of work for the contractors working on the Ranger’s House, another government building on the Redbird District.

“If that week of orientation was all that I got from the program, that itself would’ve been worth it and perfect. It was 100 percent life changing for me. Not only did it give me the camaraderie of being around veterans, but it helped me tremendously,” said Adam.

In addition to working on remodeling projects, Adam worked alongside wildlife archaeologists and biologists, recording videos of endangered species and exploring new layers of the forest.

With all the different wildlife and unique projects that Adam assisted on, nothing felt more rewarding than working in wildland fire. In the program, Adam earned several firefighting certifications towards becoming a Type-2 Wildland Firefighter.

Approaching his final project requirement as a VetsWork member, Adam decided to take a different route and show his gratitude to a program that he felt turned his life around. For his Community Action Project – a project required from the program that helps the community as a whole – Adam came up with ideas on how VetsWork can be enhanced under COVID-19 safety precautions. Adam worked closely with Brendan Norman, Executive Director of Mt. Adams Institute, and Rebekah Rafferty, VetsWork Program Coordinator,  to create a plan that included Zoom Meetings and other social distancing-friendly tools to help Veterans better navigate through their projects.

Since finishing the program on October 26, Adam was directly hired as an Integrated Resource on the Daniel Boone National Forest, where he helps with fire, timber, recreation and much more. Adam’s word of advice to any Veterans dealing with life after the military was simple: take the next step. You never know, unless you try.