Department of Ecology News Release - February 15, 2013

13-047

WCC offers veterans opportunity to continue public service by improving our environment, providing emergency relief

OLYMPIA - Veterans currently working for the Department of Ecology's Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) and Puget SoundCorps are using the leadership skills and abilities they acquired in the military to help communities in need in Washington and across the nation.

The WCC was created in 1983 and has provided opportunities and training for more than 1,700 people, mostly young adults. In 1994, WCC started receiving federal AmeriCorps funding, allowing crews to carry out on-the-ground projects across the state and provide disaster response assistance around the country.

In 2011, the Washington Legislature created the Puget SoundCorps within the WCC to focus specifically on jobs for young adults and military veterans that benefit Puget Sound recovery.

The WCC also receives funding from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through state 2012 Jobs Now Act.

Since 2011, Ecology and DNR have focused their efforts to hire and train returning military veterans as part of the WCC. Since veterans were particularly affected by the recession, state lawmakers waived the 18 to 25 WCC age restrictions.

The WCC provides veterans with employment, education and training opportunities that can lead to environmental certifications and future employment. The partnership with the Washington state Department of Veterans Affairs offers veteran-related services and assistance to help connect veterans with the benefits they earned by serving our country.

Veterans in the WCC work on an array of critical environmental activities including planting native trees; repairing stream and streamside habitat; constructing and upgrading trails; and providing environmental education.

Supervisor Junior Fuimaono leads a WCC Puget SoundCorps crew in Pierce County made up of veteran and civilian members. Their primary focus is working on urban forest restoration projects that also benefit Puget Sound such as planting 1,700 trees and shrubs and clearing invasive plant species in Chambers Creek.

He said while Washington communities hard hit by the economic recession have benefitted from their work, his WCC crew members have, in turn, received invaluable professional experience, contacts and training certification - things that will help members find a long-term career in the environmental field.

Fuimaono served in the Army in Bosnia, Kuwait and Iraq. Like many veterans, his service did not end with enlistment. After two years working on an economics degree, he joined the WCC in 2011, serving as a member of one of the first all-veteran WCC crews under the supervision of fellow Army veteran Phil Hansen based out of Lakewood.

He said being an AmeriCorps member in the WCC "has helped the veterans on my crew adjust to civilian life. Some may be dealing with issues from being in combat and away from home. With WCC, you work side-by-side with your peers doing something you know is helping your community and your state."

The WCC also help communities cope with natural disasters by responding to and removing storm, flood, fire and other debris and recruiting and managing volunteers. In 2012, members assisted with flood response near Ellensburg, wild land firefighting across central Washington and marine debris cleanup along coastal beaches in southwest Washington.

In October 2012, the WCC crews including veterans have been deployed to the East Coast to help communities hit hard by Hurricane Sandy.

Due to their military training and proven success records, Ecology tapped Fuimaono and fellow military veteran Phil Hansen to lead WCC crews made up of veterans for the response. Each crew was dispatched for a 30 days deployment in Union Beach, N.J. They now are back at work in Washington.

Fuimaono's crew worked in Union Beach, coordinating volunteers, removing debris, cleaning out storm-damaged homes and setting up a volunteer center. "I feel we made a difference," he said. "Disasters aren't just about physical damage - there's lots of emotional damage. It takes a long time to rebuild and there is a lot of trauma."

Hansen and his mixed WCC crew of veterans and civilians took over operations in Union Beach after Fuimaono's crew left. His crew organized more than 2,000 volunteers, cleaned out nearly 70 homes and logged almost 15,000 service hours.

Hansen said: "The rhythm of the work is similar to that in the military; there is a need for organization and structure that a military presence can offer."

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Media Contacts:

Curt Hart, Ecology media relations, 360-407-6990; cell, 360-480-7908 (curt.hart@ecy.wa.gov)

Heidi Audette, WDVA media relations, 360-725-2154; cell 360-791-8966 (heidia@dva.wa.gov)

For more information:

Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/wcc)

Washington State Department of Veterans Affairs (http://www.dva.wa.gov)

Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) (http://www.dnr.wa.gov)
  - DNR blog (http://washingtondnr.wordpress.com/2012/12/03/veterans-working-to-restore-puget-sound-parks-other-areas)
  - DNR Urban and Community Forestry Program (http://www.dnr.wa.gov/urbanforestry)

Ecology's social media (http://www.ecy.wa.gov/about/newmedia.html)