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Posts Tagged ‘veterans’

The following is an op-ed piece written by FHS staff historian James G. Lewis that appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times on February 19, 2012.

In his State of the Union address last month and again at a recent press event, President Obama touted the idea of “a new conservation program that would help put veterans to work rebuilding trails, roads and levees on public lands,” according to the Associated Press. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) of the 1930s could be viewed as a model for what the administration will try to accomplish through its “Veterans Jobs Corps.” The administration will propose spending $1 billion that could put an estimated 20,000 veterans to work restoring habitat and eradicating invasive species, among other activities, the AP report stated.

Why would the Obama administration want a new conservation corps? Perhaps because nearly 80 years after the first one was established, we are still reaping its benefits. The CCC was established in 1933 primarily to do two things: put unemployed men to work and to help restore the land. In 1933, the unemployment rate was 25 percent; national forests and national parks had a backlog of projects and restoration needs but lacked the manpower and money to do the work. States like South Carolina had no state park system for similar reasons.

Civilian Conservation Corps trail maintenance crew in the Nantahala National Forest, North Carolina, in 1937. (FHS Photo Collection, MAC119)

The combination of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and the devastated agricultural sector forced thousands to abandon their farms and leave behind depleted lands. President Franklin Roosevelt’s administration bought up millions of acres of this land and put the CCC to work restoring it. The result was an expansion of the Eastern national forests from around 5 million acres in 1932 to 19 million acres by 1942 and their restoration. No one is suggesting that the federal government buy land, but the idea of restoring the land as FDR did is one worth serious discussion and consideration.

The CCC operated from 1933 until 1942 and employed 3 million men between the ages of 18 and 25 (even though first lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported its establishment, a female-only version of the CCC didn’t last long because of cultural and gender mores at the time).

The workers lived in camps and were given “three hots and a cot” along with job training and the opportunity to fill gaps in their education as well as their growling stomachs. The men of the CCC constructed trails, buildings, dams and roads, and planted millions of trees that helped restore exhausted land. South Carolina used CCC muscle and money to build its state park system from scratch. In North Carolina, the CCC built the Blue Ridge Parkway and roads and trails in the national forests. The CCC has often been called one of the greatest New Deal programs, and with good reason. While healing abused forests and fields, the men gained their health and self-esteem; they restored the land, and the land restored them.

Today, the unemployment rate may be slowly coming down, but the so-called “underemployment rate” — those who are unemployed plus those either working part time but would prefer full-time work, or have stopped searching for jobs — stubbornly remains above 15 percent.

Infrastructure around the country is dire need of repair — bridges need replacing, and overgrown forests need thinning. Ironically, a present-day Veterans Conservation Corps would be undoing some of the damage of the original CCC by thinning forests and removing invasive species planted to stop soil erosion. It might even be replacing bridges and buildings built in the 1930s.

The thousands of troops returning home face a difficult job market but possess practical experience in building and repairing infrastructure. Many soldiers have spent years “nation-building” in Iraq and Afghanistan; the United States has spent billions of dollars on those endeavors while our own infrastructure has gone neglected, with catastrophic results, like the Minnesota bridge collapse in 2007, for example.

The Obama administration recognizes that a strong America in the future requires hard work now. A Veterans Jobs Corps program would be an investment in the future of America’s youth and environment. Let them restore the land, and the land will restore them.

James G. Lewis is the staff historian at the Forest History Society and the author of “The Forest Service and the Greatest Good: A Centennial History.” To view the newsprint version of this, click here: CCC op-ed.

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Veterans Day poster

Since 1919, Americans have honored their servicemen and women on November 11.  Originally established as Armistice Day, President Woodrow Wilson declared a day of remembrance on the anniversary of the cessation of hostilities between the Allies and Germany. In so doing, Wilson exalted the “heroism of those who died in the country’s service” in World War I.  In 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower extended this homage to American veterans of all wars.  Thus, on Veterans Day, Americans pay tribute to the service and sacrifice of the nation’s men and women in uniform.

In recent conflicts, more than 30,000 returning troops have been wounded, many severely.  These United States soldiers and their families face medical, psychological, and economic challenges as a result of the injuries and traumas endured.  They also contend with readjustment issues as the soldiers transition to civilian life.

Through a recently established partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP), the National Park Service will provide enhanced programs and services for injured military members.  In addition to identifying a variety of activities and locations for WWP programs, the National Park Service will provide information on employment opportunities for veterans and their families.

“The words of Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address . . . remind all of us ‘to care for him who shall have borne the battle,'” remarked National Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar.  “National parks are places of refuge and inspiration.  I am thrilled that this partnership will allow more veterans to be rejuvenated by the serenity, beauty, and recreational opportunities found in parks.”

The first collaborative project took place in October 2008.  Twelve returned soldiers and five staff and counselors traveled to Acadia National Park in Maine.  For four days, the group engaged in outdoor activities to build trust and to regain a sense of self-confidence.

“We take our young men and women who think their life is over and we show them life doesn’t stop at the hospital,” WWP national service director John Roberts explained to The Ellsworth American.

In 2002, a group of veterans responded to news coverage of the first wounded service members returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq by founding the Wounded Warrior Project.  WWP began delivering backpacks with essential care and comfort items to veterans at military trauma centers.  The organization expanded its program to include wilderness trips for veterans after they have left the hospital.  Now, with the new partnership between WWP and the National Park Service, discharged veterans will bike, hike, kayak, and rock climb in America’s national parks to continue rehabilitation and to build life skills they can take back to their home communities.

For more information, please visit:

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