Navy veteran Tyler Welch used to patrol the streets of Iraq as a corpsman. Now, he's fighting a new battle against fires.

Welch is part of the Veterans Fire Corps crewmember program, run through the Southeast Conservation Corps. SECC is an AmeriCorps-affiliated non profit that engages recent-era veterans, partnering with the U.S. Forest Service Southeast Region. SECC started the Veterans Fire Corps program in 2018. The 10-month intensive training program engages recent-era military veterans up to age 35 in fuels reduction, fuels management, and wildland firefighting.

For veterans like Welch, the program is a perfect fit for his transition.


"Wildland firefighting had been an idea in the back of my head for a few years as a job to looking into when I got out of the military," Welch said. "The program that SECC is running piqued my interest because it is a veteran program and is a lengthy training program allowing me to see several parts of the wildland world."

Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.

Welch served tours in Hadditha, Iraq, with Marines as the senior corpsman; and in Basra, Iraq, and Kuwait as a search and rescue medical technician. Stateside, he served at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina, and at Naval Hospital Whidbey Island, Washington. Seeking a new challenge, he sought something that could use his military service.

"The biggest skills I've carried over from the military that have helped with the program are team work and leadership," he said. "Additionally, just being able to grind and get the work done on the hard day. It's not always easy or fun, but at the end of the day you look back and see what you accomplished."

For those looking for a challenge, Welch had three pieces of advice. The first is to keep fit, as days are long. The second is carryover advice from military service: get a good pair of boots. The third is to go camp and get used to being in the woods, living out of a tent and campground.

VFC crews

VFC crewmembers can earn certifications related to fuels management. This includes courses on firefighting, wildland fires, chainsaws, incident management, first aid and CPR. Southeast National Forests use VFC, which facilitates opportunities for crew members to work across a variety of districts and landscapes while simultaneously assisting forests with a myriad of fuels related needs.

"This program is designed to engage veterans in a truly hands-on experience," said SECC Director Brenna Kelly. "Through rigorous and repeated trainings as well as field-based project work, veterans will earn necessary certifications and practical experience needed to compete for career positions related to fire and natural resource management."

Navy veteran Tyler Welch went from corpsman to Veteran Fire Corps member.

Home base for VFC crews is the Conasauga Ranger District of the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forest in Georgia. The crew roves throughout the Southeastern United States for the duration of the program.

Some projects require members to work five days at a time with two days off. Other projects require camping and living on project locations for 8-14 days, with a set amount of days off. Members cannot use drugs or alcohol during work related travel at any time.

In addition to a stipend, members receive paid trainings and certifications and an education award upon program completion. Members also receive food and accommodations during overnight travel and transportation to and from work sites.

This article originally appeared on VAntage Point. Follow @DeptVetAffairs on Twitter.