Shaheen tours vet program at Bartlett forest

August 23, 2017

BARTLETT — A group of veterans are out of the Army and into the woods, through the Veterans Conservation Corps and a new program and partnership between the White Mountain National Forest and Department of Defense.

The setting is the Lodge at the Bartlett Experimental Forest on Pine Street in Bartlett.

The VCC assists veterans in their transition back into civilian life by using their leadership skills in land management and conservation needs.

This program, introduced by Developed Recreation Manager Edward Wright and Deputy District Ranger Nathan Fry, hosted veterans for 120 days.

The vets worked with specialists in the WMNF in recreation, forestry, hydrology and wildlife. The renovated lodge opened May 28 for their housing.

On Aug. 18, a cool and rainy Friday morning, Sen. Jeanne, Shaheen (D-N.H.) and her staffers Chuck Henderson, Chris Scott and Peter Clark; WMNF personnel Tom Wagner, Clare Mendelsohn, Jim Innes and Ed Wright; and veterans Sally Gorrill, Terry Asbridge and Bill Shaheen (the senator's husband) met to talk about the program, view the renovations to the circa 1931 lodge and discuss what the future may hold.

“We ask how can we bring more veterans to this program," said Wagner, WMNF supervisor who will be retiring shortly. "We provided a place to stay for three folks and have room for six. We hope to have more next year.”

Mendelsohn, deputy forest supervisor, will become acting supervisor while she applies for Wagner's position.

The idea of the program in Bartlett was the brainchild of Wright and Fry.

“We hired Ed because of his career in the military," said Wagner. "He is a leader, took the time to build the program. We want diversity of skills that the military can bring and to honor people who have served."

Wright explained: “I got out of the Army and stumbled into the park service in North Dakota. It was a lonely place, but I met my wife there."

When Sen. Shaheen asked how they connected with the Army, Wright told her, “We went to Fort Drum (in Jefferson County, New York), the biggest base in the East."

“We used to train there and called it Camp Drum,“ recalled Bill Shaheen.

Wright said that halfway into the program a sergeant major from Fort Drum visited and was impressed with what they were doing.

The national forest's partnership with DOD’s Career Skills Program affords internships to veterans in land management.

The administrative headquarters in the Bartlett Experimental Forest (the "lodge") seemed like the perfect spot.

Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1931, it has five bedrooms, a dining room, kitchen and living room.

But it needed renovations.

“We partnered with (North Conway) Home Depot for the renovation of kitchen, new appliances and flooring," said Wagner.

"Habitat for Humanity helped with the living room. We remodeled two baths down to the studs,” he said, adding that they are working on getting listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“We had internet before we had anything, even heat,” noted Innes, the Saco District ranger.

“There is a side benefit," Mendelsohn added. Since the lodge has 10 beds, "we can house seasonal workers."

Veterans Gorrill and Asbridge, who got to work alongside seasonal staff, thought it was a benefit, too.

“Staying here helped us feel more like employees and helps with transitioning out. It is important,” said 30-year-old Gorrill, an Army captain.

“The seasonal crew trail didn’t view us as special. They welcomed us as a part of the team," added Asbridge, who had 20 years of service.

Speaking of trails, Asbridge said: “I am not too fond of building trails, but give me a chain saw."

This prompted Sen. Shaheen to ask the two to tell more about themselves.

Asbridge responded: “I am from L.A., I joined the Army to get away from California and then they sent me back. I worked 10 years in the Patriot Missile System, three years as a recruiter, seven years in command center, in a very large land area.

"You are out there by yourself. I bring this to the forestry; you build relationships and partnerships,” said Asbridge.

Gorrill said she was from Gray, Maine, "so this is like home to me. I started as a construction engineer, then a combustion engineer, working with obstacles and explosives. I use my engineering skills.

Wagner noted: “The connections made with leadership skills in the service transferred to leadership skills here. This is an opportunity for us to go back to civilian life after 20 years."

Mendelsohn said: “This is an in-kind exchange. The military is paying, we provide housing and outreach to find placement in something they are passionate about."

"What is the best thing about this experience?” asked Sen. Shaheen.

“There is variety every day, which is different and I love being outdoors. People are in good moods. I am also excited to see what life will be like,” replied Gorrill, whose name is also on the state’s list of crew to fight fires out West.

“Sally is interested in the outdoors, I love the outdoors, too, having been on search and rescue,” added Asbridge, who aspires to become a district park ranger.

The team is trying to get the word out to the military.

“The biggest issue was, we were told ‘no’ and had to use accumulated time,” said Gorrill.

“Sally came here on her vacation time,” Innes remarked.

"The commanders don’t always know about the program and can be hesitant. But it is a success for DOD and the forest. The veterans don’t become homeless or unemployed. Why not make the soldiers successful?” said Asbridge.

“The veterans are good employees; we create a path for them, and they typically say, ‘Yes, sir and no, sir,’” smiled Wagner.

“Bringing in Army people who understand taking orders is a win-win,” added Bill Shaheen.

?“I am trying to figure out what you need and how we can help,” asked Sen. Shaheen, who is on the Senate Committee on Armed Services. “This is an exciting program and could be a model."

“We will have an internal write-up. It will be good to provide you with an after action report and how you could help,” said Wagner.

“We will send an email and plan to get good AAR (after action review) of how the program can be improved,” said Wright.

By:  Rachael Brown
Source: Conway Daily Sun