Army National Guardsman finds lifetime inspiration in the Veterans Fisheries Corps

November 2017

Veterans Day reminds us how the dedication and service of men and women of the military have helped this country prosper.  In 2012, NOAA Fisheries joined the U.S. Forest Service; California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW); and the California Conservation Corps (CCC), a state sponsored work development program; in founding the Veterans Fisheries Corps.  This Vet Corps provides reservists and veterans with training and natural resources work experience restoring fish habitat and conducting research and monitoring, and it has opened the door for many to careers in natural resources fields.

Specialist Philip Taylor and his colleagues learn how to electrofish, a technique that safely stuns live fish and allows for their capture. Photo: NOAA Restoration Center

A veteran of the Vet Corps, Specialist Philip Taylor, reached out to NOAA Fisheries to tell us how working for the CCC and Vet Corps changed his life.  He hopes, as do we, that his journey may inspire others to follow the same path.

Where are you from and when did you join the military?

I was born in Delano, California, but grew up in Taft, California.  I joined the Army National Guard as Field Artillery in August 2012. 

Did you always have an interest in fisheries and natural resource issues?

Before joining the CCC, I had little to no interaction with conservation and preservation issues. I’ve been at the CCC for two years now and it has really helped me open my eyes to environmental matters that I never had any idea about.

How did you hear about the CCC and Vet Corps?

Before coming to the CCC, landing a job was a struggle for me. Even if I did land one, it was always minimum wage and money was sparse.  I had asked a fellow military companion where he worked and he told me he did wildland firefighting over in Tahoe working with the CCC. I talked to a [CCC] recruiter who suggested the Fisheries Program and I joined. I applied online and within two weeks I was on a bus to the Camarillo Center, a CCC residential center!

What kind of work have you done for the Vet Corps?

There’s so much I could say!  In the two years I have been working for the Vet Corps, I have done a lot of work with fish surveys, including spawning surveys, snorkel surveys, and wet/dry surveys [to assess fish populations and their use of habitat] –  I have even helped PIT tag some endangered steelhead trout. [Using passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags help biologists track the movement of fish.]

Specialist Philip Taylor practices PIT tagging on a hatchery trout. Photo: NOAA Restoration Center

Some of my most memorable work involved snorkel surveys on Manzana Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. I was off the grid with no phone and would hike up to 10 miles every day. The scenery was second to none and every night I was able to enjoy a fire cooked meal and campfire stories.  Personnel from Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission working out of CDFW office in Santa Barbara led the project and I really got to know them well!

What do you like about working for the CCC and Vet Fisheries Corps?

Being part of a handful of veterans in California to participate in this program was an amazing experience. I love the amount of responsibility you can acquire if you work hard and show that you are willing to grow. I was able to blaze a path for future veterans and I'm happy to see veterans using techniques and protocols that I had developed to further their careers.  It also helped that every day was an adventure! I've been able to travel all across the state, meet the Governor of California, participate in special fisheries events, and forge bonds and friendships that I still have to this day.

The CCC is more than a job to me. It’s a family unit and I've met some of the most inspiring people at this job. My supervisor, Tom van Meeuwen, has really helped me mature as a person and as a worker over the last two years.  I am eternally grateful for what he has helped me accomplish.

What are your next plans?

I am currently deployed in the Middle East [as part of my military service] but when I finish this deployment I plan to go straight to college to study a science field. Chemical engineering and computer science are my main prospects right now.  I've been able to get two AmeriCorps scholarships and one CCC scholarship that will definitely help me pay for college. I’m confident all the connections that I made in the last two years working with the CCC and Vet Corps will help me get a job when I get back.  I've actually already had a couple job offers that I intend on pursuing when I return.

What message would you share with other veterans who might be in a similar situation?

Honestly, the key to being successful is getting up one more time than you get knocked down. Life can be a real pain sometimes. But if you ever fall down, fall on your back—if you can look up, you can get up.

I really wouldn't be doing as well as I am if it hadn't been for the people I've met through the CCC and Vet Corps. They gave me the opportunity to spread my wings and soar. My supervisor, Tom van Meeuwen, has definitely been a cornerstone who I've relied on ever since I started working. I’m also grateful to Bill Brumfield, for understanding the military side of my life and being willing to help me work around that. And to the people I'm proud to call my friends who helped me get through the everyday struggles of life!

Mr. Taylor is currently deployed to the Middle East with the Army National Guard.  NOAA Fisheries thanks him, and his fellow veterans, for their service.

Specialist Philip Taylor poses for a photo while working in Manzana Creek in the Los Padres National Forest. Photo: NOAA Restoration Center

READ MORE ABOUT: 

NOAA's work with the Vet Corps here

The CCC's salmon restoration program here

Homepage photo: NOAA Restoration Center