We’ve all heard catchy military slogans like Be All You Can Be, Get an Edge on Life and Aim High. Three of the Forest Service’s finest can identify with each of these mantras. As former airmen and soldier, they proudly served in the U.S. Air Force and Army.
While many civilians may think these slogans were cleverly crafted by advertising professionals, those that serve in the military understand their meaning and take these words to heart. They pack a powerful purpose: to motivate, to inspire and to prepare soldiers for the challenges that lie ahead.
Here are their stories:
Former Air Force pilot Mary Laub touts serving in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm as her most unforgettable experiences. She flew C-141 cargo aircraft hauling troops and supplies between McGuire Air Force Base, N.J., and various sandy locations in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
“It was an incredible logistical feat involving thousands of airmen who turned deserts into landing strips, built cities overnight and provided air support to keep planes flying,” Laub said.
As a child, Laub’s military inspiration came from watching the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie.” Actor Larry Hagman’s debonair portrayal of an astronaut in uniform caught her eye.
“That well-groomed and educated persona leapt from the television and caught my eye,” said Laub. “Not just to look good in a uniform but to serve my country well while accomplishing my dreams and goals.”
But at the time, female pilots were not allowed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that rule changed, and Laub’s childhood fantasy came closer to reality. She said she did not encounter major challenges as a woman aspiring to be a pilot. In fact, encouragement came by way of a male mentor who told her to pursue Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarships, so she did.
Laub received an Air Force ROTC scholarship and graduated from College of the Holy Cross. That helped her integrate smoothly into the military as the only female graduate from her section of the class of ‘84.
After serving nine years, Laub left the military in 1991 and now works as a budget officer on the Eldorado National Forest. She said her transition from a military career to the Forest Service was seamless.
“The military taught me the value of teamwork and the ability to work together with diverse people toward a common goal,” she said, adding that the fit seemed natural. “My love for the mountains and frequent outdoor explorations with the family gives me a greater appreciation for recreational opportunities the Forest Service provides.”
As a child Laub also developed a connection to natural resources through a magazine focused on Ranger Rick, the National Wildlife Federations’ mascot that teaches children about animals.
“My proudest time as a soldier was serving as the public affairs section chief with the 1st Armored Division team in Baghdad during Operation Iraqi Freedom,” he said.
According to Melancon, one of his career highlights was working for the Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., post newspaper covering combat engineer training and telling the Army story. Years later, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, he used skills acquired earning a journalism degree from the University of Massachusetts to help lead a field expedient journalism school at Baghdad International Airport. With a small team, including six English-speaking Iraqis, they published “Baghdad Now,” a bilingual community newspaper in English and Arabic.
“Being an American, I know the importance of free press through local media outlets,” said Melancon.
Melancon enlisted in 1984 and retired as a master sergeant in 2006. He now works as a public affairs specialist on the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. He decision to retired came when he was with the U.S. Army Europe Public Affairs Office in Germany. His landlord there decided to sell the property he rented for his family, so he picked up his family and returned to the states and a new career with the Forest Service.
He purposely looked for shared heritages between the Forest Service and the military. Melancon happily discovered that former Forest Service Chiefs Henry S. Graves (1910-1920) and William B. Greeley, (1920-1928) commanded the 20th Engineer Regiment in World War I. His research also taught him about the 555th Parachute Infantry Battalion, nicknamed the “Triple Nickels.” They were the first all-black airborne unit in the U.S. Army, and they were trained by the Forest Service to become the military’s first smoke jumpers.
Today, Melancon said he would encourage Forest Service hiring officials to go where the veterans are by visiting local transition centers and job fairs that target vets.
“With that said, veterans also own some responsibility in finding meaningful employment,” he said.
He encourages fellow veterans to take advantage of military transitioning programs, evaluate their career goals so they can better match skills sets to specific jobs, and “take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill opportunities they earned.”
Air Force veteran Russell Roberds, shares his experience as an airborne cryptologic Chinese linguist. Roberds’ highly classified duties required learning foreign languages, intercepting and deciphering military intelligence and undergoing airborne training. He said his career sent him to 32 countries. He flew the RC-135, first produced in the 1960’s and is still used today.
“I have seen everything from desolate, scarred war zones to breath-taking landscapes, such as a sunset off the shores of Greenland with icebergs floating by,” Roberds said. “However, the most unforgettable experience for me was my military experience as a whole. Who it made me. It pushed me… to understand selflessness, sacrifice, hard work and discipline.”
“Although I’m retired from the military, I still honor the Air Force’s core values: integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do,” he said. “I consistently apply these values to the work I do with the Forest Service.”
Roberds described his transition from the military to the Federal workforce as a “piece a cake.” At the time, his wife Lindsey was a member of the support staff in the Intermountain Region in Ogden, Utah.
“My wife would come home and often talk about how great the people were to work with and what a great working environment the Forest Service was,” he said.
Ironically, Roberds' job as an administrative specialist is the position his wife previously worked.
Hiring veterans remains a focal point of the Forest Service’s National Recruitment and Diversity Plan. Approximately 4,818 Forest Service employees are veterans, representing 11.72 percent of the workforce. Of the veterans hired, the largest number work as forestry technicians (23.7 percent) followed by clerical assistants (3.8 percent) and administration and program specialists (3.5 percent), according to Forest Service’s human resource management department.
The Forest Service partners with various veteran agencies and organizations such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Program, VetSuccess, Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve, and local veteran organizations to recruit and match veterans, including disabled veterans, to vacant positions within the agency.
The Forest Service is waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites over the Veterans Day holiday weekend, Nov. 10-12. To find a forest near you, check out our Forest Locator Map!