Matt Jemmett grew up in northern Utah and spent his childhood exploring the mountains. He joined the Marines Corps Reserve as an infantryman after high school. On National Hire a Veteran Day, he tells us what inspired him to join the armed forces and how his service helped shape his civilian career as a Law Enforcement Officer with the Forest Service.
What inspired you growing up?
The mountains definitely inspire me. Exploring and seeing new things and places that not many people get to see always inspired me as a kid, and the mountains have a lot of that. That desire to explore is one of the reasons I always knew I would join the military. I’m proud to serve my country, and my reasons for appreciating military service have evolved over the years, but, initially, I was looking for adventure. I also knew I wanted to be challenged, and I knew the Marines would do that.
What do you do in the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I started as a Law Enforcement Officer on the Dixie National Forest in 2010 and then moved to the Caribou-Targhee and Bridger-Teton National Forests in 2012.
What is your favorite part of your job?
I love the dynamic nature of the job. I never know quite what to expect when I go to work in the morning. One day I could be working on a timber theft, the next I could be doing search and rescue. I could be on a dirt bike in the summer and a snowmobile in the winter.
How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I got my degree in recreation resource management from Utah State University. After I got out of the Marines, I got a job as a wilderness therapy instructor. That job made me realize I wanted to work in natural resources and spend as much time in the outdoors as possible. It taught me that the wilderness truly changes people, and I wanted to do whatever I could to protect those resources and opportunities for people to be in nature.
Military service also gave me an understanding of respect and decorum. Being a veteran, you understand that wearing a uniform means you stand for something greater than yourself. This is why hiring a veteran is a benefit; we know what wearing the uniform means and how to serve something bigger than ourselves.
It also prepared me for certain aspects of law enforcement. The military taught me how to be miserable, going for days or weeks without showering, sleeping in a hole and still being able to put a smile on my face and push on. That’s helped me during search and rescue missions that last 12-24 hours in the cold and rain. I am able to embrace it. All of my experience has allowed me to embrace what the Forest Service is.
What do you like to do for fun in your free time?
Anything outdoors—rafting, biking, hunting, fishing and camping with my wife and daughter. I am very human-power oriented. If you can do it with human power, like paddling, I am into it. My job as an LEO has helped me discover the best off-the-beaten path spots to camp and fish.
What is a professional or personal achievement that you are particularly proud of?
I am very proud to have been involved in search and rescue. No matter how experienced you are, if you spend enough time in the woods, there is always a potential to get hurt. Stuff happens, but it is pretty rewarding to be able to help someone who just got in an accident.
Why do you think your field is important?
Without enforcement, a land management plan won’t work. Whether it’s a dispersed camping plan, a motor vehicle use plan, etc., there has to be an enforcement aspect so that all users can enjoy the forest. There are archeological sites, endangered species and other invaluable resources that are at risk because people don’t understand the full consequences of breaking a rule.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
As a veteran, I tell people three things. If you’re a veteran, that’s a bonus, but don’t expect that your veteran status alone will get you a job. Figure out what you enjoy and want to do as a civilian and start building skills toward that. Learn to network. Networking is an important skill in the Forest Service. Pack a bag and be willing to move anywhere in the country. It is rare that anyone will get a job right away in his or her location of choice. Take the job that is going to help you get to where you want to end up in the long run.
I also tell veterans to be patient. Military life is very go, go, go and acting quickly to do what you have to do in the moment. When you transition to the federal government, you have to learn to understand that civilian employees are not like military. A work day is eight hours long. It is still about accomplishing a mission, but it is a different pace.
As a hiring manager, you can’t think of a veteran as a new federal hire. You are getting someone who has served this country in a different way than the Forest Service serves the country.