After returning home as a disabled veteran from Operation Desert Storm, it was a challenge for Louis Haynes to find his professional footing in the civilian world. He found “home” in the USDA Forest Service.
Haynes served in the active-duty Army since he was 18 years old and was medically retired at 34 years old.
“I was lockstep military, but I knew I couldn't play in the Army any longer,” said Haynes. “And I discovered real quick that corporate America wasn’t a good fit for me.”
Haynes was great at managing regional sales for a large beverage corporation. The pay and bonuses were excellent. But Haynes felt something was missing. He found himself working 12-hour days, seven days a week. Worse yet, Haynes didn’t feel connected to the work and mission like he had in the military.
Back in the Army, Haynes served in many positions with many duties, but his favorite was his time working as a public affairs officer. Military public affairs officers are the storytellers of the armed services. They use writing, videos, photos, and interviews to inform the public. Haynes wanted to do that again, but where and for what organization?
“I've always been connected to the land from the time I grew up - fishing, hiking, and doing kid stuff,” said Haynes. “I thought it’d be awesome if I could be a public affairs officer on a forest, so I smothered the Forest Service with applications.”
“And eventually I got lucky.”
Haynes landed a public affairs position with the Modoc National Forest in California and later moved to the Ashley National Forest in Utah. Haynes fit in with the Forest Service right away.
“In the military, there’s a rank structure and different branches,” said Haynes. “That's the way I think of our geologists, firefighters, or wildlife biologists – they are like the different branches of people working towards the same mission of the Forest Service. That appeals to me.”
The breadth and depth of Forest Service work also provided Haynes with opportunities to learn and grow.
“I went around and hung out with these people and learned what they do,” said Haynes. “I got exposed to archaeology. I got exposed to Fish and Wildlife, law enforcement, engineering, and recreation. I got exposed to all these moving pieces that we have on our forest.”
He also spent time with forest service visitors and recreators, making sure they know how to enjoy the forest safely for themselves and the landscape.
“When I roll in on my ATV, kids will run up to me saying, ‘Mr., I got the bucket from the stream right there, and my dad’s going to put this campfire out before we go!’” said Haynes. “Now when the kids are holding the parents accountable, you know that I've been effective in getting the word out. The public knows what to do.”
But it is the comradery with fellow Forest Service personnel that sticks with him.
“I've found a family with the Forest Service. Lots of good friends,” said Haynes. “That’s the reason I enjoyed the Forest Service - that camaraderie we have in the military. Where you go somewhere, and you've got four or five other people going that way. You never find yourself singled out.”
But Haynes thinks it’s time to time to open his position and work up for someone new.
“I can truly say that we accomplish good work here on the Ashley and that's a wonderful thing to see,” said Haynes. “But you know, I definitely feel like a dinosaur at our meetings anymore.”
It was a fitting jest, sitting in Vernal, Utah, known as Dinosaur City and mere miles from Dinosaur National Park. Louis, like many others of his generation, is nearing a new chapter of his personal and professional live – retirement.
“I plan to retire and visit some places I want to go back to see on my schedule, not on a timeline,” said Louis. “We plan on traveling to Spain, where my wife is from, and getting in a car and starting to drive and she'll say, ‘where are we going?’ Then I’ll say, ‘I have no idea, but I don't want to be late!’”
Louis’s colleagues will miss his jokes, warm personality, and deep understanding of the Ashley National Forest, where he has worked for 17 years. They also look forward to welcoming new faces into the Forest Service family with fresh perspectives and the same passion for the landscape.
If you are interested in working for the Forest Service, Louis recommends persistence and patience in applying, regardless of the position you are hoping to get.
“It took many applications for me to come to the Forest Service,” said Haynes. “And I'm just one of those guys that will keep beating my head against that brick wall until it caves in. The way I looked at it is I may apply for a lot of jobs and if I didn't get a job then I probably wasn't the right fit, and I wanted the right fit for me and for my family.”
The Forest Service offers a broad range of employment opportunities for people of nearly any profession and experience.
“We maintain recreational facilities, infrastructure, water systems to provide clean water for the public, some permanent houses,” said Haynes. “We're like a city.”
As more people of Haynes’s tenure move into retirement, it is an opportunity for new people to find their dream job in the Forest Service. Many different career positions – from accountant to zoologist – are opening in the Forest Service in the coming months and years. Could the forest be your next office?
Visit https://www.fs.usda.gov/working-with-us to explore opportunities and learn what the Forest Service has to offer you.