Soldier goes from serving country to community

Kyle Spurr/The Daily Astorian Zach Johnson likes his work at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park, but sometimes misses his time in the Army.

The transition out of the armed services can be difficult for many veterans. One of the many hurdles is often finding employment once a veteran returns home.

When veteran Zach Johnson, of Knappa, made the adjustment to civilian life this year, he prepared himself by researching employment programs and finding what would work best for him.

“I spent the last six months of my career in the Army taking classes on how to be a civilian again,” Johnson said. “Your unemployment rate is extremely high for veterans and I didn’t want to be one of those statistics.”

Johnson joined the Army in 2010. After being stationed in Germany, he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 for about a year. He spent two more years stationed at Joint Base Lewis–McChord. He went on leave in March and was officially out by April.

Through the federal program, Veterans Recruitment Appointment, that matches veterans with federal jobs, Johnson started work this summer in general maintenance at Lewis and Clark National Historical Park.

Veterans Recruitment Appointment allows federal agencies, such as national parks, to hire a veteran without competition. The positions are made available to veterans who apply and are not advertised.

“I’ve had the opportunity to serve my country, and now I get to serve my community,” Johnson said.

As a general maintenance worker, Johnson starts his days by keeping the Fort Clatsop Visitor Center clean and keeping trails clear of fallen trees and debris.

The biggest project Johnson helped finish this year was an 85-foot-long rock wall at Middle Village, the park’s property across the Columbia River.

Johnson is also proud of the maintenance team building a stage in one day for a naturalization ceremony at Fort Clatsop that was attended by U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici.

“We are behind the scenes, but it effects every visitor that comes here,” Johnson said. “They can see and feel what we get to do. It’s quite nice to have that impression on somebody.”

Since leaving the Army, Johnson could not completely give up the service uniform. He still works once a month with the Oregon National Guard at Camp Rilea Armed Forces Training Center.

As for returning to his community, Johnson also coaches fifth- and sixth-grade football in Knappa and volunteers with Olney Walluski Fire & Rescue

While he is settling into his life in Knappa, he sometimes misses his time in the Army. His transition is ongoing.

“I miss it a lot in many ways, but it is nice to work that 40-hour week now,” Johnson said. “I have a work-life balance. I’m not use to that.”

— Kyle Spurr

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