PORTLAND, Ore. — A Washington-based nonprofit is connecting military veterans to nature while helping them discover their purpose.

Mt. Adams Institute partners with land management agencies around the United States to get vets into careers in public lands and natural resources.

Chris Sutherland is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran continuing his service for our country in Tillamook Bay through Mt. Adams Institute's VetsWork Environment program.

Each day brings different tasks; one day Sutherland tests water quality, another he trudges through tidal wetlands gathering seeds to plant native species.

“I’d rather just be out here and just listening to the sounds happening out here,” Sutherland said. “Being kind of at one with the space.”

Sutherland finds his "office" peaceful and therapeutic. That’s the biggest pay-off of all the hard work and manual labor he puts in.

Through VetsWork, Sutherland got an internship as a restoration and education assistant through Tillamook Estuaries Partnership, funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

He restores natural habitat and protects endangered Coho salmon near the Oregon Coast.

“I'm out in these wetlands digging, getting dirty and helping them get the mission accomplished,” Sutherland said.

He finds passion in this mission, much like he found passion serving our country while in the Coast Guard.

“A lot of people who join the military do so because they believe in a mission and they believe in a cause. So after they get out, after they're separated, you know, I think they're still looking for something to do that is worthy of fighting for.”

Sutherland struggled once he left the military; he was discharged because of a bad back injury. 

“You get out and you kind of are at a loss as to where to go,” he added.

He was lost until he found Mt. Adams Institute's VetsWork Environment.

The career development program runs for 11 months and is in several states. AmeriCorps grants make the program and stipend for participants possible. 

"One-hundred percent it's given me purpose," Sutherland said. "I think it gives [vets] a continuing purpose. I think it gives them a reason to want to get up and do something. Your life kind of ends after the military and so to have some type of continuance where you feel like you’re giving back, like you’re still serving.”

Sutherland knows this service is his calling. He's always loved working in waterways, with plants and educating kids. The job description was a perfect match.

Sutherland's long-term goal is to secure a career with a local, state or federal agency working in natural resources.

Since VetsWork was founded six years ago they say more than 80-percent of people that finish the program are offered jobs in the field.

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