Tag Archives: honoring our veterans

Moosehorn Hooks in Veterans

The sun shined bright for veterans on Tuesday, June 12th as family, friends, and fish gathered to celebrate the Annual Veteran’s Fishing Day at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baring, Maine. Service volunteers joined forces with the Maine Veterans’ Home, the Cobscook Bay State Park, the Maine Warden Service and the Friends of Moosehorn to provide a day’s worth of fishing and recreation.


Friends and family spend the day fishing with U.S. Veterans at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Baring, Maine, for the Service’s Annual Veteran’s Fishing Day.

Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge consists of nearly 30,000 acres of federally protected lands in eastern Maine including rolling hills, large ledge outcrops, streams, lakes, bogs, and marshes. Peggy Sawyer, Moosehorn Administrative Assistant and Annual Veterans Fishing Day volunteer confidently commented, “Lesson learned: sun shining on the water, a fishing rod and a hungry fish can soothe a troubled spirit and make a heart smile.”


A U.S. Veteran sits by a toddler whom is fishing at the Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge (NWF) for the Annual Veteran’s Fishing Day.

Sawyer, though not a fan of recreational fishing or freshwater fish in general, expressed that, “The simple pleasure of reeling in a fish and the anticipation of fresh trout for supper lit their faces with smiles. I even heard a few belly laughs! Whether they came to fish, or just to get some fresh air and feel the sun, they made new memories however fleeting.”


A young man and a U.S. Navy Seal Veteran bait a hook to fish at the Refuge.

Volunteers, family, and friends gathered worms, baited hooks, and casted lines for the men and women who are now veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Refuge manager Keith Ramos commented, “Getting to spend a day with men and women who served our country is a great honor and privilege.”


Joe McBrine, Maine Game Warden, smiles, holding a fish in hand, kneeling beside a giddy senior whom is fishing at the Refuge.

USFWS volunteer Tabitha Ramos commented, “Many of these men and women had not been able to fish in years. One gentleman said the last time he picked up a pole was 60 years ago. Many haven’t fished due to access and mobility, so together USFWS and the State made it possible for them to fish for the day.”

If you’re interested in learning more, please visit the USFWS Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge home page for more information. If you’re interested in getting involved, the ‘Get Involved’ page is available to learn ways in which you can help now.



Freedom Hunters: Outdoor experiences serving those who have served

On Veteran’s Day, and every day, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife thanks veterans for their service. The Service is an acknowledged leader in veterans’ hiring – using every program and hiring authority available to introduce veterans to careers in conservation. In fact, about 20 percent of our workforce has served in the military (link to photo album of our veterans). We thank them for their dedication and sacrifice in the military, and their continued contributions to their country in civilian roles. 

To mark this day, we share this story from Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.

Charles Sands has served his country in both military and civilian roles. The two overlap when he facilitates hunting programs for veterans and their families at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. That is his sweet spot.

For the past four years, Chincoteague has partnered with the non-profit organization Freedom Hunters to offer disabled veterans and their families a chance to hunt on the refuge free of charge. The two organizations share a common goal of getting people outdoors.

Ranger Charles Sands and Jacob, a program participant, sighting in a crossbow.

The veterans and their families take part in a two-to-three-day hunt program. Three programs are offered annually: one on Chincoteague Refuge and two smaller ones on Eastern Shore of Virginia Refuge.  The program creates a relaxing space for veterans to gather for meals and fun activities, fostering relationships with loved ones and the veteran community while enjoying the great outdoors.

As a veteran and park ranger at the refuge, Charles Sands has been a part of the Freedom Hunters program in two capacities — as a Fish and Wildlife Service employee helping provide these opportunities, and as a former participant. The Freedom Hunters program is close to the hearts of the folks who facilitate the event, and Chase hopes participants love the experience as much as he did.

Ranger Charles Sands helping a hunter scope in her crossbow. Photo credit: Max Lonzanida/USFWS

“My favorite thing about the hunts and events we help out with is seeing the joy that our warriors get from spending time with other veterans,” says Sands. “Also, witnessing the veterans enjoying hunting, fishing, and outdoor recreation with like-minded individuals, or people that might be going through the same struggles they are.”

The program provides all of the equipment needed to participate in the hunt, including motorized chairs or other specialized equipment, tailoring accommodations to the group’s needs and requests. The veterans’ skill levels can range from novice to advanced, from folks who have never hunted before to experienced hunters who want to get back into it. Each participant is matched with a mentor to guide them through the elements of hunting, including safety, checking and processing game, and anything else they may like help with.

Successful Freedom Hunters at Eastern Shore National Wildlife Refuge. Photo credit: Max Lonzanida/USFWS

The impact of the program is profound, boosting morale and touching the lives of both the veterans and the organizers.

In expressing his passion for the program, Sands recounts the following incident:

There was a wife whose husband had unfortunately died, and she reached out to Freedom Hunters, and said, ‘My son is asking me about hunting. My husband was big into duck and goose hunting, but I have no idea about it, and he really wants to learn.’ After hearing the story, the Freedom Hunters took the teenager out, supplied him with decoys and the proper equipment, and put him with a guide.”

“A group like that I can back up, in my personal life, and in my work.”

The guidance and support doesn’t end with the hunt.  Freedom Hunters checks in with veterans and families periodically to see how they are doing and offer to take them out to various other events, including sailing and fishing.

Veterans can learn more about the Freedom Hunters program through Facebook, at the group’s website, and visiting Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  Although there are sometimes repeat participants, the program is in high demand, and organizers try to rotate different veterans and families so that everyone gets the opportunity to get out and enjoy this one-of-a-kind experience.

In 2013, Freedom Hunters awarded Chincoteague Refuge a plaque and an American flag for the refuge’s hard work “accomplishing the mission of getting America’s heroes back outdoors.” They are proudly displayed in the refuge’s visitor center.

Freedom Hunter leaders have awarded Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge staff for their work helping veterans.

Charles Sands doesn’t need physical acknowledgments, however. His reward comes from sharing his love of the outdoors with his fellow veterans and seeing those who have served their country enjoy its natural resources.

Following is a list of hunts for veterans on national wildlife refuges in the Northeast Region, with contact information:

Veterans Fishing Program in Western Massachusetts: USFWS contact: ​Jen Lapis, Visitor Services Specialist, Conte National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, 413-548-8002 x8114.

Wounded Warrior Turkey Hunt in Maryland:  USFWS contact: Brad Knudsen, Refuge Manager, Patuxent Research Refuge, 301-497-5580.

Annual Disabled Veterans Fishing Event in New Jersey:  USFWS contact: Ken Witkowski, Biological Science Technician, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, 973-702-7266 ext. 14.

Freedom Hunter Program in Virginia and Rhode Island:  Virginia– USFWS contact: Charles Sands, 757-336-6122 x 2315. Rhode Island– USFWS contact: Karrie Schwaab, Deputy Refuge Manager, Rhode Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 401-213-4402.

Veterans Fishing Day in Northern Maine:  USFWS contact: Amanda Hardaswick, Federal Wildlife Officer, Northern Maine National Wildlife Refuge Complex, 207-454-7161.

Wheelin’ Sporting Hunts in New Jersey: USFWS contact: Chelsea Utter, Wildlife Refuge Specialist, Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge, (973) 702-7266 x18.

Honoring our Veterans 2015

On Veterans Day, we honor the men and women who have served our country in the armed forces. Here in the Northeast Region, we have many brave veterans who are still serving our nation by protecting and defending America’s wildlife. Below are just a few of their stories.

Cheryl Smith_veteran

Cheryl Smith

Cheryl Smith joined the U.S. Air Force in 2008 and spent her first two years of service at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan. She later transferred to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska, where she met her fiancé Jason. Cheryl says of her time in the military, “It was the best decision I could have ever made.” Cheryl is currently the administrative assistant for the information technology department for the region and a mom to a precious little girl.

Gary Probst

Gary Probst

Gary Probst started a career in the Air Force in July of 1991 that would lead him to serve in various posts. He began as a medical technician specialist during Operation Desert Storm and he advanced to a position as enlisted accessions flight chief, where he was responsible for all human resource management activities. Currently, Gary is an administrative officer for the Coastal Delaware National Wildlife Refuge Complex.

Kristen Dusseault_af basic

Kristen Dusseault

Kristen Dusseault enlisted in the Air National Guard at the young age of 17, transferring to the Army National Guard at 19. She served in the Signal Corps in West Germany as a second lieutenant for three years. Kristen’s 30-year government career serving in the military, the U.S. Postal Service, and currently as an information technology specialist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided her with life lessons that she continues to draw upon daily.


John Eaton

John Eaton enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1973 as a 17-year-old high school student. He served in the 8th Communication Battalion at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, and later transferred to the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine to guard the “special weapons” compound. John feels honored to have had the opportunity to serve our country as a U.S. Marine, and he now works as a cartographer/data manager for the Service in the northeast.

JeDawn military picture

JeDawn Kennedy

JeDawn Kennedy joined the U.S. Army in 2000 and spent four years as active duty and six years in the reserves. She was stationed in Hanau, Germany, while on active duty. JeDawn came to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is now the administrative officer at the Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office in New York.


Nate Bush

Nate Bush joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 2002, shortly after the events of 9/11. He served as a rifleman in an amphibious infantry company during two tours in Iraq – Fallujah 2004 and Ramadi 2005. In 2008, Nathan joined the Massachusetts Army National Guard as a combat engineer, serving with the 182nd engineer company in Florence, Massachusetts. He is currently working for the Service as a GIS specialist for the National Wildlife Refuge System, based in the Service’s Northeast Regional Office.

VonPlinsky - Army

Brenda VonPlinsky

Brenda VonPlinsky served as an Arabic linguist in the Regular Army from 1998-2002, primarily with the 101st Air Assault Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. During her military service, she divided her time between decoding and translating messages (primarily radio), using direction-finding equipment to locate the source of transmissions, and fixing trucks.  Brenda currently works as a financial specialist in the Northeast Region’s budget and finance department.

David Smith

David Smith

David Smith started his military career in 1988 with the U.S. Army as a telecommunications center operator. He served in a variety of locations throughout the U.S., as well as three years in Weisbaden, Germany. David also worked as an intelligence analyst and was in the 7th Military Intelligence Detachment, 7th Special Forces Group. He started working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2003 and is currently a regional IT security manager for the Northeast Region.

Mike Barrick

Mike Barrick

Mike Barrick enlisted in the Air Force in 1982 and spent much of his service stationed at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, Massachusetts. He was activated five times for Operation Desert Shield/Storm and Enduring Freedom/Iraqi Freedom and spent time deployed overseas after September 11, 2001. Mike achieved the rank of Chief Master Sergeant and retired in 2010, after 28 years of service, as the Westover Aircraft Maintenance Flight Chief. His wife of 28 years, Laura Barrick, is a Human Resources Assistant for the Northeast Region.

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis

Glenn Davis served in the U.S. Air Force as part of the mission crew aboard the E-3 Airborne Warning and Control System. This picture was taken in 1999 at the end of Operation Allied Force in Geilenkirchen, Germany, where he supported NATO by providing surveillance, command, control, and communications capability to joint and allied air forces. Glenn is now the regional deputy assistant regional director for budget and administration. He actively serves as a traditional guardsman in the New York Air National Guard in Syracuse, N.Y.

Steve Boska

Steve Boska

Steve Boska served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 20 years. In 1968, he was stationed at Bien Hoa AB Vietnam, working in the medical field. His final assignment for the Air Force was as chief of administration in the U.S. Air Force Surgeon General’s Office in Washington D.C. Today, Steve is a maintenance mechanic at Potomac National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Virginia. He says of his job with the Service, “I feel there is a purposeful meaning to the job and when I close the shop door at night I have that sense of job satisfaction.”

Robert Meehan

Robert Meehan

Robert Meehan enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 1972 and spent most of his military career stationed at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina as a medical administrative specialist. One of his duties included being a liaison officer at a large naval hospital. Robert now works in the maintenance division at the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia. He says of his job at Chincoteague, “I am pleased to be a part of keeping a terrific resource intact for future generations.”

We would like to thank all of our veterans for their many heroic contributions to this nation, both then and now. To see more of our employees in action, please visit the service-wide Flickr page for veterans here.