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NRCS salutes staff for service to country & conservation

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By Spencer Miller

MIke Clayton: Ad adviser

The USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service proudly supports veterans and is an equal opportunity employer with many veteran employees.

“We’re honored that so many veterans have chosen to come work for NRCS,” Chief Jason Weller said. “Their dedication, commitment and discipline are invaluable assets to our conservation mission.”

Kevin Shuey, NRCS contract specialist in North Carolina, is an Air Force veteran. He spent his last four years in the service teaching leadership skills to other airmen.

“One of the most valuable skills the Air Force taught me was clear and direct communication,” Shuey said. “This helps me now because I work with a diversity of customers: people in the office, people in the field.”

Another important lesson was learning to stay calm under stress. “Just maintaining a calm demeanor really helps to relax other people and diffuse tense situations,” Shuey said.

In addition to veterans who have joined the NRCS workforce, other NRCS employees have volunteered to serve in war zones. These staff members serve as civilian ag advisers in the U.S. military and work on conservation projects with local farmers in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of the nation’s civilian effort in reconstruction.

Each volunteer had unique experiences, shaped by local needs and the skills of the adviser.

Caroline Clarin, a wetlands restoration engineer from Minnesota, set up a team that trained more than 9,000 Afghans in modern farming techniques. Working closely with the local government, she taught communities how to care for orchards and vegetable gardens while conserving water with more efficient irrigation systems.

“Watching these young men realize the change they could make, that their education was valuable, they could make a difference in the community and could partner with the local government and police was the best thing for me,” Clarin said.

Similarly, Mike Clayton, a district conservationist from Kentucky, has provided thousands of Iraqis with reliable sources of clean water. Clayton wrote a grant that led to the drilling of wells for communities throughout the Fertile Crescent. These wells are deep enough to reach clean, cool water beneath the surface and give communities an alternative to surface water contaminated by runoff from Baghdad.

“I felt called to this – there was restlessness inside, urging me to go,” Clayton said.

And Kim Lively, a resources team leader from Texas, taught Afghan school children about good agriculture practices. He established self-sustaining programs in local Afghan schools that taught children about drip irrigation, raising chickens, solar dehydration and composting. These programs ensure that future generations of Afghan farmers receive the benefit of education and training.

“I’ve spent a lot of time helping farmers improve their methods,” Lively said. “And that’s exactly what we did ... Our mission was right, and we made an impact.”

Learn more about NRCS employees who have served in our nation’s armed forces or as ag advisers.