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Wounded Warrior Rehabs the Land

story by Dee Ann Littlefield

DC Dan Henson and volunteer John Crawson check the map before heading to the field.Soldier John Crawson has good reason to never forget May 1, 2012. While deployed as a civil engineer for the Army National Guard in Afghanistan, Crawson was severely injured when a rocket propelled grenade exploded five feet from him, piercing his body with shrapnel and exploding both ear drums. Crawson was then shot in the shoulder. He was airlifted to Kandahar where he underwent surgery. He was awarded the Purple Heart the next morning. Crawson has since undergone nine surgeries.

Crawson was sent back to the U.S. to receive treatment and rehabilitation therapy. He was placed in the Wounded Warrior program, which gives wounded soldiers the opportunity to volunteer with federal agencies while they are recovering.

Growing up on his family’s ranch in Whitney, Texas, Crawson had always been an avid outdoorsman. His brother, Jim, works as a soil conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in their office in Tulia.

“My brother enjoys his job, so the NRCS was my agency of choice from the get-go,” Crawson said.

He approached the NRCS about sponsoring him during his recovery. He was approved through the NRCS’ Earth Team Volunteer program and began with the agency in October 2012. Crawson is able live at home with his family while he works 35 hours a week volunteering at the NRCS field office in Hillsboro under the supervision of NRCS District Conservationist Dan Hansen.

“As a wounded warrior they understand that I will be gone for medical appointments and are willing to work with me in any way possible,” Crawson says. “They act as if they are grateful and appreciative to have me in the office, when it is I that am thankful for the opportunity to be here.”

Volunteer John Crawson (r) and the landowner receive plant ID training from DC Dan Henson (c).Hansen has made a career of helping people heal their land through the use of conservation management practices. He was glad to be given the opportunity to help heal a wounded soldier. Hansen has made Crawson a part of his regular staff, mentoring him and performing job shadowing duties.

“I have treated him like one of our employees and taken him along with me on the job,” Hansen says. “He has helped me develop livestock ponds, measure fences, check pastures, visit with farmers and ranchers, and just about anything else I do as part of my job.”

Because of his injuries, Crawson is currently ineligible for reenlistment in the Army. He is hopeful for continued recovery and eventually will be eligible. However, he has enjoyed his Wounded Warrior internship with NRCS so much he is considering a career with the agency, possible as an engineering technician.

“One of my favorite things about working for NRCS is that you get to be outside,” Crawson says. “And then visiting with landowners about how to improve their land and seeing them get excited about making it better is really cool.”

NRCS in Texas currently employs dozens of military veterans, in addition to providing land management consultation services to hundreds of veterans across the state.

A Hill County native, Crawson is at ease talking to landowners about conservation programs.Crawson's volunteer position could turn into a career for him some day.