Making a Positive Transition from the Marine Corps to a Conservation Corps

Where are they now? – Catching up with 2011 Corpsmember of the Year, 

Chris Thomas

Chris took this photo while 60 feet up on a utility pole

Chris Thomas, a former member of the California Conservation Corps (CCC), won Corpsmember of the Year in 2011 for his commitment to service. Read below to find out what he's been up to since accepting his award, or find out more about Chris and his Corps experience by reading his bio from our 2011 National Conference.

Chris Thomas does not hesitate to volunteer his time. Now a power lineman, Chris immediately went to New Jersey in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to help get the electricity flowing again. While in school to become a lineman, Chris volunteered with Habitat for Humanity to help build homes for low-income families. Before school, he gave a lot of time to the Red Cross. And prior to any of these acts of volunteerism, Chris served in the United States Marine Corps in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Chris has faced many challenges in his life. He and his three siblings were raised by their mother, a cervical cancer survivor, who had to work three jobs to support the family by herself. During Chris’s four years of service in the Marines (beginning in 2005), he was wounded twice. He received shrapnel in the chest and was stabbed once, leading to a medical discharge. It was soon after this that he joined the California Conservation Corps (CCC) in 2009.

Chris, who is now 24, heard about the CCC from a cousin who served as a Corpsmember. The Corps seemed like a logical transition from military-life to civilian-life, but the change ended up being more difficult than Chris had anticipated.

“I had anger issues, quick to snap. Thought everyone should talk, work, act just like I did. If you didn't, then just get out of my way,” said Chris. “The CCC helped me curve that Marine Corps mentality, which in civilian life is a good thing.”

Through the Conservation Corps, Chris learned how to accept and embrace diversity. His CCC experiences helped him ease out of only being surrounded by other Marines who shared the same strict lifestyle and discipline. Looking back, Chris says his greatest learning experience came when he transitioned from working with the Corps in Chico, California to working with the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps. 

“Working in Sacramento put all that I learned to the test. In Chico I dealt with middle class white people with different backgrounds, but [we] still could find common ground,” said Chris. “In Sacramento, these kids were…cliché gangsters. Saggy pants, if it weren't for curse words I don't think they could complete a sentence…Before the CCC I would have been yelling, and firing left and right. But I was able to keep a calm head and make the crew I ran the most respected in the company.”

Chris says his background with the Marines taught him the meaning of hard work and gave him the building blocks to be a strong leader. As a Crew Leader with the CCC, Chris led others in planting trees, habitat restoration projects, and fire fuel reduction programs. He logged nearly 250 volunteer hours, well above the 48 hours the Corps requires. It was as a result of this dedication that he earned the Silver Presidential Service Award from the Corporation for National Service in September 2010.

After leaving the CCC in 2011, Chris worked as a Supervisor with the Sacramento Regional Conservation Corps. He then moved to Meridian, Idaho to attend North Western Lineman College, where he served as class president. After earning his certifications from NLC, Chris moved to Big Spring, Texas, where he is currently working as a power lineman. He does everything from setting up utility poles to hooking up transformers.

Chris isn’t sure what his life would look like today without the California Conservation Corps. Chris will never be able to forget all of the different people he met with the Corps, particularly his mentor and former supervisor, Clayton Forbes. He says he would love to eventually return to the CCC to get back to doing the kind of work he misses and to help other young people in the way he was helped.

“I have no idea where I would be without the Corps,” said Chris. “Honestly I would probably be locked up for hurting someone. Or possibly working for some private security company overseas.” 

To young people thinking about joining a Corps, Chris says, “Take everything you can from the Corps. Some training comes up? – go. A crew needs an extra hand for a spike? – go. Although at times Corps life might seem arduous and mundane, you will miss it.”

Passage of Prop 39 in California Creates Clean Energy Job Fund, Benefits Conservation Corps & YouthBuild

A California Conservation Corps Energy Smart Program Corpsmember uses an iPhone to complete an energy audit.

Voters agree to close corporate tax loophole and establish $1 billion fund. Half of new revenue will be used to make public buildings more energy efficient, while also supporting job training programs including Conservation Corps and YouthBuild.

On Tuesday California voters opted to close a corporate tax loophole and effectively canceled incentives for out-of-state companies to keep their facilities and jobs outside California. The loophole had allowed companies to avoid paying taxes. Now the new revenue that is generated will instead be used to establish a Clean Energy Job Creation Fund. Sixty percent of California voters approved the measure.

Prop 39 is also known as the Clean Energy Jobs Act. Phillip Bump of Grist explains that:

"As described in the proposition’s ballot language, money from the fund will be used to “create jobs in California improving energy efficiency and expanding clean energy generation” by focusing on retrofits to schools and other public buildings. Additional funds will go to job training programs and Property Assessed Clean Energy programs in public-private partnerships.

California’s direct-democracy proposition format is an often clunky, always piecemeal way of addressing problems. But in this case, at least, the system worked effectively: curbing a widely criticized loophole for the benefit of the state and dedicated investment in the sorts of green improvements that will continue to pay off for the state over the long run."

David Muraki, Director of the California Conservation Corps, said that the fund would "maximize energy savings and maximize jobs." He noted that this new initiative will be much like the American Recovery and Investment Act funded EnergySmart Job program, and will be likely to expand the number of jobs for Corpsmembers with the added bonus of it leading to a well-established career path for those Corpsmembers. The California Conservation Corps, YouthBuild, and local Corps were specifically referred to as conduits for implementing the programs in the ballot measure's language.

"It's pretty exciting for the California Conservation Corps, the local Corps, YouthBuild, and other organizations. Job training and education will be integrated and we have a compelling program model to build on. The EnergySmart program on an annual basis has created 260 jobs, 62 million kilowatt hours of electricity savings, and $5.2 million in energy cost savings. It's been incredibly successful" said Muraki.

A broader benefit of the new fund Muraki added, would be the continued facilitation of partnerships between programs that serve youth, labor unions, and educational institutions including technical and community colleges.

The EnergySmart Jobs program focuses on promoting energy efficiency in the realm of commercial refrigeration. Corpsmembers visit grocery stores and restaurants before and after energy retrofits and use iPhones to enter data that demonstrates the impact of energy and cost savings produced by the program. 

Muraki noted that the upcoming sale of carbon credits established by California's soon to be implemented cap-and-trade program would also be a big win for energy efficiency and clean energy industries throughout California, and we can also presume Corpsmembers— who are going to receive the training and education needed to fill positions with skilled labor in years to come.

Diversity: California Conservation Corps members discuss the need to see more people of color experiencing nature

Terry Johnson and Leonard Patton, two Corpsmembers from the California Conservation Corps, sit down with John Griffith of Totem Magic: Going MAD to discuss Outdoor Afro - an organization that focuses on getting people of color more involved in outdoor recreation and conservation. Both Corpsmembers talk about the habitat restoration projects they've been involved with, and talk about how much they've learned about nature since joining the Corps. Leonard talks about how his experience with California Conservation Corps has introduced him to many new species and has allowed him to see a kind of untamed nature he never knew existed.

Click the image above or click here to watch the video of the interivew.

Military Vets Help Restore Fish Habitat (a project of the California Conservation Corps)

Veterans will get a chance to train and work on habitat restoration and fisheries monitoring through a project funded by NOAA and administered in partnership with the California Conservation Corps and California’s Department of Fish and Game. During the yearlong program of paid training and hands-on experience, veterans will spend part of the time on habitat restoration and will also receive training and experience in firefighting and reducing fire hazards. “This is a win-win for everyone,” said Eric Schwaab, NOAA’s assistant administrator for fisheries. “Military veterans have tremendous skills to offer, and by helping to restore fish habitats they will be supporting the important role of commercial and recreational fishing in the economy. Restoration jobs pay dividends twice, first because they put people to work immediately, and then because restoration benefits our fisheries, tourism, and coastal communities for years to come.” Veterans will start the program by taking courses in how to collect data and evaluate the effectiveness of coastal and marine habitat restoration. By mid- to late October, they will begin monitoring several river restoration sites in Humboldt, Del Norte, and Mendocino counties that were designed to increase spawning and rearing habitat for populations of endangered coho salmon in accordance with the recovery plan developed under the Endangered Species Act. The restored habitat should also help boost populations of Chinook and steelhead trout as well as improve environmental quality generally.  See the full press release here.

Veterans interested in joining the fisheries crew should contact the California Conservation Corps’ Tina Ratcliff at 916-341-3123 or tina.ratcliff[at]

Legacy Achievement Award Winner: Bruce Saito

Bruce Saito has invested 35 years of outstanding service into the Corps movement. After receiving his bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University in 1976, he joined the California Conservation Corps (CCC). The organization was less than a year old and the Conservation Corps movement in California was in its infancy. He was part of the team that initiated youth development programs and environmental enhancement programs in the state at a time when there were few other 501 (c)(3) non-profits in existence, and certainly none proposing a model like the CCC, which combined a high school education program with environmental training and job skills development. He rose to the level of Program Director, directing and developing work and education programs for youth.

In the area of environmental enhancement, Bruce was instrumental in coordinating emergency efforts during the Los Angeles floods and fires in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, the 1992 Los Angeles Civil Unrest, and the 1994 Northridge Earthquake. Both locally and nationally Bruce is recognized today as an expert in procuring and managing conservation corps projects.

By the mid-80s, Bruce was recruited by former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Mickey Kantor to be part of a team to start the LA Conservation Corps. The organization started with 27 Corpsmembers participating in alternating weeks of school and work in the Young Adult Corps.

Since 1995, Bruce has served as the LA Conservation Corps’ Executive Director.  Today, along with LACC’s flagship Young Adult Corps program, Bruce oversees dozens of holistic conservation, education and support programs and services in primarily low-income communities throughout LA County, with a focus on Pico Union, East LA, South LA and Watts. In fact, the Corps is the largest urban nonprofit conservation corps in the nation, impacting over 13,000 11- to 24-year-old young people annually.

In addition to his work at the LA Conservation Corps, Bruce has served as president of The Corps Network’s Board of Directors. He has also presided over the California Association of Local Conservation Corps (CALCC), the organization that represents the 12 certified urban conservation corps from San Diego to Marin. 

He has been recognized for his service by the City and County of LA, the State of California and the federal government, and has been honored with a National Philanthropy Day Outstanding Professional Award.

2007 Corpsmember of the Year: Rosalio "Lio" Cardenas


(Written in 2007 - update at the bottom)

Rosalio took an unusual path to becoming a Corpsmember.  After spending two and a half semesters working towards a civil engineering degree at San Diego State University, and working much of that time in the university library and as a math and science tutor, Rosalio decided his college experience was lacking.  In the CCC, Rosalio saw his opportunity to work outdoors, provide a valuable service to his state, meet new people from various backgrounds, and earn scholarship money to assist him in completing his degree in the future. 

As a CCC corpsmember, Rosalio initially engaged in fire hazard reduction work, removing burned and dead trees from communities hard hit by the San Diego wildfires of 2000.  In early spring with heavy rains threatening flooding and mudslides, Rosalio and his crewmembers again served their communities by working tirelessly to divert debris, flood waters, and mud from residential neighborhoods.  Because of his high standards for performance and eagerness to assist others, Rosalio quickly established himself as a leader among his peers.  By April, Rosalio was ready for the next challenge that the CCC had to offer: the Backcountry Trails Program.

Choosing to leave the comforts of home life in southern California, Rosalio joined a crew of 15 Corpsmembers who committed themselves to spending 22 weeks living and working in the wilderness of Klamath National Forest.  The trials faced by backcountry Corpsmembers are daunting, but once again Rosalio was unflinching in his determination to meet them.  Rosalio stood out not only for the unprecedented results he achieved on the grade, but also for the amount of time he committed to performing communal chores and providing mentoring and guidance to his fellow crewmembers. He went beyond expectations by creating an extensive evening curriculum program aimed at developing a greater sense of community, environmental awareness, and communication skills.   His compassion, integrity, and consideration for others were widely respected among his peers and earned him the moniker, “Papa Leo.”  Peter Lewis, the CCC’s Backcountry Trails Supervisor, said of Rosalio “in the 28 years we have been sending Corpsmembers to the backcountry, I can think of no finer person to represent the program or the youth of America.”

Leo now plans to use the AmeriCorps education award he earned with the CCC to finish his degree in Civil Engineering and has applied to the California Highway Patrol so he can continue to make an impact on his peers and community. 

*** Sadly, Rosalio was killed in a motorcycle accident on the morning of Wednesday, December 12, 2012. 

The Corps Network sends condolences to Rosalio’s wife, family, and friends. To honor Rosalio, we have posted the speech he gave at our National Conference in February 2007 upon accepting his Corpsmember of the Year award. 

2011 Corpsmember of the Year: Christopher Thomas

***Update! Click here to read about what Chris has been up to since he accepted his award.***


(Written in 2011)

Despite challenging circumstances, Christopher Thomas overcame adversity to become a leader in the California Conservation Corps (CCC). He and his 3 siblings were raised alone by their mom, who worked 3 jobs and also survived cervical cancer.

In 2005, Chris enlisted in the Marines after working as a youth pastor. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was wounded twice over his four years of service. He received shrapnel in the chest and was stabbed once, leading to a medical discharge. Soon thereafter, he joined the CCC.

Chris became a Crew Leader, admired for his dedication, unassuming nature, and his pursuit of service to others. He and his crew worked on a variety of projects, such as helping to maintain newly planted trees and decrease fire potential by reducing fuels. It was not so easy at first though.

Chris says that “coming from the military, we were all taught to think and act one way. So I just didn’t run into different personalities until I came to the Corps. It was really a culture shock and the fact that I was forced to work with these people really was a smack to the face. But it taught me patience and greatly improved my people skills. No matter where I go in life my time in the Corps will only benefit me. And I no longer feel ‘forced’ but blessed to work with different types of people.”

Chris’s supervisors noticed his nature to go above and beyond. While only required by the CCC to complete 48 hours of volunteer community service, Chris logged nearly 250 hours. For this reason, they nominated him for the Silver Presidential Service Award, which he ultimately received from the Corporation for National Service in September of 2010.

It’s this kind of ethic that Chris’s supervisors believe will ultimately make it easy for him to find a job with one of the agencies or departments he has worked with. He has already interviewed for a position with the Department of Water Resources, but says that “no matter where I end up, I just want to help people, whether that’s my career or not.”

21st Century Conservation Service Corps Federal Advisory Committee Has 2nd Formal Meeting


Last week, members of the 21st Century Conservation Service Corps Federal Advisory Committee (FACA) met formally for the 2nd time in San Francisco. On the first day of the meeting, committee members visited the San Francisco Conservation Corps as well as several worksites sites of the California Conservation Corps and Conservation Corps North Bay.

FACA members had the opportunity to interact with Corpsmembers from each Corps (CCC, CCNB, and SFCC) as well as CiviCorps in Oakland and the Student Conservation Association. According to Mary Ellen Ardouny, Vice President of External Affairs for The Corps Network, “All of the FACA members agreed that hearing directly from the Corpsmembers about their life experiences and the opportunities that the Corps had provided them, was the most powerful part of the trip. It really drove home the need for a 21 CSC and focused us, with renewed enthusiasm and determination, on producing a quality report for the Secretary.” The FACA has been charged with providing the Secretaries of Agriculture and Interior with a set of recommendations for establishing at 21st Century Conservation Service Corps by July 1, 2012 — a very quick turnaround considering that the Committee met for the first time in February.

With this pressing deadline in mind, the second and third days of the meeting were focused on establishing a framework for, and the parameters under which a 21st Century CSC would ideally be implemented. The next formal meeting of the FACA is scheduled for May in Denver, Colorado. Between formal meetings Committee members will make progress on their work via regular phone calls.

USS Rafael Peralta Named for Former California Conservation Corpsmember


Sgt. Rafael Peralta in Marine uniform (left) -- Rafael as a San Diego crew leader (right)

From the California Conservation Corps

The Secretary of the Navy has announced that one of its next five ships will be named in honor of Marine Staff Sgt. Rafael Peralta.  The ship will be a guided-missile destroyer.

Rafael was a former California Conservation Corps crewleader at the San Diego Center in 1998-99. He was 25 when he was killed in Fallujah, Iraq in 2004, while covering an exploding grenade with his body, thus saving the lives of several fellow Marines. He was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross.

Rafael's supervisors while in the CCC in San Diego included Cynthia Aguayo, Brian Lussier and Jennifer Reed, all of whom were impressed by his dedication.   

 "He knew what he wanted and had a plan for his life," Cynthia said.  "He was very enthusiastic about everything he did and a great motivator for P.T."

Brian promoted him to crewleader and recognized his drive. "He tried really hard and always went above and beyond." Brian still remembers a 10-day spike with Rafael and crew in the Anza-Borrego desert, where the crew hiked three miles to work each day and removed tamarisk plants.

Jennifer said "of anybody there in San Diego, he made the greatest impression of being a role model for other corpsmembers. He was an outstanding young man, a leader," she said. "I recall him coming back to see us in his Marine uniform," Jennifer said. "He was so proud and looked so sharp."

Type of destroyer to be named after Rafael Peralta

Congressman Duncan Hunter has been a longtime advocate for Peralta's recognition and is still urging the Navy to award him the Medal of Honor. Hunter added an amendment to the defense budget to name the next available Navy ship after him.  Hunter also pressed for naming a ship after San Diegan John Finn.

San Diego C II Philip Lembke recalls Peralta's CCC days and was pleased to hear about the Navy honor.

"I've been following the Congressman's fight for this, and I'm overjoyed ... 'Rafa' was a determined, focused and committed young man, whose purpose was to achieve his goals, in order to make life better for him and his family."

An editorial in the Union-Tribune of San Diego noted with pride that three of the five new ships will be named after San Diegans.  It concluded:

"It's not yet known where the three ships will be based.  But if they ever find their way into San Diego Bay, go down and think about Peralta, Johnson and Finn.  What they did, they did for you."


California Conservation Corps Kicks Off EnergySmart Jobs Program in Grocery Stores


Republished from the California Conservation Corps' Newsletter. The CCC is a member of The Corps Network.

Using a Sacramento supermarket as a backdrop, representatives from the Energy Commission and PECI joined California Conservation Corps Director David Muraki (pictured above) and Sacramento corpsmembers in the official launch of the EnergySmart Jobs program. 

Sixty-one corpsmembers are being trained as surveyors to help grocery businesses large and small find energy-saving opportunities, particularly in refrigeration units. The store owner can then work with a contractor as far as implementation of energy-saving measures.

Unique for the corpsmembers are the use of iPhones to enter and transmit data from the grocery stores.


Sacramento corpsmember Caitlin Howard checks data entered into her iPhone.

One focus of the program is converting lighting in grocery refrigeration cases to energy-efficient LED lighting. LED lights emit significantly less heat so the compressors don't have to compensate to keep the cases cold. The work could be done by contractors after the initial energy survey, with businesses provided financial incentives to cover a portion of the cost.

The CCC has about 40 corpsmembers participating in the program right now, from Sacramento, San Jose, Los Angeles, Inland Empire and San Diego. There are also eight corpsmembers from the Los Angeles Conservation Corps. Alternates will be trained to backfill the crews as the current corpsmembers will have opportunities for job placement with the contractors.

The corpsmembers will travel throughout the region to visit stores. It takes 45 minutes to an hour per survey; some 20,000 businesses will be visited during the program's 14 months.

Conservation Supervisor Scott Linton is serving as project manager for the program. He says all the stakeholders are pleased with efforts to date and that CCC corpsmembers and staff have done an outstanding job.

"I'm incredibly impressed by the technological savvy of our corpsmembers and staff who are implementing the program in such a short amount of time, " Scott says. "They're raring to go and working faster than we can supply them with assignments."

EnergySmart Jobs is an initiative of the California Energy Commission, administered by PECI and financed through federal stimulus funds (the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act).