Alex Neny watches as a tree he cut falls. Neny is part of a veteran fire group that gives recent veteran experience and certifications to launch careers in wildfire fighting.

A group of veterans is teaming up to fight wildfires while gaining needed experience to potentially land jobs in the forest industry.

The Chattanooga-based Southeast Conservation Corps fielded a team of veterans this year to form the inaugural Veteran Fire Corps. The program trains veterans interested in working on a fire line to perform burn preparation, conduct controlled burns and fight wildfires.

"One of the big pushes of this program is to take post-9/11 veterans and have us be the catalyst for these federal positions within the wild land fire community," crew member Alex Neny said.

For training, the crew works in stints, traveling to different locations across the region for several weeks at a time. Crew members traveled to De Soto National Forest in Mississippi in January for their first trip but were limited due to the government shutdown. They returned Feb. 1 for another stint where they received their final certifications.

The entire program lasts three months, with members receiving a weekly stipend to pay for basic necessities. Upon completion, members will have needed certifications and experience to find jobs in the industry.

"They need to learn properly from the ground up," program director Brenna Kelly said. "This program is designed to engage these veterans and provide hands-on training and give them certifications to walk out with and enough hours of hands-on experience where they can be competitive for a job."

The inaugural group consists of two crew leaders and six members, mostly from across the Southeast.

Neny, who served in the Army for more than seven years, already has accepted a position in the field and will move west after the program. He will be working on a fire crew based at Grand Canyon National Park.

Fellow crew member and Navy veteran Rachel Shyu also accepted a position and will move to Colorado to start working on a fire crew after the program.

"I think it's a great program," she said. "I wish more veterans knew about these types of programs to get the training and the experience while helping out and doing great things in the environment."

The crew targets recent veterans — mainly those who have served since 9/11. Participants must be between 18 and 35 years old.

"The idea of being outside and protecting the environment — and more importantly the people — it's kind of romantic in a way, if you think about it," Neny said.

Contact staff writer Mark Pace at or 423-757-6361. Follow him on Twitter @the markpace and on Facebook @Chattanooga Outdoors.