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.”