Two weeks ago, KC Shedden was on the job in northern Montana, “ten feet away from Canada.”
The week after that, he was in Arizona, just ten miles from the border with Mexico.
It’s all part of the work routine for Shedden, an electronics technician who works for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Remote Automated Weather System (RAWS) branch in Boise, Idaho. RAWS is a network of about 2,200 remote, portable weather systems strategically scattered primarily across the West. RAWS units, which resemble a small lunar module, can provide real-time, critical information to firefighters and other emergency services workers.
Weather can make all the difference to firefighters, and knowing the local wind speed, temperature, relative humidity, and other variables is critical to safety and how the fire might best be managed. Shedden is part of a team that regularly services the RAWS stations, which are usually located in remote areas. That accounts for his trips to northern Montana and southern Arizona, and visits to other isolated locations throughout the West.
“My job takes me everywhere,” Shedden says. “The work isn’t local.”
But what Shedden does is only part of the tale. How he ended up with BLM and working with RAWS is the other part of the story and it all started with a hitch in the Air Force. He worked at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho on F-15 avionics systems. He left the military after four years, working first for a private company in his native Oregon as an electrician, and then moving back to Idaho.
“We decided to move back to Boise so my wife could go back to school,” says Shedden. After arriving, he signed up to receive notifications distributed through the Idaho Department of Labor in a program designed to give veterans a better shot at federal jobs. When the RAWS job was listed, Shedden seemed a perfect fit. He had the needed electronics background, and was classified as a disabled vet, due to back and elbow injuries he suffered while on active duty.
Tamara Neukam, BLM’s branch chief of human resources, said that Shedden was just the kind of person the agency was looking for: a military vet with the right kind of experience. Through a special non-competitive hiring authority, Shedden went to work for the agency, with happy results for all parties.
“It was a mixed bag of factors, a little bit of everything,” says Shedden of his hiring. The right time, the right place and the right skills all contributed. He also credits the attitude in Idaho about military veterans.
“Idaho, like the federal government, is pretty much pro-veteran,” he says.
Shedden also thinks his education helped him stand out as a prospective employee. He earned a bachelor’s degree in applied science at Boise State University, and followed that with a master’s degree in environmental management from the University of Maryland.
“I attribute some of my success to my education. Your education will help you stand out when 30 or 40 qualified people are applying on a job. My piece of advice to veterans is to take advantage of the G.I. Bill. It’s a great benefit.”
Shedden enjoys his job, but can’t help looking ahead a few years. He’s on the road two weeks a month. “Travel is a big part of my job. You have to have a supportive family,” he says.
In the case of the Sheddens, that family dynamic will change in the spring. Shedden’s wife, Danielle, is expecting the couple’s first child in April. He acknowledges that might cause him to want to pin his feet a little closer to home. A job in natural resources, such as a rangeland management specialist, is where he’d like to head next.
“You have so many cool avenues you can go down. With BLM, we have our hands in so many things. There are so many opportunities,” he says.
His advice to prospective employers is straightforward.
“Look at veterans who have the specific skill you need. You’ll get a motivated employee. My military experience definitely benefitted me.”
And in turn, the agency he works for.