Fighting for Nature – XMNR from a Military Perspective
By: Iris Picat
Growing up in the Shenandoah Valley, Jonathan Lipinski, Executive Masters of Natural Resources (XMNR) student, and Environmental Science Officer for the U.S. Army Reserves, was always surrounded by natural beauty. However, it was not until he was in Afghanistan that it truly sunk in.
“One day I looked up at the breathtaking landscape, and I knew then and there it was my duty to protect and keep the environment healthy for future generations,” he says.
Jon, as he prefers to be called, joined the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne Division straight out of high school in 2003, where he completed information operations, and helped local elders and village leaders in Iraq and Afghanistan distribute more than 10 tons of humanitarian aid supplies including tools, blankets, and food items.
His life motto, “Live with Honor, Die with Pride”, is driven by the fact that he has “seen life cut short for better men than I am, so I want to do my best to make the most of what I have,” he says, and in turn help save the environment for others, including his newborn daughter. “[Other organisms have] just as many rights as humans to live on earth,” he adds.
After leaving the army, and receiving a Bachelors in Environmental Science from Bridgewater College, Jon found himself working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) as a Soil Conservation Technician. He assisted with programs such as the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Initiative (CBWI), which help producers manage the resource concerns they may have on their farms. Now as Conservation Technician for the Shenandoah Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), Jon continues to work closely with NRCS personnel to implement these programs.
“This is an exciting way of taking on local agriculture challenges because every site is different. There is a great reward when you see the difference a few months to years can make on the farms we do projects on,” Jon says.
Along with identifying resource and water quality concerns, Jon provides producers guidance and promotes cost share strategies through Virginia agricultural best management practices. “I’m really pumped about water quality and these jobs have allowed me to make improvements on water quality day by day,” he adds.
Jon began the XMNR program soon after joining SWCD, and hopes it will help him move his career to the next level. “The XMNR program has allowed me to exercise my leadership abilities while providing a safe environment, which has allowed me to be innovative and take on unique challenges,” he says.
In conjunction with broadening his knowledge through XMNR, Jon also hopes to expand this leadership potential while an Environmental Science Officer in the Army Reserves. “Being in the military is one of the best ways to do this and take epic adventures at the same time,” he states.
Jon believes the XMNR program is well-suited for other veterans or current military personnel because it “helps give guidance and insight into who we are as individuals. It also has the same team dynamics that build that closeness that we are used to in the military.” Specifically, he observes a mutual trust and understanding that team members can rely on one another to get the work done. This translates to a freedom and respect that each sub-group will manage to work out their issues on their own so as to come to the best outcome for the objective.
“Little did I know that I was getting into a program that would teach me so much about leadership, life, work, family and friends,” he adds. Jon credits XMNR for teaching him tactics on how to communicate difficult issues with people, and for helping to hone his active listening skills, which he regularly uses in his current position.
Jon also mentions gaining insight into different career journeys. “Seeing and hearing about how cohort members and also panelists got where they are is refreshing. I’m reminded to have faith and follow what I feel is important, and I’ll end up doing what I want to do.”
What his next career step is, he isn’t certain yet, but he feels himself becoming more well-rounded with each passing month in the XMNR program, and is confident that he will be prepared to take the challenge when the opportunity presents itself.