Veterans Find Peace, Support Through Careers at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery

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From left to right: Shawn Graham, Jon Rather, Brandon Bunke, and Jeremiah Civil. USFWS Photo.

Veterans enrich our communities and workplaces with unique perspectives, skillsets, and a deep-rooted spirit of service. Whether in the reserves or active duty, stateside or deployed far from home, they chose to serve a cause greater than themselves, making sacrifices for the benefit of the American people and for the greater good.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people.

And here, veterans continue to serve.

As of 2022, the Service has maintained a workforce of which approximately 18% are veterans. In the Pacific Region today, veterans make up approximately 19% of all employees. But at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery in Estacada Oregon, 100% of the employees are military veterans. To them, Eagle Creek NFH is more than just a fish hatchery or duty station, it is a place where they find solace, camaraderie, purpose and belonging.

Read more below from the all-veteran staff of Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.

Brandon Bunke

Biological Science Technician, Fisheries 

U.S. Marine Corps portrait. Personal photo, used with permission.

I began my federal service as an Infantryman (MOS 0311) in the United States Marine Corps in 2004. I was stationed in Twentynine Palms, California, with 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, India Company from December 2005 until June 2008. I was deployed twice in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom — once to Fallujah (Jan. 2005 to Aug. 2005) and once to Al-Qa’im (Sept. 2006 to May 2007).

After getting discharged from my military service, I began my college journey and graduated from Portland State University with my Bachelor of Science in biology. As a disabled veteran, I was able to use the Veteran Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Program to do a short-term, part-time internship at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery. Upon completion of the internship, I was offered a full-time permanent position as a biological science technician in fisheries. I will be starting my eighth year at the hatchery in January.

My job at the hatchery is very important to me and my mental health. As a combat veteran who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, being in nature, and away from the hassle and bustle of the city life, is very calming for me.

Left: February/early March of 2005 at the “Soda Factory” in Fallujah, Iraq. After completing a 4-hour foot patrol in the city, Bunke enjoys some “Easy-Mac” from his canteen cup while sitting on his cot. Right: Bunke sitting in a turret of a MK-19 gun truck while conducting a mobile patrol in Al Obaidy, Iraq, March 2007. Personal photos, used with permission.
Brandon Bunke holds a coho salmon at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.

Shawn Graham

Biological Technician Intern, Fisheries

Shawn Graham moving adult fish out of the receiving pond and into the spawning channel using a fish elevator.

I am originally from Biloxi, Mississippi, and joined the Air Force in April 2004 to 2010. From there, my journey began in Aircraft Armament Systems on F-16s. I did 6 years of active duty, 2 years in the reserves and 7 years in government contracting. I have a beautiful family consisting of my wife Kendra, my two sons Elyjah and Micah and a fresh 1-year-old girl named Zuri.

I’m currently doing an internship as a biological technician at the Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery in Estacada, Oregon, through the Mount Adams Institute’s VetsWork program. This is a great opportunity for people like me who wanted a new change in careers and still feel a love for what they do and feel that sense of purpose. Although I’m still new, I understand the reasons people join this agency and look forward to my outdoor future.

Shawn Graham picks up adult mortalities to place them back into the creek for nutrient enhancement. 

Jon Rather


Jon Rather with a coho salmon at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.

I joined the federal service by joining the United States Air Force during the last part of the Vietnam War. I was stationed at McChord Air Force Base near Tacoma, Washington, where I was part of the MAC (military airlift command), flying and moving cargo. I served in the Air Force from 1974 to 1976.

After the military, I moved around trying to find my career path and landed in construction, where I had a long and successful career. I was on my second retirement when I became a volunteer at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery.

I fell in love with the area, the people and what I was doing, so I stayed for a second year. I was hired on shortly after and still love what I do and who I do it with!

Jeremiah Civil

Hatchery Manager

First time putting on dress blues after graduating boot camp. 
Boot camp graduation.

I joined the Marine Corps and went to boot camp the summer after graduating high school in 2001. I was in boot camp when the terrorist attacks on 9/11 happened. I was deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom as a nuclear biological and chemical weapons specialist in 2003 and then again as a mortuary affairs specialist in 2004. I was discharged after completing my 4-year contract in 2005.

As a civilian, I stumbled around in different job fields and never really found a place where I felt like I fit in. After receiving a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs, I used my vocational rehabilitation benefits to attend Portland State University to obtain my bachelor’s degree in environmental science. After graduation, I found an internship at Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery and fell in love with the work outdoors and connected to nature.

It has now been 10 wonderful years that I have spent at Eagle Creek. I have worked my way up from an animal caretaker to recently being promoted to the manager’s position. The Service is very similar to the military and has many of the same organizational structures that made the transition much easier and made me feel like I finally fit in. It was fishing and sitting in nature that helped me find some peace after experiencing war; so, having a career that involved and gave back to what brought me peace has been very fulfilling. Working with other veterans that can understand my situation without a lot of explanation has really been the cherry on top.

Hatchery Manager Jeremiah Civil crowding juvenile salmon into a fish pump to be put on a truck and shipped out to acclimations sites for release.
Jeremiah Civil piloting a raft with young students from Springwater Environmental Science school on the Clackamas River to see restoration projects and teach about the impacts to aquatic life. 

PHOTO GALLERY: See more military veterans who work at the U.S.Fish and Wildlife Service

Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery raises approximately 850,000 coho salmon annually. The hatchery releases 350,000 coho on site, while 500,000 coho are transferred to the Yakama Nation to support coho restoration projects in their watersheds. 

Eagle Creek National Fish Hatchery is part of the Columbia River Gorge National Fish Hatchery Complex, which includes the Carson, Eagle Creek, Little White Salmon, Spring Creek, Warm Springs, and Willard National Fish Hatcheries. The complex propagates, releases, and transfers over 25 million salmon to partners to meet the Service’s Tribal Trust, fisheries mitigation, and restoration responsibilities. 

Spawning day! Top left to right: Brandon Bunke, Doug Olson (USFWS retired), Dan Nehler, Mike Clark, Caroline Peterschmidt (former hatchery manager at Eagle Creek NFH, retired); Bottom: Jermiah Civil.

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