Commander KJ Green with the U.S. Public Health Service has accepted an assignment with Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire as the wildland firefighter behavioral health clinical administrator.
BY KJ GREEN AND ERIN MCDUFF
Wildland firefighters can spend months away from their families working in arduous, stressful environments. It takes a toll on their physical and mental health. The Interior and Agriculture departments, following guidance in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, are working together to establish a comprehensive wildland firefighter health and wellbeing program. Commander KJ Green with the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) recently accepted an assignment with the Interior Department to support this effort.
What interested you in this position?
I find purpose and meaning in life through being useful to other people—as a husband, a father, a clinical social worker, and a USPHS officer.
Our wildland firefighters make great sacrifices in service to our country, its lands, and its people. They deserve a custom, comprehensive behavioral health program. I believe I can be useful to them through this program. My skills and experiences make me uniquely able to help with its development and management.
Why do you think land management agencies should create a health and wellbeing program?
When we ask our wildland firefighters to put themselves in situations that are inherently dangerous, and they accept, we are entering into an agreement. The firefighters agree to be exposed to risk, and we agree to both mitigate those risks as best we can and address any impact the risks may have on their health. This program is, in part, how we are upholding our end of that agreement. This is our responsibility to our wildland firefighters.
What prior experience best prepared you to take on this effort?
I was previously the Director of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I had the opportunity to grow the program from the ground up so that today it serves all of NOAA. There are many similarities between that experience and the goals for this position.
Prior to that, I served the Department of Defense in various leadership and clinical behavioral health positions and locations, including a hospital emergency department and a Warrior Transition Unit.
While I have never served wildland firefighters, I have dedicated my entire USPHS career to serving operational communities that complete inherently dangerous missions. They deploy to far-off places, leaving their families and homes behind. From warfighters in combat, to hurricane hunters, to mariners aboard a ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, they all have similar—but not identical—experiences with stress. These similarities, and these differences, provide lessons that can be of service of others.
I look forward to learning how wildland firefighter experiences with stress are both similar to and different from other operational communities, and which lessons learned I can employ in service to them.
What do you see as the goal for this program?
The purpose of this program is to serve our wildland firefighters. That means it must be a program they want, that they will use, and that produces results.
To accomplish this, we must hear their voices, now and into the future. The program will include a mechanism where our wildland firefighters can offer input electronically anytime. Beyond that, I plan to go out on wildfire incidents. I want firefighters to have the opportunity to offer me feedback and hold me accountable face-to-face.
I envision a program that is informed by the latest research and best practices in the field and is constantly refining and evolving to meet the needs and wants of our wildland firefighters.
At a minimum, no one should feel ignored, slip through the cracks, or suffer in silence. And at the end of the day, wildland firefighter satisfaction and improved health outcomes will be the program’s ultimate measures of success.
KJ Green is a commander with the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. He has accepted an assignment as the wildland firefighter behavioral health clinical administrator for the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. In this position, KJ will play an important role in the development and implementation of the joint wildland firefighter health and wellbeing program.
KJ comes to this position from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he was the Director of Behavioral Health and Wellness. In that role, KJ oversaw the creation and implementation of a program dedicated to ensuring every beneficiary who experienced signs of mental health or substance use issues had access to high-quality services in a supportive culture that encouraged treatment.
He previously served as the Deputy Chief of the Behavioral Health Consultation Liaison Service, a rapid-response behavioral health team at Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. He was also stationed at the Raymond W. Bliss Army Health Center on Fort Huachuca in Arizona.
Before commissioning as an officer in the USPHS, KJ operated a private therapy practice in Indiana.
He has a Bachelor of Science degree from Purdue University, a Master of Social Work degree from Indiana University, and is currently completing a Doctor of Behavioral Health degree from Arizona State University. KJ holds a license to practice clinical social work and is a Board Certified Diplomate with the American Board of Clinical Social Work.
Erin McDuff is a public affairs specialist with Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire.