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I was a GS-9 employee of the United States Forest Service and an instructor in the Job Corps at a conservation camp in eastern Kentucky in the mid-1960s. I based a novel, titled "To the Bright and Shining Sun," on my experience there; I mention this because my book was my attempt to pay tribute to the Forest Service and the Job Corps for the grand contribution they have made to our country.

The fact this program is either being shut down or auctioned off to a mercenary group is a bloody disgrace, the kind of naked greed or self-serving politics that makes one wonder if we all descend from the same tree.

Job Corps has been a remarkable success since its inception, and it has cost pennies compared to the tax money we pour into prisons. The young women and men in Job Corps centers can earn high school degrees and learn a trade and respect for themselves and for their country while at the same time they maintain our forests and national parks and fight wildfires.

Tell me, why would any rational person wish to destroy a program such as this? Is it possible that little piggy feet are clattering toward the trough once again? Who knows? It takes a special kind of stupidity as well as inhumanity to do this kind of damage to the only avenue out of poverty some of these young people have.

The following was my experience as a Job Corps staff member: We had a steady numerical population of around 100 Corpsmen at the center. Most were high school drop-outs; some were kick-outs; some had been in trouble; many of them were unwanted by their parents. All of them were poor. But 95% of them were good kids who just needed a fair chance.

Follow-up surveys have shown that the great majority of them have led successful lives; they became welders, bakers, members of the armed forces, nurses, electricians and cooks, all because of the vocational training they received at a Job Corps center. Remember George Foreman? He was a Corpsman.

Nixon tried to get rid of Job Corps years ago. Why? Again, who knows? The same people were trying to get rid of Head Start, another fine program that costs pennies.

Undoing programs like these is in effect declaring war on the poor. John Steinbeck once said that the greatest shame produced by the Depression was our fear of a man who had a hole in his shoe.

I'm convinced this is the work of sycophants, bullies and the acolytes of meanness and cupidity. The green republic is still out there, and this is still the state of Mike Mansfield and Jeannette Rankin and A.B. Guthrie and the last home of George McGovern. What would they have to say in the matter? Montana is part of the egalitarian dream. Job Corps is the essence of the Jeffersonian vision. We use government not to suppress or control but to educate and bring out what is best in people.

Once given, education and vocational training can never be taken from a person. This is one of those instances in which we have made an ideal a living reality. I find it hard to believe that anyone would want to destroy it.

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James Lee Burke of Lolo was a GS-9 employee of the United States Forest Service and an instructor in the Job Corps at a conservation camp in eastern Kentucky in the mid-1960s. One of his novels is based on his experience there. 

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