Kinessa Johnson served four years in the Army as a weapons instructor and mechanic and did one tour of duty in Afghanistan. When she got out and needed a job, she found an unexpected new mission, protecting animals in East Africa and fighting poachers with VETPAWS.
Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife was founded by Marine veteran Ryan Tate. The organization aims to give employment with a purpose to military veterans and to train park rangers in the skills needed to reduce poaching. The organization also runs the HEALS program, designed to give veterans dealing with a traumatic brain injury or PTSD a mission training the local population in sustainable agriculture and offering former poachers a new and better way to make a living.
In an interview with Seattle’s KING 5 TV in her home state of Washington, she told the station, “We work side by side with park rangers and it’s truly a learning experience for not only park rangers but also our team. Our intention is not to harm anyone; we’re here to train park rangers so they can track and detain poachers and ultimately prevent poaching.”
The goal is to prevent poaching through a patrol presence, not to take out the perpetrators. “I’m a technical adviser to anti-poaching rangers so I patrol routinely with them and also assist in intelligence operations,” Johnson said. “Most of the time anyone that is in a reserve with a weapon is considered a threat and can be shot if rangers feel threatened. Our goal is to prevent trigger pulling through strategic movements and methods of prevention.”