Army Vet Finds New Mission Fighting Poachers in East Africa



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.”

You can follow Kinessa Johnson on her Facebook page and check out VETPAW at their website.

  • rivrat1970

    The pictures and the prose are in contradiction. I admire her work, but not being a trigger puller vs the combat stances are at odds with each other. Now if pictures as an advisor were included, then the incongruity would be eliminated. Personally, my baser instinct is ….no quarter to poachers. Poacher with weapon = dead poacher on sight. But, that’s my baser instinct.

  • Terria

    Nice right up! Keep reporting quality stories.

  • conradswims

    I ain’t going to even think about asking her out on a date.

    • Docsenko

      Conrad, it would be good for you.

  • Patriot101

    Four years in the Army as a “Weapons Instructor”? Mechanic?
    I don’t buy this article as it does not make sense to anyone who has served unless she was a Drill SGT and saying she was an “instructor” during that time. And that is basic bare / bare minimum levels of training PVT’s at the gumby levels.
    All of 1 Tour? I knew people who served 6+ as real Operators and don’t do the posing she is doing.
    G.I. Jane huh? Not Impressed and it does not make any sense to people who served. It does not pass the “sniff” test. .

    • Brandon

      1 tour is sometimes all you need…or all you get. Don’t be judging people with multiple tours comparing that to a person of 1 tour. For all you know, she could have been an MP (weapons expert) and mechanic (change in MOS?) and saw a lot of combat in Afghanistan…versus the Fobbit who did 3-4 tours in Iraq & Afghanistan enjoying the luxuries of large FOB living. Yeah, you said “real Operators”…but some of them turn to desk-jocks in their new life vice a woman who goes and hunts poachers.

      • Sgt. Rock

        Pretty good point, Brandon. I usually feel like a dirtbag with my one tour. But, it was outside the wire every day IED hunting- LOTS of FOBBITS in the military with multiple tours- never left except to go home.

      • WBB

        She did NOT see lots of combat I can promise you that. She IS a total poser and attention whore. I did 12 deployments in 12 years and promise you none of them were in the rear with the gear watching Kill TV from a operations center. GFY.

      • WBB

        Complete poser fraud….research it. What a disgrace.

    • RealTalk

      They’re Veterans who are actually make and made a direct difference defending endangered specious. These Tier 1 operators actually made a show. Rhino Wars.
      This article talks about the show:
      And the team leader, retired NAVY Seal, Craig Sawyer has this to say about Ms. Johnson:

  • david

    4 years and she was weapons instructor…….right!!!!!!! She was mechanic and turned wrenches at best. Maybe on a range she couched people to qualify. Lets be real.

  • Docsenko

    It seem we are all quick to judge this woman. Her goal is noble to say the least. Why couldn’t she be a weapons instructor? It does not take that long. Many women are good with firearms. When I go to the local range, there are many women there shooting and they do well. Most shoots 9mm, but a few use the 40 or 45 in a smaller frame. This is not rocket science. It is shooting skills.

  • Juanito Grande

    Good for you, young lady! Keep up the good work!

  • KenLand

    Although I was in for 20 years, I was a machinist, flew in Black Helicopters, rode in tanks, worked with Army Finance, worked at DFAS, worked with in a TSC to support national disaster relief, and worked in Corp Budget.

  • SGM Bob

    Want a REAL job with REAL meaning? Hire on with the Detroit Police, or Orange County Sheriff, or the DEA. I figure East Africa can take care of itself……..

    • Docsenko

      Going after poachers is a real job with meaning. Trying to save the few remaining species from extinction. It is a dangerous mission. Rangers have been killed.

  • bob barker

    She’s marketing herself, most likely trying to get her “story” picked up for the Discovery channel.

  • Eric

    Google her – every picture that comes up is some “posed” picture of trying to look like some operator. I couldn’t find one of her actually doing anything related to the story – oh wait, I vetpaws is too top secret!!

  • Doc_C

    HYPE! This article’s sole purpose is to promote women in combat roles. This is an advisory job that many have done before this young lady. Nothing against her or her service to our nation, but to portray her as some sort of high speed low drag operator…pure hype.

  • vanir01

    With all of the tattoo’s she looks like she is trying to grow a pair and be one of the boys. Discovery channel here she comes.

  • Stu

    I was in the army for over 8years on 2 deployments to Iraq. 1st I was on the road everyday traveling all over Iraq. 2nd I was a fobbit, never left the FOB once. Dosent matter what she has done or hasent done. I know several other soldiers I have served with done and seen the same things as them. All they do is whine about how hard they have it and how much trouble they have making a living. I had a rough time finding my way when I got out and went thru some rough times just trying to support my family like a husband/father should do. But im here now and me and my family are doing very well. My point is it dosent matter what she done while in service while on deployment. She has found something to be pro active and has a mission with importance for her now. It dosent matter if the focus is on her because of her or because of a larger entity useing her as a marketing focus, or if she is training rangers going on patrols and proving a great service. Both are important and help in there own ways. Good for her.

  • Rick

    I have nothing to say but praise for her service – whatever it was. In a single enlistment and tour, it’s pretty doubtful that she really was able to crosstrain to a second career field. OTOH, my service gave me a lot of opportunities to do things that were not part of my job, so the embellishment may be more the PR folks who have no clue making something bigger than it was. That is the thing that is annoying – the media hyping her situation a more than it is. It’s really a good vet job story, and it’s unique, so interesting. It’s the photos – she is a model for tactical supplies, so they keep using these pictures that have nothing to do with her past or current situation. Notice, the articles make vague, unclear references to her experience, but put all these photos from her modeling work to illustrate it – give an impression far from accuracy. But then again, how is it different from most modeling?