The Future of SAF: Brandon Foley
October 16, 2019
Continuing with our profiles of up-and-coming SAF members who will continue managing our nation’s natural resources in the coming decades, this month The Forestry Source
features Brandon Foley. He is an undergraduate at the University of Kentucky (UK) and will graduate next year with a bachelor’s degree in forestry. He is the current secretary of the SAF UK student chapter and a sawyer on the UK Conclave Team. Foley joined SAF in 2017 and is an intern with the Urban Forest Initiative. This program, which originally began in 2014 to call attention to the need for more urban-forestry awareness at the University of Kentucky, has since expanded to “champion the elevated perception, value and function of the urban forest on campus and beyond.” In his own words, Foley describes how he found his way to forestry and the love of his life.
UK Grad Foley: Continuing to Serve through Forestry
By Brandon Foley
Growing up in the heart of central Kentucky, I had an early and extensive exposure to native forests. Approximately half of the retired 30-acre tobacco farm that I grew up on had melded into the surrounding woodland. My summers and fair-weather weekends were filled with hiking and camping trips to Red River Gorge, Daniel Boone National Forest, and a local sanctuary, Raven Run. My parents encouraged and supported my exploration of the natural surroundings and even bought me a kayak for Christmas. By 16, I had achieved the rank of Eagle Scout from the Boy Scouts of America. I thought I knew the forests, streams, and landscapes I had spent so many years exploring. Although I learned to appreciate and respect the intricacies of the land, I realized later on that I still had so much to learn.
Like many high school graduates, I started college right after graduation and decided to study computer engineering and, later, computer science. After a couple of years, I wasn’t as interested in the material and had lost my drive to learn and achieve in the field. I left college in 2006 before obtaining a degree since my enthusiasm for school had waned to apathy.
In 2007, I joined the United States Marine Corps—upholding a family tradition as a fourth-generation Marine. I served eight years of active duty, including a deployment to Iraq and two deployments to Afghanistan. One of the most vivid memories I have from a deployment in Afghanistan is looking out over the Helmand River in the Helmand Province. Next to the river, a small village surrounded by lush green fields and trees flourished, protected from the endless desert by the flowing water. It reminded me of home and the many days I had spent in the forests of Kentucky.
I served four years as a light armored vehicle crewman and four years as a data network operator. Upon completing my service, I did what many veterans do: I went back to college. I moved home to be near my family and enrolled at the University of Kentucky. In 2014, I resumed technology-focused studies in electrical engineering. After two years of school, I again started to feel apathetic toward my studies as I had years earlier. While staring at some complex calculus problems in the Veterans Resource Center on campus, I was distracted by a flyer for the Forestry Program. I had heard other veterans talk about the program and had seen their booth at campus events but had never considered forestry as an educational or career pursuit. After further reflection, I realized I was most content while in the forest. In the fall of 2016, I became a forestry student.