Thursday, July 3, 2014

From Air Force to AmeriCorps

Throughout July, AmeriCorps is honoring veterans and active military personnel. Vaughn Cottman is a veteran of the United States Air Force and Army, and currently serves as a Unit Leader with the AmeriCorps NCCC Southwest Region.

AmeriCorps NCCC Southwest Region
Unit Leader Vaughn Cottman
In AmeriCorps NCCC’s 20 year history, change has been nothing short of the norm, but a few
things manage to stay the same. One of those is Sun Unit Leader Vaughn Cottman. To those at the Southwest Region campus in Denver, Colorado, Vaughn is an institution. Corps members, team leaders, and staff alike all know when they hear “How y’all doin’?” that Vaughn can’t be far away.  But what they might not know is the extensive background this veteran has, both as a part of NCCC and the United States Military.

Growing up in North Carolina, with a father who served 26 years in the military, Vaughn followed his friends and family members before him and joined the US Air Force in 1971.

“Being raised in a military town, joining is what you did.  The culture of the military is so ingrained in you that it’s the natural next step after high school,” Vaughn said.

After jumping out of planes at military bases in South Carolina, Guam, and Florida for four years, Vaughn took a break from the military in 1976.  In 1978 Vaughn re-enlisted, this time with the US Army as a nurse.  For the next 15 years, Vaughn served in Greece, Korea, and the states teaching nursing before retiring from the Army in 1993.

At this point, Vaughn had started hearing about AmeriCorps and National Service.  He remembers, “As someone who did a lot of service when I was younger, and was interested in government, and anything community oriented, it seemed like I would have a natural fit with service.”

When Vaughn heard about an AmeriCorps NCCC campus opening in the Denver area, he jumped at the opportunity to join this new program. “Those first few years, we were building the bike while riding it.  It was beneficial to have a military background for me, to be able to give directives and organize groups of young people. There was a real military foundation here; the way the program is organized and founded on is very reminiscent of the military." Back then many staff members, including the National Director, were ex-military, and Vaughn says that really helped mold each campus and the corps into the program we have today, which aims to join the best of the military with the best of civilian life.

Vaughn with Sun Unit team leaders
Twenty years later Vaughn has seen the Southwest Campus change locations, a handful of new National and Regional Directors come and go, and thousands of corps members and team leaders serve communities and develop as leaders through AmeriCorps NCCC. As new classes come in Vaughn laughs and says, “It’s always interesting to see new faces, but I’m starting to feel my age!... But I’ve always felt my experience in this program has been a benefit to the program and this campus. Being here since the beginning, I can offer what’s been done in the past, and try to come up with solutions going forward." 

As Class 20A traditional corps nears graduation, Vaughn remarks, “I’m still here because I love working with young people, and having service be a part of it all is just a bonus. This is the age group that I worked with in the military, and this is the age group I continue to enjoy working with."

For more information about AmeriCorps NCCC's support of veterans and military families, or to apply to serve with AmeriCorps NCCC or FEMA Corps, please visit
Brought to you by AmeriCorps NCCC, a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
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