If you look up the word “badass” in the dictionary, there should probably be a picture of Kinessa Johnson.
She definitely has the credentials: Johnson is a U.S. Army Veteran, who served as a mechanic and weapons instructor, and deployed to Afghanistan.
Now, Kinessa Johnson is dealing with a completely different kind of challenge. She’s taking on heavily armed poachers in Africa.
She’s part of a group called Veterans Empowered to Protect African Wildlife (VETPAW), and she’s using her skills as an instructor to train park rangers in key areas.
“(VETPAW) was searching for a female to train female park rangers so I applied and was selected,” she explained.
The VETPAW organization was founded by a Marine Corps veteran to deal with the poaching crisis in Africa and to help conserve the natural resources of the troubled African continent.
At the same time, the group provides employment for post-9/11 veterans who often have a hard time transitioning back to civilian life.
It’s easy to brush aside the impact of poaching as a local problem that isn’t a major concern. However, the veterans’ group is quick to point out the major impact of poaching on the unstable and often poor regions of Africa — and those impacts can affect Americans, too.
“Nearly 100 elephants are slaughtered every day for their tusks. Without action, this iconic species, and others, will be gone from the wild within a decade,” states the VETPAW website.
“But the poaching crisis affects all of us: the illegal ivory trade often funds terrorist organizations and their attacks,” continues the group.
Veterans like Johnson serve in a role not too dissimilar from Special Forces advisers and teach their skills to local park rangers.
“I’m a technical adviser to anti-poaching rangers so I patrol routinely with them and also assist in intelligence operations,” she said.
“We’re here to train park rangers so they can track and detain poachers and ultimately prevent poaching.”
Of course, many parts of Africa are not exactly Disneyland, and advisers like Johnson often have to deal with professional poachers who are armed and determined.
“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,” she explained.
“Our goal is to prevent trigger pulling through strategic movements and methods of prevention.”
The impact is not just environmental, but economic as well.
“Imagine one of your community’s most cherished assets disappearing forever. It impacts everything,” said Johnson.
Kinessa Johnson is making her own impact … but unlike the poachers of Africa, her influence is pushing for a better future for everyone.