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Austin Fields makes transition from dress blues to nature's greens

Austin Fields makes transition from dress blues to nature's greens

Austin Fields makes transition from dress blues to nature's greens

Combining his forestry degree with his military experience, one recent University of Kentucky graduate is set to make an impact preserving the Earth’s natural resources.

Lexington, Ky.—

There’s a grounded sincerity to Austin Fields. The Frankfort native traded in his Air Force blues for forestry greens, recently graduating with a forestry degree from the University of Kentucky Department of Forestry and Natural Resources.

Fields’ transition from the military to a forestry degree-holder not only signifies a career change but also reflects his dedication to lifelong service as an environmental steward. 

Austin Fields
Austin Fields outdoors. Photo provided by Austin Fields.

Fields began his service in the U.S. Air Force in 2014, enlisting straight out of high school. As a water and fuel systems maintenance technician, he was deeply engaged in crucial, but oftentimes overlooked, systems that sustain military activities such as potable water, wastewater treatment, fire suppression and fuel systems for ground vehicles and aircraft. These responsibilities required exceptional precision and adaptability. Fields credits this precision to his academic success and future career aspirations with nature.

"Moving from the Air Force to studying trees might seem like a big leap, but for me, it's just a different way of serving,” Fields said. “In the military, especially working with water and fuel systems, you learn quickly that the small stuff matters a lot. I've taken that attention to detail with me into forestry, where even the little things can have a big impact on the health of an entire ecosystem."  

Transition to Civilian Life 

After six years, with tours in Italy, Turkey and Saudi Arabia enriching his perspective and deepening his reverence for diverse ecosystems, Fields returned stateside. In 2020, he hung up his uniform but kept his boots firmly on the ground. He chose to pursue a degree in forestry at the UK Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, thanks in part to the Veterans Resource Center (VRC). 

The VRC was established to support military and veteran communities by offering essential services and assistance. It facilitates a smooth transition into college life for military-affiliated students, including nearly 800 veterans, active-duty personnel and dependents. According to the VRC, UK is noted for having the highest graduation rate among veterans of any public university in the state and has been recognized as a Military-Friendly school for veterans and their spouses. 

At Martin-Gatton CAFE, Fields found his new battalion in the form of professors and fellow students, all united under the banner of environmental stewardship. He stated that his degree is exactly where he wants this path of his life to head.  

"Forestry is hands-on, active, and it matters,” Fields said. “It aligns with what I valued about the military: every day is different, and you contribute to something larger than yourself. I've always loved being outdoors, so forestry was a natural fit. It’s a chance to turn my passion for nature into a career where I can help preserve these environments for everyone's kids, including my own."  

John Lhotka, a UK Department of Forestry and Natural Resources professor who worked with Fields, praised Fields’ contributions.  

“Austin was a thoughtful, highly-engaged student who has a bright future in the profession of forestry. His experience and great questions added much to the learning environment, whether in the classroom or the forest,” Lhotka said. “His leadership was incredibly valuable to fellow students, instructors, and our department during numerous days spent in the forest for our spring field semester and senior capstone courses.” 

Personal and Professional Goals 

Now a Lexington resident, Fields balances career aspirations and family life with his wife – also an Air Force veteran – and two young daughters. The transition hasn’t been without struggles, from adapting to civilian rhythms to navigating the competitive natural resources job market. Yet his resolve remains unshaken.

Austin Fields
Austin Fields with his children. Photo provided by Austin Fields.

Currently, Fields is actively seeking positions with federal or state agencies, aiming for roles where he can apply his military and outdoor expertise in practical and meaningful ways.  

Fields attributes a significant portion of his success and determination to the support of his family and the formative experiences gained through his military service. His mother, an Army National Guard veteran, instilled values of hard work and significantly influenced his decision to join the Air Force, which Austin now recognizes as invaluable in shaping his disciplined approach to life and work. 

Austin Fields is prepared to further his service in a new realm by dedicating his career to forestry and natural resource conservation. His journey is a compelling chronicle of adaptation, resilience and commitment to service, inspiring current students and veterans alike who may wish to follow in his footsteps. 

“I’m not just looking for a job. I’m aiming to contribute to sustainable practices that balance human needs with those of the planet,” Fields said, reflecting on his journey. “I want to make a tangible difference, just as I did in the military, by protecting and preserving our natural resources for future generations.” 

Fields’ story epitomizes how the values of dedication and service can rise above different careers and environments. As he steps into this new chapter, his commitment to making a positive impact remains steady. 


The Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food and Environment is an Equal Opportunity Organization with respect to education and employment and authorization to provide research, education information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function without regard to economic or social status and will not discriminate on the basis of race, color, ethnic origin, national origin, creed, religion, political belief, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, pregnancy, marital status, genetic information, age, veteran status, physical or mental disability or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity.  

Part of UK’s Office for Student Success, the Veterans Resource Center supports and advocates for veteran and military-connected students through fostering community, assisting with college transitions and processing GI Bill certification. 

Alumni Environment Forestry Students

Contact Information

Scovell Hall Lexington, KY 40546-0064