Camaraderie, competition, coaching and cultivation were not in short supply during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District 2022 Annual Park Ranger Appreciation and Refresher Training at Canyon Lake, Texas April 5-7.
Park Rangers, lake managers and operations staff from the Fort Worth District came together in person and virtually at the Hidden Valley Sports Complex Community Resource & Recreation Center to recognize the year’s outstanding Park Rangers as well as teach the rookies and refresh the veterans on proper responses and procedures for a variety of situations they are faced with in their day to day.
As the field agents of USACE’s recreation program, its Park Rangers have two primary responsibilities: promoting and protecting public safety and practicing good stewardship of the public lands in their care. The refresher training meets the requirements for Park Rangers to maintain existing citation authority.
The week’s events kicked off with remarks from Fort Worth District Commander Col. Jon Stover.
“I am very excited to address all of you and hand out some very well-deserved awards for the regional superstars as well as the Ranger of the Year,” said Col. Stover. “This is the second Ranger appreciation I have attended since I assumed command of the Fort Worth District and I have enjoyed them immensely. From the awards presentation to the extracurricular activities after hours, this gathering of Rangers every year is essential to keep up proficiency in your duties and maintain a high state of morale in the workplace. Not only that but getting down here and talking to the you face-to-face I get to hear what’s going on out in the field straight from the source; that’s what I need to make decisions.”
After more presentations and discussions with Water Oriented Recreation District (WORD) of Comal County, Dam Community Alliance, Fort Worth District Park Ranger Community of Practice, and the Leadership Development Program, it was time to honor this year’s most outstanding Park Ranger.
Each region submitted a nominee for the Park Ranger of the Year award:
Billy Jasper, Benbrook Lake Park Ranger, Trinity Region Ranger of the Year Nominee
Lynden Wood, Sam Rayburn Lake Lead Park Ranger, Piney Woods Ranger of the Year Nominee
Shauna Sadoski, Whitney Lake Park Ranger, Three Rivers Ranger of the Year Nominee
Jennifer Plair, Somerville Lake Park Ranger, Capitol Region Nominee
Plair was awarded Fort Worth District Park Ranger of the Year and her nomination will be submitted for the USACE HQ Natural Resource Management Employee of the Year!
Following the award ceremony Fort Worth District’s Park Ranger Refresher Training Project Delivery Team led the Rangers through two additional days of training. Policy requires all USACE Rangers to receive eight hours of training annually on a variety of topics such as self-defense, de-escalation techniques, tactical communications, policy, and cultural demographics. This training is essential and is designed to mimic real-life scenarios these Rangers may face during their duties to include dealing with unauthorized hunting, unauthorized possession of firearms, and encountering illegal drugs and narcotics on federal recreational grounds.
“Encountering any situation as a Ranger there are always unknowns, preparing for those situations by creating unique challenges that resemble situations we may encounter is a great way to practice,” said Brad Grems, Park Ranger at Lake O’ the Pines. “Scenarios like drownings or dealing with customers who have a language barrier are great ways to force Rangers to find creative solutions to hopefully ease a difficult situation. Our customer base is very diverse, and each situation is different than the last so approaching each instance with everyone’s safety at the forefront of our mind has to be a priority no matter what is going on.”
Along with the scenarios, the Rangers took part in interactive training to include, hunting programs management; non-escalation; de-escalation; communication and self-defense tactics; fire management; and communicating with the media; to name a few.
Although this training is essential, one of the most valuable resources Park Rangers have, is each other.
“I think the most important part of the Ranger appreciation and training is networking with other Rangers,” said Chandler Sanford, Park Ranger at Lewisville Lake. “Meeting Rangers from other lakes and areas opens opportunities to share knowledge and ideas about programs and duties that we oversee as Rangers. It is very beneficial to be able to reach out to another lake to ask questions about something that they are working on at their lake and be able to collaborate on projects and events.”
Whether at the same lake, or across the state, the Fort Worth District Park Rangers are a team.
“This opportunity provides a wide exposure to the world each lake project experiences,” said Grems. “In my opinion, the most important part of the training is the sharing of ideas to implement best practices. Understanding that just because a program or responsibility has always been done a certain way, does not mean that it cannot be improved. Sharing our ideas and experiences can often reduce the workload for certain objectives through the trial and error of others.”
The week wasn’t only education and training; Rangers and district staff played slow-pitch softball and kickball on day one and a fishing tournament on day two with prizes included. These opportunities after duty hours gave those in attendance a chance to socialize and get to know each other.
“The extracurricular events are a good teambuilding exercise for the group,” said Sanford. “This allows the group to get to know each other outside of the work atmosphere and encourage each other in the softball and kickball games. These extracurricular activities bring people out of their comfort zone and give Rangers the opportunity to partake in something that they may not usually have the chance to do. It is awesome to see the Rangers using their different skillsets and coming together to coach the other Rangers in these activities.”
The culmination of the week’s events was the Ranger Challenge where teams from each region; Trinity, Three Rivers, Capitol, and Piney Woods; competed against each other in physical and technical challenges for the honor to take possession of the trophy for the year. Three Rivers Region, which includes Hords Creek, O.C. Fisher, Navarro Mills, Proctor, Waco, Whitney and Aquilla Lakes, won this year’s Ranger Challenge.
Park Ranger Appreciation and Annual Refresher Training exists as a way for the district leadership to recognize the important work Rangers do with the Park Ranger of the Year award, as well as ensuring Rangers are up to date the with best practices and procedures to perform their duties at the highest level.
“Thank you all for being here; this is an awesome program,” said Operations Chief Tim MacAllister. “This is about you; we want to come in here, have a great time and get the training you need for your positions. We want you to enjoy it and return to your duties refreshed and ready for action.”
The Fort Worth District was established in 1950. The district is responsible for water resources development in two-thirds of Texas, and design and construction at military installations in Texas and parts of Louisiana and New Mexico. Visit the Fort Worth District Web site at www.swf.usace.army.mil, and social media at https://about.me/usacefortworth