Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Fort McHenry Update

Introduction to the Fort McHenry and Hampton House Experience

As I live, work hard, play and learn on the birthplace of American National Identity, I think often of preserving cultural image and history by protecting its resources and the people who visit. 

The first week my partner Jeff and I were sponges that absorbed information about Fort McHenry's history, the divisions of the park, the duties of the staff, and the plans surrounding the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, which I look forward to seeing many Prorangers and Rangers at.

History, history, history! Fort McHenry is renowned for America's defense against the British navy during the Battle of 1812 but also served as a prison, a training post and a general hospital established by the U.S. Army before the fort became a National Park. 

We were also told about the Historic Hampton House, another park we frequent. Hampton House was described by one ranger as "Heaven," and from an outside glance, this claim rings very true. Though its appearance is glamorous, its history as one of the largest slaveholding estates in Maryland suggests that Hampton's past was less than perfect. In the Hampton House, history lessons of early American life, industrialization, art and architecture, and the consequences of wealth accumulated from a prejudiced foundation await visitors. 

It was only day two that we were role-playing suspects for one of the seasonal ranger's cuffing tactics drill. A few days later, we were off to the range for some shotgun and rifle familiarization.

Shooting a shotgun for the first time is kind of like trying to balance a ceramic plate on the end of a heavy metal pole, except that it shoots metal slugs. It is a skill of balance and endurance, which like any other, is eased with steady, relaxed breathing. One of the ranger's, who was also the firearms instructor, simplified the tactics of shooting when he pointed to the camera I was snapping pictures on. He explained how the two disciplines were similar and it is no coincidence why you "shoot" a camera, just as you shoot a gun. Sometimes a gun and a camera are shot for the same reason; to protect something or someone.

The second week was as new and interesting as the first. The long hours of online NEMA and Wildland Fire training proved valuable when training at Prince William Forest for the first Proranger round-up since we left Philadelphia for our parks. It was an intense day of pack-testing, fire safety, fireline and hose drills. We left drenched in sweat and exhausted - just as we should. Most importantly, I remember those I spoke to left with a sense of accomplishment.

We also worked with Maintenance, "Maintenance" is really a broad term that encompasses many things, like all other divisions. These days I learned about historic preservation projects, grounds keeping, and various other tasks. Jeff and I constructed a parking lot that will be used for the upcoming Bicentennial events. Maybe you will park in our carefully labored white lines of justice.

This week, which is passing at an incredible rate, has surfaced defense drills and work with Resource Management. Resource Management is another division with many hats to wear and incorporates natural and cultural resources, such as museum exhibits and anything horticulture-related, from pulling weeds to designing landscape architectural. 

On Monday our Chief Ranger, Glen Clark, went over baton exercises and voice command. The success of the baton drill was broken down into three categories; "speed, tactics and violence". The next day (today), the intensity of the baton drills was tamed by the sight of fawn, brand-new to the world, who was nestled into one of the elaborate garden beds of the Hampton House. Experiences in the National Park Service are indeed diverse. 

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