Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook. United States Park Ranger Amber Hagan

It still feels surreal to see myself in this photo read my name in the subject line of this post with, "United States Park Ranger" in front of it. It has been almost one year since I arrived at Gateway to start my career as a United States Park Ranger for the National Park service and what a year it has been. As many of you know, I arrived in New Jersey the second week of October of 2012, just two and a half short weeks before a bit of a celebrity arrived. Most of you know her as Superstorm Sandy, but we have a few other names for her. I chose not to post any photos of the destruction and carnage that Sandy left in her path, because for many these photos are difficult to view. So many lives were taken and so many lives turned upside down. The morale of the Jersey Shore was at an all time low and many of us will never be the same. In circumstances as trying as the aftermath of the most destructive hurricane the Jersey Shore has ever seen, we do not look back, we only look forward. Last year after the storm, you would not have recognized the Jersey Shore for it's alluring beauty. For weeks we stood on a bridge for 12+ hour shifts and painfully had to turn residents of surrounding towns and park visitors away. Due to the unprecedented safety hazards, we simply could not allow people to enter their homes in the city of Seabright. Seabright was buried under heaps of sand and debris with homes barely recognizable and some no longer standing. Businesses were destroyed and power lines dangling. Windows were blown out and buildings flooded. Gas lines were buried under 10+ feet of sand. It was heartbreaking to see this once very alive town deserted with no resolution in sight. In the weeks that we kept people from the park and the town of Seabright, we saw a lot of intense pain and disappointment, but something else emerged as well. Through this natural disaster we saw the Jersey Shore residents come together and be "Jersey Strong" as they would say. Gone were the days of dreading this disaster and feeling helpless and people were standing up and standing together. The entire country came together and the Calvary started arriving. Busloads of supplies started to arrive, shelters were created, FEMA was here in force, emergency workers from around the country came to help, and the National Guard was activated. The Jersey Shore was not alone and a flicker of hope turned into a fire that brought the people of the Jersey Shore back to life. Here we are 10 and 1/2 months later and still pushing forward. Businesses are reopening and homes rehabilitated. Sandy Hook reopened on May 1, 2013 and visitors returned to their beloved peninsula. It has been the most difficult year of my life and of the lives of Jersey Shore residents and I would not trade this experience for anything. The friendships I've made and people I've met have changed my life. The people of the Jersey Shore (contrary to the popular television show) are some of the most compassionate, loving human beings I have ever met. I was taken in and cared for by a family of a co-worker when I had no where to go as my home on Sandy Hook was inhabitable. It is not true what they say, that "Desperate times call for desperate measures." Desperate times call for the true spirit of Americans and of human beings to emerge and that is the spirit of love and compassion.
When the park opened, I got the law enforcement experience I had been waiting for. It was a crazy summer at Sandy Hook, to say the least. From traffic stops to fishing violations to DUI's and Public Lewdness arrests, there was never a dull moment here at Sandy Hook. As SLETP coordinator Chris Willard said to me at the academy last summer, "You've got a front row ticket to the greatest show on Earth." I have laughed a lot, been angry, been sad, and been extremely motivated, among many other things this summer at Sandy Hook. I've watched suspects turn from angels to demons the minute you arrest them. I've watched families of cardiac arrest victims cry as you tell them you did everything you could to save their loved ones life, but it just wasn't enough. I've felt my heart rate go through the roof as the car I was stopping was not pulling over. Through my experiences at Sandy Hook I have grown into a stronger, wiser person and professional. I've had the opportunity to train and work with amazing people. Below is a photo of our Annual Law Enforcement Refresher Training in which this year is the first year we developed a partnership with Monmouth County Police Academy. Featured in the photo is former and now retired Branch Chief of Emergency Services for the Northeast Region, Kim Coast. We were very lucky to have her there before she retired just a short two weeks later.
I recently attended the SLETP Graduation at Temple University for graduating class 13-05. It was just one short year earlier that I was in that very same position. Walking through the halls was nostalgic and touching. It was so very heart warming to see my fellow ProRangers graduating and preparing to enter the work force. I got to see a lot of familiar faces and people who helped me along my path to becoming a United States Park Ranger. Chief Reynolds, Chief Clark, Dr. Luongo, Dr. McGarvey, Chris Willard, Agent Maderang, Jay Lippert, Ranger David Ballam and Chief Ranger of PRWI Cynthia Sirk-Fear, to name a few. Just being at this event reminded me how lucky and thankful I am to be in the position I'm currently in.
PHOTO 1: Graduate Renee Benson, SLETP Coordinator Chris Willard, and I. PHOTO 2: Graduate Charles Papacostas and I. These two graduates, and many others, are going to do wonderful things for the National Park Service and I am happy to be a part of their lives. I look forward to working with them and others in the field. Finally, I'd like to reiterate and continue to express how thankful I am to be working as a United States Park Ranger for the National Park service. I have been tested and I have overcome a lot of challenges in my first year as a Ranger. I look forward to many more challenges and a rewarding career. I could not imagine myself doing anything other than this. I am a Law Enforcement Park Ranger, an EMT, a wildland fire fighter, and soon to be structural fire fighter. How many people can say that? This was definitely my calling in life :-)
PHOTO 1: Historic Sandy Hook Lighthouse at Sunrise PHOTO 2: Fort Hancock Historic District with a storm rolling in during Sunset

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