Monday, July 31, 2017

Repetition is King

           Almost there, everybody! Week 9 was spent with the LE rangers. As much as I enjoy getting to know the different divisions and learn how they keep a National Park up and running, I was happy to be back in the saddle on patrol with the rangers. Being that it had been a number of weeks since my last workdays with them, I needed my first day of the week to be reacquainted with all of the tasks that I had taken responsibility of during my time there. After only an hour or two however, I was back at it like a cog in a running machine.

            My supervisor, along with the assistance of another ranger, put me through a number of training scenarios throughout the week so that I could familiarize myself with police procedures on a number of different levels. The first training procedure that I learned from was Building Clearing / Active Shooter situations. After detailed walk-throughs and chances to ask questions, I was required to clear particular buildings in the park on my own (most of the time, in the dark!). I found this training to be the most exciting and engaging, and it did not take me long to pick up on procedure and possess the ability to handle the situation with only minor slip-ups or mistakes.
            The more complicated training session, in my humble opinion, was the mock traffic stops. I must admit that although I obviously have the highest respect for law enforcement and envision what they do, I was not prepared for the amount of training and work that goes into a seemingly simple traffic stop. The rangers train so that they are prepared for any and all situations, and repetition was king when it came to this training. I learned that through doing it myself. I did countless “reps” of a variety of situations to understand how I can best protect myself while doing my duties as a law enforcement officer. From learning how to park the patrol vehicle and approach the suspect’s vehicle, to conversing with the driver/passengers and issuing tickets, I can firmly report that it is not as easy as it seems. Unfortunately for my supervisor and fellow ranger, that means that they had to answer to a bombard of questions from me and deal with my frustrations when I wanted to do it right but struggled.

            All in all, I have learned so much over the course of the internship and this last (more intensive) training could be completed with so much more confidence because of the basic training that I’ve been receiving. My last week at Colonial will undoubtedly be a memorable one, and I can’t wait to learn even more before I leave!

Professional Ranger

Here I stand, at Lock One of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Georgetown, Washington D.C., Mile Zero

I gaze upstream as the mighty Potomac enters the Chesapeake 

Views From the Crib

Every day when I exit my dorm room on the Coast Guard base, I am blessed with this fantastic view! It is not uncommon to see Coast Guardsmen spending some free time on these benches and enjoying the view of the York River, and the pier on the lower left of the photo is open for recreational fishing every now and then.

Life Outside of Work

Lake Ouchita before sunset
Normally all of our blog posts are about our work and what we have experienced as part of the internship, but I’ve decided to shake things up a bit. These internships aren’t all about just learning more about the national park service, resource and protection division, and our parks. It is also about the connections and relationships that we make with the rangers while on and off duty. I’ve been fortunate enough this summer to hang out with two of our rangers while off duty.

A week ago, my supervisor Ranger VanNest asked me if I would like to go canoeing at Lake Ouachita State Park and camp out overnight on one of the islands, and of course I said yes. We headed out early in the morning to get an early start so that we weren’t stuck paddling and setting up camp in direct sunlight and heat. Ranger VanNest is a canoeing instructor, so it was a good time going out with him and learning the tips of how to best paddle and steer the canoe, depending on where you are seated. We got to the island and set up camp, and relaxed for most of the day talking about traveling, to his interests as well as career, to where I envision myself being in a few years. Of course, you can’t forget that we had delicious MRE’s (Meal Ready to Eat) and dehydrated food to eat (no seriously I love it!). Sleeping that night was a bit tough as I have never camped out in a humid environment like Arkansas before, but it is all part of the experience which I was very grateful for! The next morning we woke up, packed up camp and made sure the site was clean as it had been before we got there, then got the canoe back into the water to head back to land and go home to enjoy the rest of the day off.

Our Campground for the Night

After my current short week of work, I was very excited and grateful to have been invited out by Ranger Little to go out boating with him and his family on Lake Ouachita. I was looking forward to meeting his family and being able to spend time with Ranger Little outside of work. During my time here he has helped me tremendously and riding along with him a lot has been such a great time, as he has truly become a role model to me and the type of ranger I want to mold myself into. I was also looking forward to finally being able to get back out on a lake in a boat, since it had been some time since my family sold our boat, not having been out on the water since. It was Ranger Littles first time taking the boat out on Lake Ouachita, so we spent most of our time out cruising around the lake and learning the layout of this 15 mile or so long lake. We took a few breaks from the heat and were able to enjoy the water while listing to some music we had blasting from the boat. After the day was over and the boat secured along with everyone’s belongings, Ranger Little invited me over his house the next day for dinner and to hang out, so we parted ways till the next day. The day boating was an absolute blast, and I am happy to say it was time well spent with an amazing family that I am glad I have gotten to know.

Later on the next day, I headed over to Ranger Littles house for dinner and to see his house and property that his family just moved into a few months ago. When I got to his house, I was greeted by their 3 dogs at the front door, along with one of their sons that opened up the door to let me in. It was as if the dogs never got attention (which they all definitely do) as they didn’t leave my side for the first ten minutes I was there. While dinner was cooking, Ranger Littles one son wanted to play Call of Duty, so Ranger Little and I, as well as his son went to the basement to play. Let’s just say that it got a bit competitive between me and Ranger Little, as it is in both of our nature to be a tad bit competitive, of course friendly as we had a blast playing. Dinner was ready after we played for a bit, so we went upstairs to make our plates and had dinner outside on the porch on a gorgeous night. After dinner, we went out in the yard (lives on 5 acres) to go check the game cameras (for hunting) and retrieve the SD cards so that Ranger Little could see what animals have been wondering about his yard. While out doing that, it was decided by his sons that we would set two of the burn piles in the yard on fire (made of branches, trunks, etc.). The first one we lite started with no problem and got hot quick. We then moved across the crick to the next one, which we had a harder time starting. When we got it started though, it took off and the flames quickly grew higher than we thought they would. We stayed out in the yard for a bit watching the fires, talking about firefighting, and working the piles (condensing leftover branches and logs) until there was no more we could do. To finish out a great day Ranger Little and I went to the basement and watched “The Assassin”, and after that the TV show “Last Man Standing”. It was a great day as I enjoyed the company of him and his family and the great hospitality they showed me while I was over.
I made a new friend!

Making relationships and memories outside of work is another great thing 
that we can do during our internships, something that I’ll always cherish and take for granted. It’s these relationships that also make our summers fun and exciting, as most relationships we build will last a life time. The National Park Service Protection Division is a small community, as it is very likely we will cross paths with many of the rangers we meet and work with throughout the summer internships. I am very fortunate and blessed to have this group of guys to work with and hang out with outside of work.

Burn Pile 1
Burn Pile 2

Exploring Eisenhower National Historic Site

After the Gettysburg anniversary, I got to spend some time at Eisenhower National Historic Site. Eisenhower National Historic Site is located in Gettysburg, bordering the battlefield. The site consists of President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s home and farm. Eisenhower initially purchased the property to retire on after the war. However, his retirement was continually delayed, by his time as the Supreme Allied Commander of NATO and his presidency. As a result, the Eisenhower home saw much use as a country retreat and as a place for diplomatic visits. Eisenhower NHS is administered by Gettysburg National Military Park, so I was fortunate enough to visit for two days this week.
Learning more about the site in the office library
On my first day, I became more familiar with the Eisenhower home, and went on several ranger programs about the history of the site, President Eisenhower’s life, and his role during the Second World War. The Eisenhower home was very interesting to tour because nearly every piece of furniture or object inside had a story that captured a part of Eisenhower’s life, including his military career, presidency, and his interest in farming.
Learning about what American GI carried during the "Ike and the Men of D-Day" program
Exploring the Eisenhower home

 I was also fortunate enough to sit in on a site meeting. This was particularly interesting because Eisenhower NHS is smaller than Gettysburg NMP, and I got to observe some of the management and administrative differences between smaller and larger park units.

I spent my second day at Eisenhower NHS working in the archival collection. The Eisenhower home is filled with furniture and objects from the Eisenhower family, but only represents a fraction of the full museum collection. I started the morning by helping the curatorial staff open several museum cases.
One of several museum cases that we emptied

 I watched them carefully remove the items on display and pack them for transport back to the museum collection for storage. I was happy to help, but handling such delicate objects is better left to professionals. After the items were boxed up, I helped carry two doors back into the Eisenhower home and hang them. Moving a bulky object like a door is awkward, and inside the Eisenhower home, even more care had to be taken when moving through doorways and up flights of stairs. Once the doors were hanged, we returned to curatorial storage. There, I helped clean several objects that had recently been brought into storage, including deck chairs from the Eisenhower home. The chairs had accumulated quite a bit of dirt and dust on them in their previous storage site, and it was great to see that my work made a noticeable difference.  

I finished my day with a closer look at some of the items in the museum collection, including election memorabilia, uniforms, the President's personal firearms collection. 
Exploring the Eisenhower collection
I had a great time at Eisenhower National Historic Site, and I learned a lot about the site. I felt like I squeezed in a second internship this summer, and I hope to visit the Eisenhower's home again sometime soon.

K9 Drug Work & Expect the Unexpected

This week was a short work week for me as my final week of work is coming up, working six days straight then three off before my final two days. Even though it was a short week, it was packed full of good training as well as various stops and calls.  On my first day back, we started the shift by having a group meeting to discuss various topics regarding the park and the protection division. The meeting went well as I was able to learn some of the smaller issues and decision making processes that the rangers have to go through in order to make sure everything is done correctly for the smoothest operation of the division. After the meeting finished, upon my request we all went outside to get a group photo since most of the rangers were present with the exception of Ranger Johnson. I wanted to have a group picture of us all to have to commemorate my summer two internship. After the picture was taken, it was time to start patrolling, as I would be riding along with Ranger Little and K9 Konyak.
From Left to Right: Ranger Little, K9 Konyak, Chief Ranger Cully, Ranger Schreck, myself, Ranger VanNest, Ranger Flint, Ranger Summerling. Photo Credit to Field Trainee Ranger Tim Cole.
AR-15  Manufacturer
We started out our patrol on Sleepy Valley Road running radar and watching vehicles for any violations they may be committing. After a few minutes of sitting in “our spot”, we observed a car that was familiar to us, going 5 mph over the posted speed limit so we initiated a traffic stop. When making the approach, Ranger Little identified the two occupants of the car as a married couple (we found out during this stop) that we had pulled over the week before and cited for possession of Marijuana and driving on a suspended license. We asked both occupants out of the car as Ranger Little wanted to search the vehicle and run K9 Konyak on the car. As they stepped out they admitted to again have possession of marijuana in the car, so Ranger Little ran Konyak as he hit on the drugs in the car, then proceeded to finish his search of the vehicle. At the conclusion of the stop, the passenger of the car got a citation for possession of marijuana, and then was free to go. It’s not the first time that while on patrol rangers and I have come across repeat offenders, as it is sad that some people will not learn their lesson from the mistakes they make.

AR-15 Parts from Disassembled Rifle
The rest of the night was pretty slow due to Hot Springs PD being out in force for a warrant and speed initiative that they were doing. Ranger Schreck we heard was on a stop, so we went to assist. By the time we found his exact location the stop was almost complete and our help was not needed. It was beginning to get dark, so Ranger Little and I decided it was time to go to “our spot” to look out for any drivers that may be impaired by either drugs or alcohol while driving, or just reckless drivers in general. The stretch of road we were sitting on can be dangerous to someone that is driving erratically. We conducted a few traffic stops throughout the night, giving verbal warnings for speeding, roadway markings, expired registration, and some break lights that were out. One of our last stops though was the most enjoyable to Ranger Little and myself because of the “suspects” we pulled over. Both of us observed a car speeding down Gorge Road which is the road we on, with the radar reading 55 mph, so we initiated a traffic stop. As the car was pulling over, they themselves put on red and blue strobes from inside their car, which threw Ranger Little and myself off a bit. It was then we realized that they must be undercover cops for the city, so we pulled up next to the car and found out that they were indeed undercover cops that were out as part of the cities initiative. We had a quick talk with them about their night then we headed away as it was time for our shift to end.

AR-15 Partially Broken Down
The following day I would again be riding with Ranger Little and Konyak. To start off the shift, I had asked Ranger Little for instruction on how to disassemble and clean our AR-15s. After being shown the proper way to disassemble, clean, then reassemble the weapon, Ranger Little left me to do it for about an hour straight while he downloaded body camera footage and prepared to go out on patrol. I must say that after practicing disassembling and reassembling the AR-15 for an hour straight, it becomes muscle memory. Once Ranger Little was done, he came down to see how I was doing, inspected the weapon and approved my reassembly of his AR-15, gave me some more tips and training, then it was time to start the evening out of the office.

K9 Konyak and his ball
Ranger Little decided to do some more training with Konyak, which is always a great learning experience for me. We headed over to the maintenance yard where we would be conducting the training. For the first part of training, we would be working on biting while on leash (6ft leash), as I would use a hidden bite sleeve (in a sweatshirt) instead of the big red suit I had worn the previous week. For the drills, I would be “breaking” into cars and have to follow Ranger Littles commands or else I would be bit. I also was given a cap gun to use to imitate the sound of a firearm going off, but unfortunately, the cap gun didn’t work during either scenario. Even though the cap gun didn’t work, the scenarios went well as Konyak obeyed commands, had good bites, and continued to work until returned to the car. The next part of training was having Konyak search vehicles (13 total) that may or may not have had drugs in them (we planted some training drugs in a few cars). Again, Konyak did a great job at thoroughly searching all vehicles and finding the drugs in the vehicles that we had planted them in. Ranger Little explained that after searching a few cars in a row, some dogs may get tired or not search the car thoroughly, but Konyak showed no signs of this at all which is a great sign. As a treat for every find (of drugs) we would throw his ball for him so that he knows he did well.  The final part of training was using my car that we had let drugs sit in (to create smell for Konyak) and practice a car stop as if it were happening on the streets to see if Konyak would hit on the drugs. On this training, he had a bit of a harder time alerting to the drugs, due to a possible number of factors, but that is why K9 handlers and programs stress train, train, train. After cleaning up and restoring all the cars and securing the drugs, it was now time for us to hit the road for the rest of our night shift, along with Ranger Summerlin, Cole, and Schreck.

During the night we only had one incident that we had responded to and one traffic stop that was new for me. The first incident was called into our dispatch center EMROCC, and then relayed to us, a report of juveniles shooting off fireworks on the promenade and the lawn. Upon arrival on the scene, Ranger Little and I did not spot the group immediately but began to patrol and walk the area. Upon making contact with some visitors confirming the report, Ranger Little came up with a plan to box them in when Rangers Schreck, Cole, and Summerlin got on scene. Upon their arrival, the plan worked, as we were able to search and talk to all of the juveniles in the area, with some giving us some attitude but eventually complying to Ranger Littles commands. No fireworks were found, so the group was asked to disperse and not use fireworks on park grounds.

Picture of the entire rifle and assebly broken down. 
After the incident and doing a few traffic stops after, our final traffic stop of the night escalated very quickly. The escalation factor was new for me as it hadn’t happened to this point during my time here at HOSP and in the law enforcement field. Ranger Little and I observed a car with its driver side headlight out (thought it was a motorcycle at first) and speeding, so we initiated a traffic stop. Upon pulling the car over, I ran the car through our dispatchers as Ranger Little approached the car to make contact with the occupants and get all the documents he needed from them. During this process, Ranger Summerlin and Cole came to assist us and parked behind our vehicle.  Ranger Little returned to the car and ran the occupants of the vehicle through dispatch, which is when at this point things escalated. The driver came back on parole with a search waiver (meaning we are allowed to search the car). Dispatch told us “0” for the passenger, which later on Ranger Little and myself found out that meant to wait for “traffic” (information on the victim). Next, our dispatch told Ranger Little to call them on their cell phone which according to Ranger Summerlin was a “rare” occurrence.  After calling and hanging up with dispatch, Ranger Little informed us that they told him that the passenger was armed and dangerous and had warrants issued for out of the county, with pick up only within a certain mileage of the county which we were too far from. After hearing this, all our senses went up, as all three of the rangers approached the car to remove both occupants out of the car and make sure the scene was safe and that they didn’t have any weapons or such. Upon removing them, themselves and the car were searched, with both occupants having no weapons. We did find a small bag with marijuana residue in the car that belonged to the passenger. In the end, there was a written citation issued for the marijuana, then they were free to go, as that would end Ranger Little and my selves work week, as now it was time to enjoy the weekend!