Friday, June 11, 2021

How to become a Park Ranger

Career advice from retired Ranger Mannie.

The two most commonly asked questions that I'd get asked by visitors were:

1. Where is the bathroom?

and...

2. How can I get a job as a Park Ranger?

Throughout my career I was very aware of the fact that people have a perception of Park Rangers that has made the profession iconic...as a result, it's a dream for many people - not just young people- to become a Ranger for the National Park Service.

I would get asked all the time for advice on how to get into the "green and gray."

And here is what I would tell them, and what I am telling you.

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If you want to be a Ranger, prepare yourself.  Get an applicable degree in history, English, natural resources and conservation, biology, recreation management...stuff like that.

If you are able, go to the nearest National Park and apply to be a volunteer.  Most of the Rangers I know, including me, started as volunteers.

Check USAjobs.gov weekly. search for National Park Service jobs.  All federal jobs are posted on USA.jobs, it is the only point of entry for all positions below executive level.

An honorable discharge from the military will give you a five or ten-point preference in the hiring process, which is a real advantage...the thanks of a grateful nation.

Add to all of that a large amount of patience and just know that it is difficult to get a job that hundreds of others are applying for.  

As a supervisor, I was involved in four hiring cycles.  For a seasonal job, it goes like this:

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The park determines the needs for the upcoming season, seasonal terms are no more than six months.

When the park determines how many seasonals it needs for the upcoming year the process begins and before too long the jobs are announced on USAjobs.gov.

Hopefuls start applying for those jobs. The application packet is pretty typical - the application, resume, references, cover letter (optional).  The application includes a questionnaire to determine your competencies.  The answers to each question are 1 through five.  1 being "I have no experience on this subject" and 5 being "I am considered to be an expert on this subject."

Caution: dirty little secret follows

Anyone, ANYONE, who has been involved in this process, either the applicant, or the reviewing officer will tell you to answer every (every) question with a 5.  No, it is not honest, but generally, any response other than a 5 will cause the application to be automatically rejected on the very first pass.  Nuts, isn't it?  But that's just the way it is.

Once you submit your electronic application, the process is out of your hands.

When the application period closes then the sorting begins.

Now suppose that for the ten (or so) positions that the park has advertised, there have been 300 applications...it is very competitive).  A computer makes the first sort, if applications are filled out incorrectly or if questionnaire questions have been missed or responded to with a 4 or below, the computer rejects them.

Now suppose 200 applications make it through the first sort, now a long list is generated of the qualified candidates with the veterans at the top.  At this point actual humans, like me, start sorting through the list and weight each candidate.  First, I'd look for people I knew, either volunteers or previous seasonals, if they were super people they would go on my list of finalists.  Now say, I have ten veterans and six people that I know and am confident in; now I start going through the rest of the list, reading resumes, and winnowing out the less qualified until I'm left with 40 people. So now there are 10 veterans, six "knowns" and 80 others...total of 96.  Now, those 96 applications are divvied up between a team of five or so supervisors.  Each supervisor will the call references and conduct telephone interviews with their candidates. Don't be discouraged because there are many veterans ahead of you on the list...in my experience, eight out of ten of those individuals will decline the position, simply because something else has come along, or there are other conflicts.  Sometimes a person will have a stellar resume but their interview doesn't go well.  Sometimes someone will interview well but there references tell us that they weren't a good employee.  All the while, each of the supervisors is giving a numerical score to each person that they interview.

Finally, the five supervisors sit down together with their lists and come up with the ten people that they will be offering the jobs to.  They'll also have a list of alternates.

Now they call the top ten and offer them a job. Usually, they happily accept, but frequently they decline the position; that's when we turn to our list of alternates.  Sometimes we would have to really "dig-deep" and actually go below our list of alternates.  Eventually all ten positions are filled.

That's how it works for both seasonal as well as permanent positions.

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Seasonal jobs open regularly, and are the "easiest" to get.  But do know that seasonal is not an automatic step to permanent.  Seasonal and Permanent are two separate gene-pools, however, a seasonal who has proven her or himself, will be in a very good position if a permanent position opens up at the park at which they are serving.

As I mentioned, on the occasions that I had a permanent position to fill on the National Mall, I would always turn first to the applications from seasonals that had already worked for me and had demonstrated that they are fabulous employees, they would move to the top of the list, just below the veterans. 

It is counter-intuitive, but the Park Service wants to see LONG resumes.  Pack it with every thing you've done.  For each job provide bulleted items..lots of details...make it easy for the reviewing officer to make sense of it all.

It is a difficult process and requires great patience and perseverance.  Countless people want the career, but few actually get the brass ring.  I was one of the lucky ones, though, even with a veteran's preference, it still took me eight and a half years to get a permanent position with the NPS...like I said, you have to be very patient...



It's worth it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

"A new chapter" is a pretty over-used phrase, nonetheless...

One year later...


Gosh...has it been a year already?  

I've been enjoying every (every) moment of this thing called retirement.  I'm healthier, happier, and younger than I was a year ago.  It's been a tonic.

In Fall I start at nearby Hagerstown Community College, to get an associates degree in visual arts.  How 'bout them apples?


Me at HCC


I've always been an artist (even posting some of my work on this blog as the years went by) but an entirely untrained one.  I'm going down this new path because I want the history, the rigor, and the training that a formal, academic, studio and classroom setting can bring.   Plus, I expect it to be really fun.



This is the Kepler Performing and Visual Arts Center; it's one of the newest buildings on campus. This is where I will be spending all of my classroom and studio-time.

I'm immensely looking forward to this experience, and I'm very excited to start on August 15, with Art (appreciation) 101  and Drawing 102.

I'll keep you posted as things develop; until then... 

gaudeamus igitur, baby!




Mannie

Friday, March 26, 2021

Old retired ranger Mannie would love to hear from you.

 Hi gang,

Though my rangering days are over, I'd be happy to talk with you about the parks I've worked at, or just rangering in general.  museumofamerica@myactv.net


Happy trails,

Mannie






Sunday, May 31, 2020

Trail's end

And here we are 777 posts later, and My Year of Living Rangerously has come to a close.  

Today I retire from the National Park Service.

So here's an interesting thing: This afternoon I was lounging around the house, just running-down the clock until my 5:00 pm retirement from the Park Service. On the Mall we've all been teleworking because of covid and I've been working from home for the past two and a half months.  Retiring in this vacuum was pretty anticlimactic...and a little bit sad.

Suddenly, a lightbulb went off over my head.

Before I knew it, I was walking out the door, in uniform (with facemark and anti-spit goggles) and making a bee-line to nearby Antietam National Battlefield, where I spent so many happy years.
I wasn't exactly sure what my plan was.

I got out of the car at the visitor center and spotted a family sitting on the steps of the New York monument, which overlooks much of the battlefield.  I headed toward them.

The day was perfect - 73 degrees, mostly sunny, a crystal-blue sky with puffy clouds, and my beautiful South Mountain looking down at us.

What followed was an impromptu 15-minute Q&A program.  They were enthusiastic and asked some great questions, and I was really bringing down the interpretive thunder, we were having a ball.

The dad was one of those people who think that the Battle of Antietam ended in a draw...by the time that I was done with him, he was convinced that it was a decisive Union victory.

I went out on my terms, and it was great to be a Ranger that these nice people will remember.



Thanks for staying with me as this blog progressed through 14 years of rangering. Some years I was posting like fury, and there were also a few years were the blog lay almost dormant.  

The ebb and flow of my entries was directly related to my enthusiasm for the places that I was working.  Antietam was responsible for hundreds of posts.  Those were happy days for me, as was my recent 60-day detail at Monocacy National Battlefield which was responsible for the wealth of posts and videos from January and February of this year.

These past six years in Washington DC on the National Mall were a different story altogether.  The daily five-hour commute would color any experience...and the bottom line is - I'm a "cannonball ranger", battlefields are where I belong, and where I am happiest.

"Power of place" is what works best for me as an interpretive Park Ranger; to be able to point to a spot on the ground and say "Here is where the 16th Connecticut was rolled up by A.P. Hill's division, or, here is the spot where McCausland was surprised by veterans Union soldiers when he was expecting only militia.  The immediacy of the place is exciting  for me, and exciting for the visitor...there is just no substitute for that experience, and you just don't get that on the National Mall.

So, my career had its ups and downs, but nonetheless, through it all, I got to be a US Park Ranger...an actual American icon.  Putting on that uniform every morning was a transformative experience, and the responsibility that went with it was palpable...as was the joy.

Being a Park Ranger for the National Park Service was, professionally, the thing of which I am most proud, and what I think was, next to my military service, my most important contribution.

It was worthy work, and I gave it my very best.  The greatest thrill, and the thing that I thought was of the most significance, were the times that I was able to fire the imagination of a child.  A trip to Gettysburg when I was nine started me on this journey, and I was glad to start other boys and girls on theirs.  An active interest in our history can inspire an active interest in citizenship, and that's the job of all of us adults - to inspire children to be the best citizens that they can be.

I've enjoyed the job, and the reporting of it in this blog, and I hope that you enjoyed those reports.

I keep other blogs which you may find interesting:
combat helmets.blogspot.com
toysoldiersforever.blogspot.com
as well as some others.  Tune in, you may enjoy them.

Very best wishes to all of you, and thanks for your company as we side by side, hiked the Civil War trail together.








Your pal,

Mannie Gentile
Park Ranger (ret.)


Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Looking back over fourteen years of Rangering.



On May 28, I will have been with the Park Service for Fourteen years.  Here's some photos.


Ranger Alann Schmidt and I during the transfer ceremony of the remains of a New York soldier that were found in the Cornfield at Antietam.


One of my favorite things was giving the orientation talk at Antietam.



 The best day.  Marrying my sweetheart in Dunker Church.



 Talking artillery on an Antietam hike.



Wrapping up the two-hour driving tour above Burnside Bridge...always my big finish.



Ranger Mannie...finder of lost children.



Making a video about wildland firefighting at Antietam.



When I was at Antietam, we had a lot of leeway in uniform...here I'm in cargo pants, the Park Service barn coat, and my trusty ball cap.



Beer on tap made tours run long (kidding).



Class A uniform for my wedding and talking to long-time Antietam volunteer Bob Murphy.



Freezing my tail off at the 2009 presidential inauguration.



Freezing my tail off at Antietam.



Ranger Mannie in black and white.



Three interpretive legends:  John Hoptak, Matt Atkinson, and yours truly.  All three of us could really "bring the interpretive thunder."



Posing in front of the mural I painted for the Antietam 150th.




Antietam:  the album cover photo.



What doesn't kill me makes me stronger.  I commute five hours a day because I work in Washington DC.


Having a good crew when working the Washington monument made all the difference, and this was one of the best:  me, the supervisor Mary Collins, the legendary Mike Townsend, rockstar Jason Barna, and the incomparable Ed Flemming.



Operating the elevator at the Washington Monument.



The social media crew for the Gettysburg 150th. NPS director John Jarvis is at center.



Artillery projectiles were my thing at Antietam.


Swearing in two new Junior Rangers at Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument.



Park Rangers are always good role models regarding proper nutrition.



Me and my minions at the Gettysburg 150th



Painting murals at Monocacy National Battlefield; a fabulous experience.



Leading a toy soldier-painting workshop at Monocacy National Battlefield.



For as much as I loved Antietam, my two-month detail at Monocacy was the most affirming experience of my adult working life.



I had a flair for wearing the iconic campaign hat.


Ranger Mannie
In quarantine, in Boonsboro Maryland