Monday, September 27, 2010

Some Thoughts On An Incredible Week

Daybreak over Antietam Battlefield, September 17, 1862
[Photograph by Dave Maher]
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For as long as I can remember, even from my youngest days, I dreamed of one day becoming a Park Ranger at a Civil War battlefield. The war caught my interest at a very early age, and it has remained a consuming passion to this day. When my family and I would travel to Civil War sites, I remember looking up to the Ranger and thinking, "That must be the coolest job in the world. Definitely something I would like to do when I grow up." Well do I remember the programs delivered by Rangers at Gettysburg, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Richmond, Chancellorsville, Appomattox and elsewhere, but some especially stick out, including a Pickett's Charge program presented by Troy Harman, and one haunting presentation delivered by a ranger working at Guinea Station, in the small house where Stonewall Jackson died. These were the people I looked up to growing up, aspiring to one day join their ranks. Letters written to Rangers while I was in high school and college inquiring of working with the Park Service were all responded to, and all with kindness and encouragement. Then, in January 2005, after completing my schooling, I filled out an application to volunteer at Antietam National Battlefield, and I still remember the interview I had with Ranger Christie Stanczak, the park's volunteer coordinator. I was taken on and on my first day, I attended a Battlefield-in-a-Box program delivered by Ranger Keith Snyder, which, again, served as one of those never-to-be-forgotten Park moments. And well do I remember the day--it was Saturday, May 20, 2006--when I heard a knock on my apartment door and saw the mail carrier standing there with a manilla envelope. It was an offer letter--a letter I still have, envelope and all--to work as a Park Ranger, GS-5, at Antietam National Battlefield. A lifelong dream was realized.

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2010 witnessed the start of my fifth season at Antietam, and this past September 17th was the second battle anniversary during which I participated in the day-long battlefield hikes. It is difficult to describe how it feels to be there, on the battlefield, on the anniversary, presenting these programs, but it is a humbling experience.

It was a beautiful day. . .the weather ideal for a ten-hour-long, eight and a half or so mile hike. With me that day were Rangers Keith Snyder and Brian Baracz, two of the best Rangers the National Park Service has to offer. Few can convey the meaning of the battle, its significance, and help you connect to a place better than Keith, and there are few, if any, who know the battle as well, and in such great detail, and can make it as clear as Brian. Joining us on the all-day hike were roughly 130 hardy souls, many who have been there before on anniversary.
My thanks to friend and Antietam volunteer Dave Maher for allowing to post some of his pictures below. . .

Sunrise over the Cornfiled

Rangers Hoptak, Snyder, and Baracz preparing for the "Morning in the Cornfield"

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A Large Group of Devoted Antietam Enthusiasts and Scholars
[Photograph by Mannie Gentile]
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Twilight on Anniversary

Darkness Descends on the Sunken Road

Keith Snyder focused this year on battlefield preservation, while Brian and I went through the battle narration. I focused specifically, or at least spent a good deal of time discussing the role of the Stonewall Division and that of the Ninth Army Corps, the soldiers of which had the most difficult assignment of any Union force during the battle, especially when one walks the same rough, sometimes rugged, and everywhere difficult terrain over which they had to attack.

It was a great day, and excepting one very embarrassing moment when I got turned around near Snavely's Ford and pointed in the wrong direction, one I will long remember. Again, it is an awesome feeling to know that there I was, once this kid who dreamed of working at a Civil War Park, helping to lead the hikes on the anniversary of one of, if not the war's most significant battle.

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And, as if this were not humbling enough, a few days later, following a busy anniversary weekend, Ranger Mannie Gentile and I traveled to DC. . .spending some time at the US Navy Yard first, but then heading across the river for an awards ceremony. Ranger Stanczak nominated us for an Excellence in Interpretation Award for our development of the "Become a Civil War Scout" education program. And although we did not walk away with the award, the nomination itself means a lot and is an honor of which I am extremely proud.

Mannie and I near the Barry at the Navy Yard
[Photograph by Mannie Gentile]

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When I was growing up, I looked up to Park Rangers; yet, throughout all of this busy, incredible week, I realized that I still do, only now I have the great honor and privilege to work alongside them at one of the United States' best preserved, most serene National Parks.

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