Last weekend I had distinct the honor and privilege of awarding two of our park rangers at Abiquiu Lake in New Mexico the Meritorious Civilian Service for Bravery.
I did this in front of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, Mr. John Woodley, along with the Division and District Commanders, the employees who service this project, and the families of these two great Americans.
It was one of the most satisfying moments of my career.
Our lakes see nearly 400 million visitors each year. And our great park rangers provide valuable service and support each visitor needs to have a safe and enjoyable time at these projects. When we think of our park rangers, we think of our education programs and partnerships. We think of our family and friends camping, boating and fishing. We think of our children playing on the beaches and making life-long memories.
But what we sometimes forget is the incredible responsibility we place in our rangers’ hands. You see, while our family and friends are boating, fishing and camping, our rangers are standing by watching out for our loved ones, ensuring a safe enviroment in order to protect them from nature’s wrath and…sometimes…from each other.
One December morning at Abiquiu Lake in New Mexico, ranger Alfred Chavez was on routine patrol of the project when he saw a suspicious unoccupied vehicle parked next to a pump house with it’s door, normally locked, standing wide open. Two men emerged from the pump house, and one carried a revolver. Alfred thought quickly - and he attempted to flee what could have been a deadly situation, but it was too late. Two shots were fired, one barely missed his head, and the other shattered his right knee. He dropped to the ground. Despite the pain and fear for his life, Alfred had the presence of mind to lay motionless, leading the assailants to think he was dead. He used his training and experience to make the right decision, which allowed him to take note of the vital details of the attack and descriptions of the perpetrators so that law enforcement could take appropriate action.
And in the minutes after the attack, with only minimal details received from a quick phone call, his teammate and friend, fellow ranger Eric Garner, sprang to action. Placing himself in an unknown degree of danger, he provided valuable life-saving support to his friend and colleague, all while not knowing if or where the assailants lurked.
In a book called “The Purpose Driven Life,” by Rick Warren, he describes a characteristic of good leadership as “not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”
These two rangers are the best examples of thinking less of themselves and more about others, and they serve as models to all of us the value of selfless service. They show the true character of the men and woman of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and we are proud to serve alongside of them.