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Posted 4/13/2012

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By JC Delgadillo
San Francisco District

SANTA ROSA, Calif. — Some say U.S. Army Corps of Engineers park rangers are among the Corps' most versatile employees. They go from smiling and educating visitors at approximately 140 recreation sites to hand-to-hand combat if need be. Nearly 16 million visitors come out to recreation sites within the Corps' South Pacific Division, an area encompassing 10 states in the Southwest. (Five are shared with other divisions.)

South Pacific Division rangers labor, often alone, throughout 140 thousand acres of land, 61 thousand acres of water and 330 miles of shoreline. Their duties are varied and include educating swimmers and boaters about injury prevention, leading interpretive programs about threatened and endangered species, and developing partnerships with groups who focus on environmental stewardship. Most visitors at recreation sites are peaceful, but tragic news stories about the killing of rangers, like National Park Service Ranger Margaret Anderson who was gunned down while on duty at Rainier National Park, serve as a solemn reminder that the work rangers do can be dangerous.

To guard against visitors who may seek to harm personnel, rangers participated in defensive tactics training during a ranger conference held in Santa Rosa, Calif. in April.

Among the trainers was Miki Fujitsubo of Sacramento District's Planning Division. In addition to being a senior landscape architect and water resources planner for the Corps, Fujitsubo is a martial artist and defensive tactics instructor. The training rangers experienced included a combination of physical, mental, and spiritual tactics. The goal was for rangers to develop personal confidence and genuine empowerment while also learning how to dominate an aggressor if need be.

"What you're learning here could save your life or the life of someone else," said Fujitsubo, who also led a discussion about the Army values which are loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage. "It's not about creating conflict, it's about protecting life," he said.

Sacramento District's senior ranger, Jon Friedman, added it's also about using all the tools available to de-escalate a situation. Tools include correct wear of the uniform to promote respect and authority, verbal communication such as issuing oral warnings, and written citations. Other tactics include using radios to get backup, pepper spray, and escape maneuvers, not just the physical defensive tactics like striking, he said. Understanding regulations, policies and laws as well as developing good relationships with visitors are important methods to prevent the need to use physical force, he said.

"You are only going to be as good as you practice," said Friedman, who encouraged rangers to spend equal time honing knowledge about regulations and laws as they do physical maneuvers.