On Feb. 3, 2020, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers rangers and natural resource specialists from across Arkansas and Southern Missouri gathered at the Russellville Project Office in Russellville, Arkansas for a weeklong Ranger Workshop.
The workshop is five days of training, networking, and professional development targeted at improving ranger efficiency and cooperation, and is the brainchild of Outdoor Recreation Planner Brooke Thomason with the Little Rock District.
Thomason, who is from Ashdown, Arkansas, spent 16 years as a natural resource specialist at Millwood Lake. With so much working knowledge of the challenges that rangers face day-to-day, she wanted a way to help them come together as a team.
“I’ve been a ranger my whole career. In my new role, I really wanted to find a way to make more of a difference to the rangers in the field,” said Thomason. “There’s a lot of mandatory training that we have to do every year, and I wanted a way to combine the training we need, with opportunities to network, collaborate on shared problems, and learn how to better speak and operate with one voice.”
With a wide-range of training opportunities that include everything from legal and tort advice from the district counsel, to personal protection and self-defense, the attending rangers are faced with a challenging mix of technical and practical tasks they must complete. It’s a lot of information, and the daily schedule of the workshop is packed. Lunches are short, and the training courses leave little time during the day for rangers to visit, swap stories, and share experiences. To help with this, Thomason scheduled several after-hours social activities throughout the week.
“It’s easy to get too focused on work,” Thomason said. “To work together, we need to know one another outside of our time in uniform.”
This is something that Col. Eric Noe, commander of the Little Rock District agrees with whole heartedly.
“I love my work, but I don’t live to work,” he told the assembled rangers on the first day of training. “We want you here long-term, so accomplish your missions, but take care of yourselves, take care of your families, and keep an eye on your future while you’re doing it.”
In spite of initial worries, Thomason found the rangers engaged and enthusiastic throughout the workshop, with several attendees taking time during the day to engage with her and let her know that they thought that something like the workshop was long overdue.
The feedback was extremely welcome, and Brooke is already thinking about how the next workshop could be improved. That said, she feels like one of her primary goals has already been met, that of building trust between the rangers, the communities they serve and the Corps at large.
“I want the rangers to walk away knowing we’re one team,” Thomason said. “We may work in different areas, but we’re all rangers, we share the same problems, and we can solve them better together.”