If I could do it all over again I would earn a degree in public history and work for the National Park Service at a historic site. Over the past ten years I’ve had a number of opportunities to help out with various NPS projects and the work is always rewarding. It has given me the opportunity to work with some incredibly talented historians and passionate educators. On moving to Boston I decided to explore opportunities beyond the classroom and the NPS was high on that list. Over the past few weeks I’ve made some wonderful new friends in the NPS here in Boston and it looks like I will be involved in organizing events over the course of the next year for the Civil War sesquicentennial.
As for more permanent work, the response has been less than enthusiastic. It’s not that my new contacts don’t believe that I am qualified for most of their positions as an interpreter/educator; in fact, I’ve been told numerous times that I am over-qualified. The problem is with the hiring process and what comes up more than anything else is the veteran’s preference. If I understand it correctly the federal government gives preference to candidates who have served in the military. If a veteran meets the minimum qualifications for a position he/she is given preference. I recently came up against this wall when I decided to apply for an entry-level position as an interpreter (GS-05).
My friend Mannie Gentile, who works for the NPS at Antietam, recently asked if this preference is fair. Hell yes it is fair. I think it is safe to say that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been little more than blips on our national radar so any assistance the federal government can give to our returning veterans is well deserved and very much needed. Here is a comment from Mannie’s blog.
I respect the hard work, study, and effort made by many students. But while they worked hard at home, others put their own careers and college on hold to serve our nation, and to put themselves in harms way. Veterans are not getting a hand out here. They bring a maturity, level-headedness, experience and world view to the table perhaps not shared by their non-military colleagues. It is not a handout but a recognition of the experience that veterans bring. And what is wrong with our nation giving them a break in hiring. They are there for us. I think it is fair.
Here is another perspective.
I have a medical condition that basically prohibits me from serving in the military. So, what about me? How is that fair? Sorry that god had other plans for me. Is that your best answer? I could never serve in the military, yet I love serving my country. Being a park ranger is a way I can serve my country. Why make it harder for me to serve? [Update: As well as this incredibly thoughtful comment from Jared Frederick.]
The policy may also not be fair to those sites that are looking to fill certain positions. I’ve heard at least one case of a job being canceled as a result of the candidate selection process. The NPS will also have to consider whether the policy helps to advance the goals of a new study conducted with the Organization of American Historians [pdf] on the state of history within its park boundaries.
As for me, I am unlikely to ever apply for another NPS position. I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity to work with the NPS here in Boston and elsewhere. In the end, it seems silly for me to ask whether this policy is fair. I’ve enjoyed so many opportunities to pursue my goals in relative safety, in part, because there are men and women who volunteer to defend this nation. All I can really say is, thank you.