In the 1950s and ’60s, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union captivated our nation. An urban legend has President John F. Kennedy asking an employee at a NASA center what he did. “I’m helping put a man on the moon, Mr. President,” the man replied. While not the expected answer from a janitor, the employee’s response voiced the unified culture of “One Agency, One Vision” at NASA then.

Our “One Service” vision is “to conserve the nature of America,” and I want all employees, just as that NASA worker did, to value the importance of their job and the contribution they make to our collective success.

Our refuges would not be the jewels they are without each and every staff member—regardless of grade, title or duties. Everyone plays a role in conservation.

We’re lucky to have skilled wage–grade professionals in our ranks like “wetlands artist” Dennis Vicente, maintenance work leader at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico. Deputy refuge manager Aaron Mize calls what Vicente does “not just a science, but an art.” And Vicente is a master at crafting habitat for birds at Bosque.

Any good refuge manager will extoll the value of these highly skilled workers without hesitation.

“Many times a manager will ask, ‘How can we make this happen?’” says John Blitch, national heavy equipment coordinator and a wage–grade employee for 18 years. “And that’s when we really go to work and do our best stuff—building access roads for handicapped hunters, creating photo blinds for the public, restoring critical habitat, installing/building water control structures for fish raceways, creating walking trails and boardwalks, farming.”

The Service would also suffer greatly without sharp administrative staffers, who do anything and everything to support the work of their refuges.

Photo of maintenance work leader Dennis Vicente.
Maintenance work leader Dennis Vicente takes a measurement for a wetland water delivery ditch and control structure at New Mexico’s Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge. Deputy refuge manager Aaron Mize says that what Vicente does is “not just a science, but an art.” (Sean Brophy/USFWS)

Bob Strader, project leader at Lower Mississippi River Refuge Complex, calls administrative staff “the glue that binds us together and the oil that keeps us going.”

In his office, it’s administrative officer Charman Cupit.

Cupit, Strader says, “wears many hats and wears them well”—from budgeting and information technology management to photography and volunteer coordination.

At Quivira Refuge in Kansas, says manager Mike Oldham, Christine LaRue is the budget analyst but also a radio dispatcher during fires, educator, volunteer, greeter and all–around problem–solver.

Administrative officer Ginger Taylor at Southeast Louisiana Refuge Complex is so good at budgeting that the complex is able to spend its funds “down to the last penny” yet never go over budget, project leader Ken Litzenberger says.

Whatever hats our wage–grade and administrative professionals may be wearing at a given time, don’t for a second doubt their vital role in conservation.

As Pacific Southwest Region inventory and monitoring coordinator Karen Laing says of her agreements technician and administrative officer, Rita Howard, these dedicated employees “inspire us all to redouble our work for wildlife conservation.”

To all who work behind the scenes to support conservation, I hope you know how much I and the entire Service value you. The successes we’ve achieved are yours as well, and you should be proud.

The Service’s National Conservation Training Center is working on an exhibit about wage–grade professionals and all that they have made possible.