During my graduate program at MSU I tried to take as many 19th Century History courses as possible. In addition, I was particularly interested in Ulysses S. Grant, so when I could I did book reviews on Grant books and wrote term papers on Grant topics. For instance, for my American West class I wrote a paper on Grant’s Peace Policy, and for my Civil War and Reconstruction class I wrote about Grant’s relationship with Charles Sumner, Santo Domingo, and the election of 1872. I opted not to write a thesis, although my seminar paper on Wilson’s Creek in History and Memory ended up being thesis length anyway. I maintained a 4.0 G.P.A while working fulltime at the battlefield. I knew though, that my employment would end upon graduation, so I kept a close eye on USAJobs for possibilities.
I applied for a temporary one year GS-4 Park Guide position at Arlington House. I thought I was applying for a term position. Term positions include health benefits which I had not had for years. I didn’t realize that there is even such an animal as a temporary one year position. I thought the jobs were either 1039 seasonal, term (1-4 years), or permanent. I was wrong. Parks can hire on a temporary basis, keep you as long as they want or let you go when they want, and not provide benefits. Ever since, I’ve wondered why a park would ever advertise a 1039 or a term position, but I’ve actually seen very few temporary positions announced. At any rate, I was offered the job at Arlington House.
I was to report a few months later, after I had completed my graduate program. In the meantime I continued to look for better opportunities. I applied for and was offered a GS-5 seasonal position at Appomattox. I wanted to go there, but it turned out the job was only going to last a couple of months. I just couldn’t afford to risk being out of work that soon. I then applied for and was offered a GS-5 seasonal position at Ft. Vancouver. For personal family reasons, because it was a GS-5, and because Grant had been stationed there, I really wanted to accept, but this one was only going to last through the summer; about four months. So I called the Site Manager at Arlington House to talk about my dilemma. Miraculously, he told me to go to Ft. Vancouver for the summer and he would still bring me on afterwards. He said the experience I would gain at Ft. Vancouver would benefit Arlington House when I got there.
I have no doubt that my 5 points veterans preference helped me get these offers, but I also believe I was well qualified. In fact, I have applied for several positions that I did not get. A couple of them still puzzle me. For example, at this same time two term GS-5 positions were announced at Lincoln Home. I applied thinking I should have a great chance at getting one. I didn’t. I know one of the guys who did. He was a young college grad who had been a seasonal with me in 2006 and had returned for the 2007 season. I was now close to getting my MA, had worked at Wilson’s Creek for almost a year, and I was a preference eligible veteran, which he was not. But he got one of those positions. He is a great guy, very capable, and again, the NPS was lucky to have him. I count him as a good friend. He worked two years on that term appointment, applied for a permanent position that he was well qualified for and didn’t get it. He’s now out of the Park Service, and it’s the NPS’s loss.
If you are reading this and you don’t know about or understand veteran’s preference points in federal hiring, let me say this: when you submit an application you earn a score of up to 100 points depending on your qualifications and experience. Veterans who have served during specific time periods when the country was engaged in a conflict get an additional 5 points and handicapped veterans get ten. So a preference eligible veteran can get 105 or 110 points but the most a non-veteran, no matter how qualified, can get is 100. See here:
Theoretically, a well qualified and experienced non-veteran could get a job over a minimally qualified veteran. I say “theoretically” because that doesn’t seem to be what is happening and I will try to explain why I believe that is the case later. While I’m on the subject, there is also a program called VRA, Veteran’s Recruitment Act, through which certain veterans, basically those who have actually been in war zones, can be hired without going through the competitive process. See here:
I got my M.A. in history in May of 2008, and my wife and I hit the road to Ft. Vancouver, pulling our fifth-wheel trailer behind us. Just our luck, fuel prices skyrocketed that year. In Vancouver we found a decent RV Park not far from the park. I thoroughly enjoyed my summer working at Ft. Vancouver; in fact, I would love to go back there. The park does a number of special events each year, there is lots of living history, and it is a beautiful area. I definitely benefitted from my experience there. Unfortunately, my wife was never able to find a temporary job while we were out there, so our finances continued to suffer.
While at Ft. Vancouver, I continued to watch USAJobs. Lo and behold, a term GS-4 Park Guide position opened at U.S. Grant NHS in St. Louis. I applied. I still had the job at Arlington House, but the Grant job was an actual term position with health benefits and in a much lower cost of living area. Besides, truth be told, I was much more comfortable with the idea of interpreting Grant than Lee. I got the job. I had to call ArIington House to tell them I wasn’t coming after all that time. I felt rather bad about it, but… In mid September 2008 we headed back to Missouri. I honestly believe that I was overqualified for the job. I was going from a GS-5 back to a GS-4, but it was term so that was a step in the right direction. Not long after I started there the Chief of Interp told me he had several equally qualified applicants and that the deciding factor was the last digit of my Social Security number. Somehow, I had the lucky number. Wow.