MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. -- The station's two range wardens now wear new badges and carry a new title while they patrol the ranges surrounding Yuma.
In a ceremony March 19, Col. James J. Cooney, station commanding officer, swore in Del Maslen and Michael Waliszewski as U.S. Marine Corps conservation law enforcement officers.
The two men, both retired Marines, became station range wardens in 2001 after control of the Barry M. Goldwater Range was transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of Defense.
The land east of the Mohawk Mountain Range was put in the care of Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix, while the part of the range west of there went to the air station.
This process also required the station to patrol and enforce applicable laws upon the land.
"The Marine Corps needed the ability to enforce conservation laws and recreation," said Maslen. "It called for someone that was basically the equivalent to park rangers to do that."
Since this was a new position aboard the air station, the new range wardens had to start from scratch, including designing badges and uniforms.
"There were no real regulations existing for us, and every other Marine Corps base was doing something different," Maslen explained. "(Marine Corps Base) Camp Pendleton (Calif.) has always used Marines to work alongside the civilian game wardens."
Although the air station is relatively small in comparison to many other Marine Corps installations, there has never been a shortage of work for the wardens.
"We're a little different than other bases," said Waliszewski. "No other base shares a border with Mexico, and we're the only one that really has any type of recreational activities in the ranges."
Of the approximately 1,080 square miles of land within the Chocolate Mountains and Barry M. Goldwater Range, about 800 of that is open for public use. An estimated 4,000 permits were issued in 2003 for access onto the range by civilians.
Additionally, Yuma's winter visitor tourists flock to the ranges in high numbers to ride dirt bikes, explore the area or check out historical sites.
The Devil's Highway, a stretch of road that runs through the range, was used by the Spanish and goldminers more than a century ago, and is a popular attraction for out-of-towners.
The wardens, whose two previous main functions were to protect the natural resources and to keep people from wandering astray and disrupting the military training areas, had to learn as they went along with this unique job.
In an attempt to standardize how all Marine Corps installations handle their ranges, the Corps has now begun swearing in personnel as conservation law enforcement officers.
"Up until now, the range wardens have been part of an installation-run program," explained Ron Pearce, station range manager. "Now it's a Headquarters Marine Corps program."
Although the new officers' job functions won't change with the new title, new credentials are part of the package.
The officers now also carry the title of deputy game wardens of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The Marine Corps plans to swear up to 17 conservation law enforcement officers in the near future, each given a new title and badge. For the two men in Yuma, the new badges carry a special meaning.
"To us, our new badges represent a sense of accomplishment," said Maslen. "In just about two and a half years, we went from being a rag-tag position to a nationally-recognized position."
"We went from being recognized by the commanding officer of this installation to being recognized by Headquarters Marine Corps and U.S. Fish and (Wildlife Service)," added Waliszewski. "It really gives credibility to the program."