There are a couple of fresh faces behind the counter at the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area visitor center, and both are military veterans.
New to the interpretive staff at the Cal S. Taggart Visitor Center are Lovell native Jerry Anderson and Todd Johnson, who recently retired as a lieutenant colonel following a 22-year career in the U.S. Army.
Both Anderson and Johnson are park guides and are working their first jobs with the National Park Service.
After his retirement from the Army, Johnson was working in Allentown, Penn., when he decided to look into a Park Service career and heard about the opportunity in Wyoming.
“It was something I definitely wanted to pursue,” he said.
Born in Minnesota, Johnson grew up in Wisconsin and upon his graduation from high school attended Ripon College in Wisconsin on an ROTC scholarship, double-majoring in history as well as politics and government. He even spent a semester in England, which he said was a great opportunity and piqued his interest in seeing the world.
He was commissioned as a second lieutenant and an armor officer at Ft. Knox but said all of his operational experience was as a scout and operating Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles.
And see the world he did. Johnson said he was able to serve in a variety of echelons all over the world including South Korea, Alaska, Hawaii, Kentucky and Italy, earning a master’s degree in the process, then serving deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as a tour at the Pentagon. He served as the aide-de-camp to the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division, visiting forward operating bases throughout the country, and he worked with NATO in Afghanistan.
After his deployment to Afghanistan, he served as a battalion commander in Hawaii for two years, then taught at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., in the National Security Affairs Dept. for two years before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in September of 2016.
He received the Legion of Merit Award upon his retirement and the Bronze Star for his service in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
He got a job in finance in Allentown, Penn., but decided to do something different.
“My family and I have been lucky enough to travel, and we’ve been to over 120 national parks,” Johnson said. “I’ve always loved national parks, the whole concept, and I love the mission. I’ve developed an affinity for what they do. I thought this was an opportunity to pursue something really cool.”
Johnson and his wife, Amy, have two daughters, Emma, 12, and Audrey, 9. The family remains in Pennsylvania for now but will join him in Wyoming soon.
Jerry Anderson grew up in Lovell and is a 1971 graduate of Lovell High School. He played football for Snow College in Utah as an outside linebacker for a year, then served a two-year LDS mission in Tulsa, Okla. After his return, he earned a B.A. outdoor education with an elementary ed and professional agency emphasis and worked as the Lovell Community Education/Recreation Director for more than 10 years before returning to school at MSU-Billings to earn a certificate in special education, health and physical education.
He worked in special education at School District No. 1 for about six years through 2000, in the process earning a master’s degree from Lesley College. He coached football for head coach Ben Smith at Rocky Mountain High School and was the head middle school wrestling coach in Deaver.
Anderson moved on to School District No. 2 in Lovell in 2000, continuing in K-12 special education and coaching football and wrestling until his retirement in 2013.
A member of the Wyoming National Guard since 1984, Anderson was deployed to Iraq for a year in 2004-05 as a liaison network operator tracking troops as they ran their missions, then retired from the Guard in 2006.
Asked why he decided to “un-retire” after four years, Anderson noted, “I liked the free time, but I missed being around people. My main goal was to get back in circulation a little bit. You miss the routine and the schedule. And this was an opportunity to practice my outdoor recreation stuff.”
A scoutmaster for 12 or 13 years, Anderson still served on the Scout Committee for Troop 18 and is a merit badge counselor. He said he will try to design programs at Bighorn Canyon around merit badge qualifications.
Jerry and his wife, Terri, have five children: Kimberly Cutler of Rock Springs, Lindsay Lindsay of Cowley, Matt Anderson of Springfield, Mo., Nick Anderson of Billings and Tyler Anderson of Pocatello, Idaho.
“These guys are both military veterans and will do a great job,” Bighorn Canyon Chief of Interpretation Christy Fleming said of her new staff members. “In
addition to running the visitor center, they will be working with schools, volunteers, the website, social media, programming and public outreach. I am super excited to have both of them on. The extra year-round visitor center person helps us to do more outreach and school programming.
“Teachers can start calling and scheduling school programs in November after the guys get settled in. Jerry is great because he already knows the area, and Todd will be a great addition with new perspectives and ideas.”
By David Peck