Ricardo Martinez grew up in the small town of San Luis, Colorado. His parents were both school teachers who ran a small cattle operation on a ranch near his home. Growing up in this environment gave Ricardo the opportunity to value the importance and origin of his culture, and the knowledge that everything produced comes from the men and women who spend their lives undertaking arduous and unglamorous work to make it happen.
Many know Ricardo as the acting deputy district ranger on the Carson National Forest. But this year, Ricardo was also recognized for his exceptional work as the project leader for the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. Ricardo says the unique opportunity allowed him to live out agency values. He refers to the experience as a “master course” in interdependence with national, state, local and non-profit partners.
What led you to the Forest Service and when did you start working here?
I started working for the Forest Service at the Albuquerque Service Center in January of 2011 on a veterans’ recruitment authority appointment. What drew me to the agency was its mission and its context. The idea of an agency whose motto is “caring for the land and serving people” closely aligns with my own core values of service, respect and competence. Getting to do that work out in nature and to the benefit of rural and mountain communities only adds to the incentive. Admittedly, I didn’t realize the Albuquerque Service Center is not ‘out in nature,’ but I’m glad I didn’t. I might have missed out on a rewarding work experience with amazing people.
Who or what inspired you growing up?
I was most inspired by the collective nature of the work that is undertaken in our communities in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. This is an area rich in history and culture, even as it lacked in economic resources. Annually, huge tasks were undertaken, including cleaning the acequias (irrigation ditch), plastering adobe buildings and hornos (adobe ovens), harvesting hay, beans, spinach, potatoes, corn and other agricultural products. It was all done by a lot of people coming together and doing the work both paid and unpaid. It was the kind of labor that forged community, and it showed me that with a group of people willing to harness its collective resources, there is nothing that they can’t accomplish.
What do you do in the Forest Service and what is your favorite part of your job?
In my permanent job, I am the program manager for the Limited English Proficiency Program in the Office of Civil Rights. My favorite part of my job is attending to the ‘serving people’ side of our motto. There is so much valuable information we communicate that affects the lives, safety and prosperity of people, and I am glad we take steps to ensure we reach as many eligible people as we can — irrespective of the language they speak. Additionally, there is tremendous value in sharing what we know, and gleaning what we can from as many people as possible. Communicating in more languages means exchanging information with more people, and I believe that the agency is better off by doing so.
For the last 12 months, I have been assigned as a deputy district ranger on the Carson National Forest, and the project leader for the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree. My favorite part of that assignment is that it is very much a showcase project that puts on display all that is great and challenging about being a leader in this agency. It represents an opportunity to live our agency values, to convene our amazing employees, and to share with partners in the accomplishment of a service project with benefits to be derived at the local, state and national level.
Describe a recent, current, or upcoming project that you’re working on.
Leading the 2019 U.S. Capitol Christmas Tree project has been one of the most unique and memorable experiences of my professional life. It has been a master course in interdependence with national, state, local and non-profit sector partners. Challenging certainly, but it has really driven home for me just how much shared stewardship has the potential to add capacity on a range of projects at a time when we so clearly need it. This project is just one of the many ways we can be in service to the American people. It is a privilege to get to serve people via such a feel-good effort.
What do you like to do for fun on your free time?
I enjoy many activities, from hunting and fishing, to running, reading and music. I value time disconnected from work to regain perspective. Most of all, I enjoy getting to spend time with my family — cooking, eating and enjoying time with those who matter most in my life.
What is your highest personal and professional achievement?
I have had the opportunity to serve on and lead several teams through successful projects. The greatest achievement I’ve had is prioritizing the humanity of the people with whom I have the privilege to work with. This was modeled to me by both my parents and grandparents. Work was a central feature of growing up on a ranch. And we are at our best when we remember that the people, ourselves and those around us, are the reason we are doing this to begin with. All of us engaged in the work are important and deserve respect. What will matter, are the meaningful experiences we share in the course of doing this work, and how we made people feel along the way. We must carry out the work competently, yes, but its accomplishment is hollow if we diminish people on our way.
How has your education, background, or personal experiences prepared you for the work that you do now?
I am a student of language and literature. My higher education, both Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees were in Spanish from the University of New Mexico. It may seem like an odd background for program management or line leadership, yet I consider myself lucky to have studied it. The way we describe our reality and the stories we create with the information we receive are central to how we respond to adversity. If we remember that everyone around us has a story, that we stand on the history of many who have come before us, and that perhaps the only thing we control is our own reaction to the information we receive, we are well positioned to respond deliberately and effectively to the challenges in our paths.
How would you like the public to perceive the work we do at the Forest Service?
I hope that the public sees what I see: an agency filled with bright, service-minded people that represent a unique credit to our country. Our work, be it researching new information, sharing with non-federal partners, or managing a forest or grassland on behalf of the American people, is a world-class asset that provides many benefits to the public, ranging from long term research all the way to wildfire response.
Do you have any advice for someone wanting to serve their country as a Forest Service employee?
I would tell them to go for it. There will be more great opportunities than time to do them all. The Forest Service is committed to a healthy work environment, and the opportunities for stewarding natural resources and positively affecting peoples’ lives are second to none.