In Texas, becoming a Ranger means something. The agency leads by example through its actions and forward thinking, without sacrificing its history and traditions. No matter your race or gender, anyone can be a Ranger if you work hard enough. In 2020, the Texas Rangers made history. After nearly 200 years since being formed by Stephen F. Austin, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) promoted the first female captains.
“The women actually officially joined the ranks of the Rangers in the 1980s, and now we have two ladies who are captains,” said Christine Rothenbush, Marketing and Development Coordinator. “They are climbing the ranks and I hope I will see a chief one day.”
Becoming a Ranger is part of the job few see or will experience firsthand. It is not merely the requirements to be eligible to apply for this coveted role, but the daily work and selfless toll sacrificed for others.
“To be a Texas Ranger, like any law enforcement professional, it’s all about service to your community, service to the citizens, and in this state, it’s the man I had to be to be a Texas Ranger,” said Matt Cawthon, a retired Texas Ranger. “To me, what it means to serve Texas is to give selflessly for people. You’re looking for justice, and that’s what it’s all about. There are millions of people in Texas. We have dedicated our lives to that service, and there’s no more fulfilling job that I can imagine that an individual can have.”
Although many will apply with the required requisites for the job, only the cream of the crop make it to the Rangers.
A small force of 167 Rangers cover a state with about 30 million citizens scattered in 254 counties, spanning 270,000 square miles.
When a position opens up, hundreds of men and women apply. To be considered, each applicant must be a citizen of the United States, be in excellent physical condition, and have an outstanding record of at least eight years’ experience with a bona fide law enforcement agency. The applicant must also be currently employed with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), in the position of a commissioned officer with the rank of at least Trooper II.
“As you begin in the Highway Patrol, the reason that it’s eight years or so before you can get in, is that learning the laws,” explained Richard Sweaney, a retired Ranger. “Learning how to handle situations, learning how to remain calm, how to control yourself, even though the adrenaline is flowing. The ability to make quick decisions. You know, in a matter of split seconds, those things are learned through your experience.”
Rangers master these crucial requirements for the job, separating themselves from all others.
“You have to be of the highest moral integrity,” said Cawthon. “You have to have an excellent work ethic. That’s the individual that the Rangers are looking for prior to employment. To be a Texas Ranger, you have to be honest. You have to be a cut above.”
Rangers are also expected to work without supervision. The nearest supervisor could be as far as 100 miles away from a Ranger and an ongoing investigation.
“You have to be able to make decisions on your own according to law and policy,” said Cawthon.
As the agency has modernized, candidates have more of an opportunity to explore different areas of law enforcement. In the past, candidates would compete for whatever the open position might be. As the agency grew in size and capabilities, Rangers could move toward a particular track that they excelled in or was of interest.
“What I liked to do best was hunting fugitives and people who didn’t want to be found,” said Cawthon. “And today, even with all of the sophistication in all of the gear they have, sometimes that’s what you still have to do. You have to be boots on the ground, and you have to run them down. Find the bad guys.”
When Rangers such as Sweaney or Cawthon would successfully de-escalate a situation or track down a dangerous threat to the community, those wins are not celebrated or touted publicly. In some ways, their jobs and place in society are often a thankless job, which is by design.
“Typically, a Texas Ranger will work with a local or another state agency, and when there is a success when there’s arrest when there’s a conviction, it’s not the Ranger that steps forward to take the limelight,” said Cawthon. “We allow them to take credit. The Rangers assist. The Rangers may take the lead, but the Rangers never take the limelight.”
Being a Ranger doesn’t come without personal sacrifice. Despite the honor of serving the state of Texas and protecting your fellow citizens, it’s at home where families face the invisible toll of the job.
“It is hard on family life,” said Cawthon.” You miss some of your family functions because duty calls, and we are here to serve the citizens of the state of Texas, and we are on call 24 hours a day.”
To process the challenges of the job and juggle the pressures of work-life balance at home, there’s a mentality ingrained in Rangers early on and hardened over time.
“I think the mentality to become a Ranger is very important because the type of people that we hire and the most successful are people that have confidence in their abilities,” said Sweaney. “You have to be loyal to the citizens in your area.”
With the rise in popularity and elevated national profile, the Rangers recognize and are aware of their influence on children across Texas and the U.S.
“During that time, my office was attached to the Ranger Museum here in Waco, Texas,” Cawthon added. “If not daily, it was several times a week that we’d have a knock on our door and some family would be standing there with a small child. And that child would want to meet a real Texas Ranger. That’s something that we never took lightly.”
On January 21, the Texas Rangers return to television, in the new CW series Walker. Jared Padalecki stars as Cordell Walker, a widower and father of two, who returns home to Austin after being long undercover. He soon discovers that a lot has changed since being away and Walker must work on getting his own home back in order.
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