Ding Welcomes Army Vet to Staff


Urban Ranger Janet Sokoloski is the newest member of the ‘Ding’ Darling National Refuge staff. Sokoloski joins ‘Ding’ as part of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Urban Outreach initiative. Sokolowski is a veteran of the war in the Middle East where she taught marksmanship to allies in Afghanistan.

The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s Urban Outreach initiative expands the mission of national wildlife refuges in the community, especially to low-income neighborhoods that don’t typically have the resources to interact with refuge wildlife and conservation ethics.

One of the outreach programs operated by ‘Ding’ Darlings, is its interactive mobile classroom WoW, Wildlife on Wheels. Supervisory Refuge Ranger Toni Westland, who heads up the refuge’s outreach efforts says, “WoW has received rave reviews and lots of love from our local Title 1 schools such as Tice Elementary, where we have recently concentrated efforts. Federal budget cuts have taxed staff in keeping WoW vital, but the “Ding” Darling Wildlife Society has helped make it possible by funding the construction of WoW and its staffing. With Janet now coming aboard as a federally supported member of the team, it’s a huge relief and asset to our mission.”

Originally from Massachusetts, Sokolowski moved to the area from Fort Benning, Georgia, where she worked as an operations and resource manager, scheduling federal land and airspace to train and test weapons from .22 caliber up to .50 caliber rifles and machine guns, missiles, drones, radio equipment, and unmanned vehicles. She has the distinguished honor of being one of the few females in the U.S. Army awarded the President’s Hundred Tab and Excellence-in-Competition Gold Distinguished Badge for competing in national marksmanship competitions. “We hired Janet based on her skill set, passion, organizational skills, lengthy 20 years’ experience teaching diverse audiences, and eagerness to learn,” said Westland.

Sokoloski says she’s already loving her new home and job and Sanibel Island. “It is a sense of security, where people are genuinely looking out after you and your children, a community that is tightknit. The refuge is like a tropical island somewhere far away, but it is in really our own backyard.”