Frederick W. Olison serves as the Chief of Staff for the Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Dallas, Texas, a position he has held since July 2012. The chief of staff is responsible for staff operations and policies associated with more than 2,800 employees across the region. Olison is a key integrator for focusing the efforts of the regional headquarters staff and four engineer districts to best accomplish the commander’s intent. He is the principal advisor to the SWD Commander and Deputy Commander in his assigned program areas.
Olison has worked for the Corps of Engineers for 11 years. Before taking on the role as chief of staff he served as SWD’s senior environmental engineer for the Planning and Policy Division.
Olison is also a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, where he served for more than 25 years. His time in service included a deployment to Iraq in 2003 and a mobilization to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 2008.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1991 from Louisiana State University. He completed postgraduate education at the Air Force Institute of Technology in Environmental Science and is a Registered Environmental Manger. He also holds a Master of Science degree in Project Management and a Master of Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College.
Born in Selma, Alabama in 1964, Olison shared his mother’s experience as a protester in his hometown. During a peaceful protest, police were called in to disperse the crowd. As the clash escalated and protesters ran for safety, Olison’s mother fell. As a mounted officer was about to strike her with a cattle prod, he realized she was pregnant and chose not to and let her go. The knowledge of that event has led Olison to a call to service and give back to his church, community and nation as a military and civil service member.
One cannot talk about important sites in Black History without discussing Selma, best known for the 1960s Selma Voting Rights Movement and the Selma to Montgomery marches. The activism in Selma generated national attention to social justice, and was an impetus for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed by Congress to authorize federal oversight and enforcement of constitutional rights of all citizens.
Q. Who or what inspired you to choose your career field?
A. It’s always been my father. He’s good with his hands. We worked on cars together. Working with him is where my love for taking things apart comes from. Where we differ is I don’t like to get my hands as dirty, and I would wash my hands every time I got a chance. My father would always laugh and say you need to make sure you get an education because you will never make a living if you have to get your hands dirty.
My high school electronics teacher also helped put things in motion for me. I liked his class a lot. One time I got ahead of myself and tried to reverse the polarity on a transformer plugged in my parent’s stereo… I blew it up. Not good, surprisingly enough I did not get in too much trouble.
I’ve never lost that curiosity.
Q. What has been your favorite USACE job or program to work in
A. I would have to say it’s the one I’m in now. The diversity of issues I get to work on encompasses so much. I never know what’s around the corner. I work on a range of things from strategy, design and construction, talent management and resource management. The most recent program that I really like is getting to develop an internal supervisory training course. Cultivating a High Performance Culture focuses on empowering our supervisors with performance management, communications, and relationship building skills to build a more engaged and productive workforce.
Q. The Black History Month theme this year is “The Crisis in Black Education.” Can you tell us about any education barriers you’ve overcome?
A. This is a tough one for me to answer because whatever I’ve gone through pales in comparison to the challenges the generations before me went though. Regrettably, I do believe racial stereotyping is still prevalent and creates unfair challenges for blacks and other minorities.
We are always having to prove ourselves while others are shown deference. It frustrates me when a black student works hard to get into a “good” school and you hear people stereotyping their achievements by saying they got in because the school had to meet quota.
Stereotyping is demeaning, devaluing and hurtful and unfortunately I don’t think people realize how much they do it. My advice for others is don’t internalize negative stereotypes, it will only create self-doubt and they are not a true measure of your abilities. Seek to gain knowledge about those around you and educate them. I personally enjoy breaking down stereotypes.
Education is a key that opens many doors. I encourage black students and other minority students to take advantage of every educational opportunity available. A lot of sacrifices were made for us to have those opportunities.
If there’s a barrier in your way you’re going to have to figure out how to go over it, go around it, or break it down. I know that’s easier said than done for a lot of us. Each one of us has to decide how important it is to get an education to help us pursue and achieve our goals.