Category Archives: Special Emphasis Observances

Women’s History Month – Persisting for our Nation

March is Women’s History Month, the time we set aside to honor the many contributions that women have made to our Nation.  The theme of the 2018 Women’s History Month is “NEVERTHELESS SHE PERSISTED: Honoring Women Who Fight All Forms of Discrimination against Women.”

All of you probably know (or maybe are) a woman who has persisted. In the face of discrimination or what seemed to be insurmountable odds, these women have gone on to achieve remarkable things, or simply to open doors that expand opportunities for other women.   Their persistence has helped break down barriers, whether in the Army or as a civilian, in the arts, in science, and in life.

Women have played a role in the defense of our nation since its founding.   Deborah Sampson became the first American woman to serve in combat when she disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Continental Army. “Camp followers,” primarily women who were just outside the   battlefield doing cooking and laundry and tending to the wounded, supported the troops during the Civil War. After the Battle of Bull Run, Clara Barton and Dorethea Dix organized a nursing corps to help care for the wounded soldiers.

Approximately 21,000 women served in the Army Nurse Corps during World War I. The Army established the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps in 1942, which was changed to the Women’s Army Corps in 1943. More than 150,000 women served as WACs during World War Two. And “Rosie the Riveter” represented the approximately six million civilian women employed in war material manufacturing during that war.

Today, women make up a majority of the U.S. population at 50.8 percent. They earn almost 60 percent of undergraduate degrees and 60 percent of all master’s degrees. Additionally, they earn 47 percent of all law degrees and 48 percent of all medical degrees.

About 43 percent of the Federal Government is comprised of women.  Serving in the Army’s Total Force is 174,000 of them.  Within USACE, we have approximately 10,000 women employees, representing about 30 percent of our workforce.  The lower percentage for USACE perhaps reflects the STEM nature of our work; women are still not as represented in STEM career fields.

Within USACE, Col. Debra M. Lewis, now retired, was in the first class of women to graduate from West Point in 1980 and later served as commander and district engineer of the Gulf Region Division’s Central District, where she was responsible for engineering and construction management support of deployed forces and Iraqi reconstruction in Baghdad and Al Anbar provinces, Iraq.

Brig. Gen. Margaret W. Burcham became the first woman to be promoted to a general officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jan. 27, 2012, in the Corps’ Washington, D.C. headquarters. In September 2011, Burcham became the first woman selected to command a Corps of Engineers division when she took command of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division located in Cincinnati.  She retired in 2016.

It’s easy to forget that we are only a few generations removed from women obtaining the right to vote in the United States.  Yet with or without women’s suffrage, they have been side by side with men in building and sustaining our Nation. They have persisted.

Thank you, all Southwestern Division women, for what you do every day to support and lead our organization.

Paul E. Owen, P.E.
Brigadier General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Commander, Southwestern Division


SWD Black History Month Spotlight: Vidal Gray

Vidal Gray is the Equal Employment Opportunity Strategic Advisor for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Southwestern Division Office of Diversity and Leadership.

The Office of Diversity and Leadership provides oversight, leadership, and policy guidance for development of a Model EEO Program at four District offices located at Fort Worth and Galveston, Texas; Tulsa, Oklahoma; and Little Rock, Arkansas. The Office of Diversity and Leadership works proactively to enhance the employment of women, minorities, veterans, and people with disabilities to reflect the rich diversity of the Nation and provides a full and fair opportunity for all employees, applicants and customers regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation, or genetic information.

Gray’s previous position was the Chief of EEO for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Fort Worth District. He was responsible for overseeing the district’s EEO Program.

Outside of work Gray enjoys spending time with his son, playing Texas Hold ‘em, and traveling. Last year he traveled to New Orleans, Las Vegas and the Bahamas. He hopes to go to Puerto Vallarta in 2018.

Gray, a four year USACE team member shared some of his thoughts on African American/Black History Month, his career, the military and more.

The African American Black History Month theme this year is “African Americans in Times of War.”

Q. What are your thoughts on this year’s Black History Month theme and the immeasurable impact African Americans have had on the history of the United States?

A. I think about how African American Soldiers have a long distinguished history in the United States military. I simply couldn’t be any prouder. This is a great way to honor our long storied involvement in the U.S. Military.

Q. Having served in the Army you’re part of that distinguished history. Can you talk about your service and how it helped shape who and where you are now?

A. The Army helped solidify my values and guide the way that I carry myself in every situation. I instinctively inherited values from my family but I didn’t realize how important they were until I joined the Army. Beginning the first day of basic training, the Army teaches you how live the seven Army Values. Those values are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. I’ve been out of the Army for several years now but still apply those values to my daily life as well as work to instill them in my son.

Q. Is there someone who inspired you to join the military or that you would call a mentor?

A. My brother convinced me to join the Army. He said let’s just sign up for two years of Active Duty and see what happens. I ended up serving for 22 years. My brother is still in the Army.

Q. What advice would you share with teenagers considering joining the military or civil service?

A. The military is a great opportunity to develop and explore. Things like pay and medical coverage are the tangible benefits you’ll receive, but I’m here to tell you the friendships and bonds you’ll make in the military will far exceed your expectations.
Keep an open mind, every situation isn’t perfect, but don’t quit.

Q. What has been your most memorable experience in the military or federal government that you’d like to highlight?

A. That’s tough for me to answer. I’ve been an extreme extrovert my whole life. I go full speed into every new situation expecting it to be the best. I feel like I’ve turned every assignment and situation into a memorable learning experience.

If I had to pick one shining moment it would be my selection for Special Operations Aviation Command because of how challenging the qualification assessment was.