Category Archives: Special Emphasis Observances

Black History Month Spotlight: Tammy Washington

Tammy Alford Washington is the Deputy Chief of Civil Works Integration Division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Southwestern Division.

The Southwestern Division’s Civil Works Mission area of responsibility encompasses all or part of six states, an expanse that contains about 10 percent of the land area (376,300 square miles) and 11 percent of the total population (34.4 million) of the United States, based on 2010 population data. The division’s civil works program involves planning, design, construction, and operation and maintenance of water resource projects to meet the region’s need for water supply, flood damage reduction, navigation, aquatic ecosystem restoration, hydropower, recreation and other water-related needs.

Washington’s previous position was the Chief of Programs Management Section for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Los Angeles District. She was responsible for three teams of analysts for the Civil Works and Military and Interagency & International Support (M&I) programs.  She managed and engaged in the life-cycle of formulation, defense and execution of funds management for over $95 million for California, Nevada and Arizona.

In her off time she enjoys mentoring high school boys and girls with her community service based sorority, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.; topics include college life, career planning, Science-Technology-Engineering-Mathematics (STEM), relationships etc.

Washington, a 15 year USACE team member, shared some of her thoughts on African American/Black History Month, her time in the Army and some advice for the younger generations.

The 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 U.S. military?

A. This is a great way to honor their tremendous sacrifices. African Americans have served in the military during every conflict our Nation has been in. I think it’s important to make sure we recognize their courage, character and personal sacrifices. Many have given their all for a more color-blind America, and their families just the same; let’s recognize and focus on their great dedication to our country.

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. I had a lot of goals growing up, the military offered benefits that put them within reach. I joined the Louisiana Army National Guard in 1988 to help pay for my college degree, but ended up getting so much more out of it. I made bonds that will last a lifetime and gained several job skills that I still use today like discipline, organizational skills, leadership, teamwork and so much more.

Q. Is there someone who inspired you to join the military or served as a mentor?

A. I would say I was inspired by my uncle who retired as a Lt. Col. after 34 years of service in the Army as a physician. I also found out later we share Louisiana State University as an alma mater.

He carried himself with respect and humility rightfully proud of his service to the US Army. Being a Soldier and later a Veteran was more than just a title for him, it’s who he is.

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

A. Set your goals and decide what it’s going to take to get where you want to be. If you can’t get there by your own means you might consider joining the military.

The military can open so many doors and create an unlimited number of opportunities. It may be cliché but you get out what you put into it.

The Army National Guard helped me earn my degree. If you want to be successful in today’s fast paced world you must obtain some higher education and or technical skills. The military is a great way to serve our country while earning a degree or gaining a valuable skill.

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

A. The most memorable experience for me was my time in Afghanistan working for the Engineering & Construction Division and Programs and Project Management Division. I managed over $3 billion in active construction work in Kandahar and Kabul. I had the opportunity to work with so many intelligent and talented engineers, analysts, schedulers, project managers, etc. I was also awarded one of the highest awards in my career, the Superior Civilian Service Award, in 2012 for my service in Afghanistan.

Volunteering to serve overseas with the Corps has definitely been the highlight of my personal career.

Racial Pioneer reached highest level of recognition

Ben Harshaw started his long and varied service to our country during World War II serving in a segregated Corps of Engineers unit. During three years in a Heavy Equipment Battalion he rose to the rank of Technical Sergeant and left the U.S. Army on his birthday in December of 1945.

That was the beginning of what would become a 40-year career of Federal service in Little Rock that saw great social changes in the Corps and across the country. Harshaw became one of those special people who helped bring about that social change.

Ben Harshaw in 1978 when he received a 30-year service pin. He went on to retire in 1993 after more than 45 years of total federal service.

After working a variety of jobs after his Army discharge, Harshaw returned to his high school and attended Dunbar Junior College in Little Rock, Arkansas. The Dunbar Junior College for African-American students was housed in one wing of Dunbar High School. The college was operated by the Little Rock School District and was in operation from 1930 until 1955.

In 1952, Harshaw returned to the Corps of Engineers and began his career with the Little Rock District as an auto equipment servicer in the Operations Division. He had many responsibilities while working in the motor pool but one of the most challenging requirements was delivering equipment to job sites or project offices across the district. Not that it was challenging for him to drive or make the deliveries, but because of the racial tensions and attitudes prevalent across the district during the 1950s. Many of these delivery trips required an overnight stay for white employees due to the distance traveled and hours worked. But for Harshaw, a black employee, the trips meant long days and driving into the night to get back to Little Rock with minimal stops because of concerns for his safety.

Harshaw was transferred to the General Services Administration in 1958 along with the transfer of all motor pool operations, but he was impacted by a reduction-in-force action just four months after the transfer. That forced him to make a career change and become a laborer in the district’s Office Services Branch. From there he held several positions before transferring to the Data Processing Center as a peripheral computer equipment operator in May 1969.

Never afraid of a new challenges, Harshaw was a dedicated employee who eagerly learned the operations duties of each new computer system installed at the district. He worked the late shift for many years which required him to work late in to the night or early hours of the morning to pull back reports at the end of each month. His dedication to duty ensured everyone in the district had vital reports needed to accomplish their mission and keep the district operating efficiently.

According to a former supervisor, Harshaw was very dedicated and loyal during the 22 years she had worked with him in the Information, Integration and Implementation Branch.

“He was always willing to do extra tasks and work (extra) hours to accomplish the mission,” said Holly Hartung. “He would spend time in the evening reading manuals to learn more about the systems we were operating.”

Mr. Harshaw not only excelled working with computers, he also shined when it came to working with people. He was a dedicated employee who spent a career helping others. He began his federal service working in a building that had separate water fountains for blacks and whites. This did not deter him from working with his fellow white and black coworkers. In fact, he was a pioneer in the area of race relations in the Little Rock District. He was one of the first Equal Employment Opportunity counselors in the district and he took this opportunity very seriously.

He worked tirelessly to encourage black high school and college students to apply for jobs with the Corps and for positions at other federal agencies. He also served as a mentor to these young students as well as other black employees. Throughout his career, Harshaw worked to improve race relations and encouraged black employees to stay with the Corps and strive to achieve higher positions.

During more than 40 years of service to the Little Rock District, and over 45 years of total federal service, Ben Harshaw retired in January 1993. But that was not the end of the story.

In 2003, Ben Harshaw was inducted into the Little Rock District’s Gallery of Distinguished Employees – the highest honor given to retired civilian employees of the district. Not only was he a pioneer in computer systems for the district, he was an African American mentor and pioneer in race relations at a time when black employees faced extreme challenges both at work and in the streets. And he faced all these challenges with grace and determination. At his induction ceremony he simply said…

“I deeply appreciate receiving such an award. It really means a lot to be honored by my peers.” Many in attendance at that ceremony probably did not see themselves as peers to Mr. Harshaw, but then who among us could match his long and storied career.

*Editor’s Note – this story was compiled from historical articles and documents. Ben H. Harshaw passed away January 18, 2009 and is buried in the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery.

AR State Veterans Cemetery register: Harshaw, Ben H., b. 12/15/1918, d. 01/18/2009, Section G, Site 90, US ARMY, TSGT, WORLD WAR II.