In 1973, the U.S. ended its involvement in the Vietnam War by signing the Paris Peace Accords, George Foreman became the heavyweight champion of the world by knocking out Joe Frazier. Model and actress Tyra Banks was born, and artist Pablo Picasso died.
And in Mobile, Alabama, Willard Bush was beginning his career as an accountant with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.
Fifty years is a significant milestone, and that is how long the Mobile native has been serving the District and his customers.
“I have always enjoyed the work I do; this is my dream job,” Bush said. “I have stayed so long because I enjoy my work environment, and I also enjoy the services we provide our customers.”
Bush was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and has been married to his wife, Phyllis, for 44 years. They have four children: Willard Bush, Jr., Sharon Bush-Coaxum, M.D., Jeremy Bush and, Jonathan Bush.
He and his wife also have two grandchildren, Sarah Bush and Louis Coaxum, IV.
Bush said his family has always been an essential source of strength while serving the District.
“My family is very supportive of what I do,” Bush said. “They are always encouraging me. Whenever I am having a hard time, I can always depend on them to help me.
Bush has also been willing to share his vast knowledge with others.
One person who benefitted from learning from Bush was Brian Ivey, Chief of Resource Management.
Ivey said Bush took him under his wing as his first supervisor when he came to work for the District.
“He spent many hours training me on many aspects of accounting,” Ivey said. “He has always been willing to share his knowledge of accounting procedures and the history of events effecting accounting data. His keen memory has been very helpful over the years to us to remember why we do what we do in the financial arena and which laws and regulations we have cited for our decisions.”
Another person who can testify to Bush’s willingness to share his knowledge and offer advice and help is Lita Trotter, supervisory accountant.
“Willard was already working with the Corps when I was hired in 1994,” Trotter said. “Over the years, he has taken the time to explain a number of functions and processes to me. I really appreciate the time he took out with me. He is always willing to share his knowledge. Whenever we are discussing complex issues and getting into a lot of details about how something should work, his favorite saying is, “That’s too much sugar for a dime.’ It always tickles me. He is very dedicated and loves his job.”
Bush’s advice to someone who wants to work with the Corps, is to remember that it is an honor to work for the government.
“First, it’s a privilege to work for your government,” Bush said. “The pay is good, and it’s a stable work environment. The work can be rewarding for one who has determination, passion for work and good work ethics.”
Bush said that overall, working for the Mobile District has been a great experience, and he loves the people he works with and his work environment. He says it has indeed been a dream job.
“I consider my career with the Corps as one great experience, and I count it as a blessing,” Bush said. “I have always loved accounting, and this is my dream job. I am pleased to have had over my career the opportunity of being surrounded by and interacting with hard-working, capable co-workers who are knowledgeable and dedicated to their work.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District Mississippi Coastal Improvement Program (MsCIP), and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had a problem.
NOAA deploys two Real-Time Currents and Meteorological Buoys (CURBY) at least once a year to ensure everything works while maintaining their skills in case of an emergency.
In Mobile, the MsCIP team needed field data for coastal modeling for its Coast-wide Beach and Dune Restoration Project in Jackson County, Mississippi.
Enter Richard Allen, USACE Mobile District Hydrologic Data Collection Unit team lead, to marry the two sides together as the Mobile District and NOAA launched a buoy in Biloxi Bay near Ocean Springs, Mississippi, on Oct. 25, 2023.
The buoy deployment helped both sides get what they needed.
“The NOAA buoy is being deployed to collect field data that will be utilized in coastal modeling,” said Valerie Morrow, USACE Mobile District Coastal Resiliency technical lead. “Mobile District will benefit from this approach because it is cheaper than other data collection alternatives, the data collected is higher quality than other alternatives, and the ability to mobilize the buoy is quicker than other alternatives.”
For NOAA, deploying the buoy gave them the training and testing needed for optimal operation.
The Mobile District supported the buoy by launching it from its boats, allowing NOAA to practice using a “vessel of opportunity.”
Grace Gray, NOAA Center for Operational Oceanographic Products and Services, said it was the perfect opportunity for her team to get real-world training and help a partner agency.
“In addition to using this opportunity to hone our deployment skills and test the equipment, we wanted to exercise the scenario in which a partner agency requests the use of a CURBY, to work out some of the administrative aspects with environmental compliance and reimbursement for buoy components before we’re in a time-sensitive situation. This was also an opportunity to deploy the buoy from someone else’s vessel. So the more opportunities to practice on other vessels, the better.”
The project element that the buoy deployment will benefit is beach and dune improvements to approximately four miles of the existing mainland coast within Jackson County, Mississippi. These improvements include constructing a 60-foot-wide vegetated dune field approximately 50 feet from any existing seawalls.
These beach and dune areas are critical to nesting and resting shorebirds such as the State listed least tern and the threatened piping plover. In addition to the ecological benefits, the dunes would provide incidental coastal storm risk management benefits, particularly during more frequent lower-intensity coastal storm events. In accordance with the provisions of the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) 1986, as amended, cost-sharing would be 65 percent Federal and 35 percent non-Federal funding.
Allen said the buoy deployment was a success.
“Joint operations between NOAA and USACE resulted in a successful deployment of the CURBY,” Allen said. “The buoy began collecting data immediately. This data is being transmitted in real-time to NOAA servers and made available for USACE project team members to support the hydrodynamic modeling and design. The buoy is expected to remain onsite for 90 days, at which time NOAA and USACE will recover the buoy.”
As we come near the end of celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, we focus on one teammate in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, who uses the lessons she learned as a girl growing up to impact those around her positively.
Rosario ‘Rose’ Swafford, Personnel Security specialist, grew up in a traditional Hispanic home in Santa Cruz, California, and has been working here in the Mobile District since 2017.
Swafford said the lessons she learned from her family help form how she does her job and treats others outside of work.
“It was always ingrained in me to respect others and to see the good in the world,” Swafford said. “To provide help for those who cannot help themselves. So, that fits into what I do now as a Security Specialist. I treat people like I want to be treated, with respect and dignity.”
Swafford said that growing up, she spoke only Spanish in her home or family settings outside of the home, while she learned the American culture outside of her home. When she was young, the celebrities she liked were predominantly Hispanic, but in high school, her attention began to focus on American stars. Something she said her father understood.
“In high school, Madonna, Bobby Brown, and Whitney Houston were on my Walkman,” Swafford said. “I was surfing with my friends and protesting against drilling for oil off the coast of Northern California. My mother didn’t know what to make of me. My late father said, ‘Let her be. She is doing what we sacrificed for. For her to enjoy life freely, yes, even if she is swimming with the sharks. As long as she doesn’t bring one home, it’s all okay.’”
As for heroes in her life, as a child, her hero was Zorro. But now her hero is someone entirely different, and someone she says relates to her job.
“Wonder Woman is totally my hero now,” Swafford said. “She encompasses everything I hold true. She is a protector, a warrior, she has empathy, and is a beautiful soul. She fights along with Batman and Superman. She fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. And she does this all while being in heels and a stylish outfit.”
Greg Barr, Mobile District Chief of Security, said that Rose’s position in the District is vital, and her role cannot be more emphasized.
“Rose serves in an integral position that facilitates onboarding new employees, contractors, teams, and volunteers. Rose ensures that personnel assuming duties/responsibilities have the proper background checks and vetting required for federal employment. The importance of this position cannot be overstated, ensuring that the protocols relative to Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 are complied with and adhered to.”
Swafford said she doesn’t view or think of herself as a Hispanic Woman in her job but focuses on the opportunities she has been provided to make a positive impact and a difference in what she does.
“I have a great environment that gives me grounds to become the best of what I wish to accomplish,” Swafford said. “Learning through security is tough, but definitely worth it. I am the first college graduate in my family. I have been in a predominately male profession. I hold my own soundly. I am an active volunteer member of the Mobile Citizens Police Academy, Fire Department, and soon Sheriff’s Academy. I support our first responders, and giving back is important to me.”
Swafford said that what she loves best about her job is that it is always exciting and allows her to help and assist others.
“Security is never a dull moment,” Swafford said. “Everything from backgrounds to Embassy requests, not to mention the other various tidbits Security touches. I have made contacts with people in different parts of the world. I enjoy my interactions with people. I like to problem solve and, if possible, assist even if it’s outside my lane. I see good in people, and I know there is bad in others. It’s my job to keep those I can safe. I have always found it fulfilling to help others.”
Rose advises other Hispanics, whether male or female, who are interested in a job or career in Security or with the USACE Mobile District not to let their background stop them from going after what they want out of life.
“Don’t let your heritage be a hindrance,” Swafford said. “You can be the best security specialist despite not being American-born. We are all Americans. We come from different parts of the world but have one mission. To be the best Americans we can be. We do it for our families, for our well-being, and for our Nation’s Security.”
You never know what can serve as a catalyst for a turning point in your life. Something that occurs that influences you to change the course of your life.
In the case of Mark White, lead civil engineer technician U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District Panama City site office, Florida, it happened to be cold weather and a rake.
White, who will retire after approximately 40 years of federal service, said the cold and the rake played a crucial role in how his life eventually turned out.
In January of 1984, White was a Student Aid employee with USACE at the Panama City office doing maintenance and yard work. He was making $3.35 an hour and he was struggling. The cold weather and the cold rake didn’t help matters much.
“It was a cold winter and the work outside was rough,” White said. “I was raking the front yard one day and after a while my hands had frozen to the shape of the rake handle. I went inside to run warm water over my hands to thaw them out. At that moment I made the decision that something had to change. I was tired of struggling with college and knew I didn’t want to do maintenance and yard work for a living. It was a pivotal day in my life.”
White said he would stop by the drafting room from time-to-time and thought that he could do what they were doing. After speaking with the crew in the drafting room he felt encouraged to speak with the area engineer, Alton Colvin about his situation and see if he could help him out.
“I made my case to Mr. Colvin and told him that college was out of picture and if he did not give me this chance in the drafting room, I was going to sign up for the military that week,” White said. “Later that day he told me he was willing to give me a chance. He instructed me to go and sign up for the drafting course at Haney Technical Center to get the drafting skills I needed. Hen then told me the Corps would teach me what is needed to perform the engineering and surveying duties. That day was the beginning of my career.”
From that day to the present, White has spent his time at the Panama City site office.
One person who is going to be sad to see White go is Waylon Register, USACE Panama City site manager. Register said White has been a co-worker for more than20 years, and he has also been a valued colleague.
“Mark has been a trusted friend ever since I met him over 20 years ago when I began my own career as a GS-5 intern,” Register said. “His rise from where he began to leading our office staff is a testament to his competence and leadership abilities. He embodies the Army values of honor and integrity in all his actions and serves as an example and role model to the survey trainees we have today. Through his demonstrated empathy and caring for his team, he’s very much the “heart” of the office and is highly respected and will be highly missed by everyone in our office. His size 15 shoes will be difficult to fill indeed.”
Another person who is going to hate to see White retire is Nelson Sanchez, USACE Mobile District Operations chief.
Sanchez said that he has known White for more than 30 years and that in that time he was always willing help others accomplish the mission.
“I have known Mark White since 1990 when I first came to Mobile,” Sanchez said. “He was one of our experts in surveying and assisted in quality assurance for dredging at the Panama City site office. He was always willing to assist others to learn new technologies as it related to processing hydrographic surveys. He is truly a gentleman and a great professional. The Panama City site office, the Mobile District Operations team and I will truly miss him. I wish him luck and joy with his retirement.”
White said one of the main reasons he stayed in Panama City his whole career is that it always felt like home. He said he still feels that way after all these years, even as he prepares to depart.
“The reason I’ve stayed here is because it feels like it’s where I belong,” White said. “The atmosphere has always seemed like family to me. I have many stories and experiences from the years I worked here, some good, some not so good. I owe a lot to the people that supported me and the opportunities to learn and advance in my career through the Corps. There have been challenging times, but like life itself, you have to put in the work to achieve your goals. I am grateful to Mr. Colvin, because he didn’t have to give me the chance he did. I will always be thankful to him and our Father in Heaven, from where all blessings come from.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District hosted the 4th Quarter FY 2023 USACE South Atlantic Division Regional Governance meeting at the USACE Huntsville Engineering and Support Center in Alabama.
The four-day meeting provided an opportunity for district commanders, deputy for programs and project management and other staff to present topics requiring decisions from the SAD commanding general.
Brigadier Gen. Daniel Hibner, USACE South Atlantic Division commander, said the RGM is the place where decisions impact the division and the region are made to ensure the success of projects and the districts.
“Our regional governance provides the venue for regional decisions to be made, particularly decisions impacting balancing our workload to workforce,” Hibner said. “In terms of workload and workforce, what we have to do is align what we currently do, with what must do; and where we want to be, in order to achieve our goals in our program. We also need to meet our goals delivering quality projects, on time, within budget, safely and that is why we come together quarterly. It is to ensure we are winning.”
During the week, participants not only met to make decisions, but toured various project sites at the Redstone Arsenal.
Col. Jeremy Chapman, Mobile District commander, said the RGM and the site visits helped senior leaders see how important Redstone Arsenal is and helped them in prioritizing projects.
“I want to thank our partners across Redstone Arsenal that supported our site visits and educated our senior leaders on the strategic importance of Rocket City and the many commands that call the arsenal home,” Chapman said. “Our regional meeting assisted the division in prioritizing our heavy workload and cross-leveling projects to work as a team.
One of the visits on the tour was to the new USACE Huntsville Engineering and Support Center which is still under construction.
It is being built as an Enhanced Use Lease facility, one of the many innovative ways USACE can utilize in completing projects.
Col. Sebastian P. Joly, USACE Huntsville Engineering and Support Center commander, said he was glad senior leaders got the chance to tour their new facility and was also proud that they were able to showcase what Huntsville does by hosting the RGM.
“The tour of the new Enhanced Use Lease facility on Redstone Arsenal allowed SAD leaders to visualize the benefits of using an innovative approach in meeting an organization’s facility requirement, all under existing USACE real estate authorities,” Joly said. “The U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, was honored to host leaders from across the South Atlantic Division. It afforded us the opportunity to highlight the valuable work that HNC performs in support our stakeholders across the nation, as well as the importance of maintaining rock solid partnerships with the geographic districts in delivering quality products.”
Hibner said he and the leaders from SAD were thankful to HNC for hosting the RGM.
“We are grateful to the Huntsville Engineering and Support Center for hosting us and giving us a tour to show us the specialized technical expertise, global engineering solutions, and cutting-edge innovations that support our national interests,” Hibner said.