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.”