Anchorage, Alaska (grew up there, but born in Tupelo, MS)
What do you do in your position, and why is it important to the people we serve?
As the regulatory archaeologist, I am responsible for ensuring that MVM follows federal mandates for the consideration of cultural resources and Tribal input when issuing permits under the Clean Water Act and the Rivers and Harbors Act. It's important to consider the impacts of projects on cultural resources, because many communities maintain their identity through items and places on the landscape. It's particularly important to Native Americans who may have been forcibly removed from their ancestral homeland but still maintain a group memory of a particular landscape. One way to look at it is to consider how you would feel if someone with no historical connection to your hometown came in and decided they were going to tear down the local church, school, and town hall, and dig up the cemeteries, and they never stopped to ask anyone in the town how that might affect them or find out if there were other options available. Or perhaps ask yourself how you would feel if someone took the Liberty Bell and put it on display in another country or destroyed the Washington Monument and built a condominium in its footprint. These are symbols of who we are as a people and hold meaning to us that others may not fully understand or recognize. Because of the importance of places and objects to cultural heritage and identity, the federal government is required to hold government to government consultation with Native American tribes to consider the impact of the project on their sacred spaces. That is a large part of my job. I also consult with local governments and organization to ensure they are represented in the decision making process. This helps preserves our local, regional, and national identity and heritage.
Given your experience in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, what do you hope to change in the organization or how do you hope to make a difference?
I have two main goals coming into this position. The first is to help Regulatory meet their obligations under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (36 CFR 800) and Appendix C of Processing of Department of the Army Permits (33 CFR 325). My second goal is to improve and maintain good relationships with the Native American tribes and the various State Historic Preservation Offices we work with on a regular basis.
What’s the greatest satisfaction you have in being a part of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?
There are many reasons that I’m so proud to be a part of USACE. My every day job is important not only to me but also to many others in the district. I have also had the opportunity to deploy since coming to USACE, and it’s always for incredibly important missions. I have deployed for Flood Fight and then this past December and January deployed to Puerto Rico to help with the recovery there. Both of those provided me with sense of accomplishment and good feeling for having helped others.
I also had the opportunity to deploy with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) last year. USACE Archaeologists are afforded this opportunity when DPAA needs additional help with their missions. I deployed to Laos where I worked with a team composed of active duty NCOs and officers from all four branches of the military. Our mission was to attempt to recover the remains of Americans who were MIA from the Vietnam War. I lead a team of 15 in excavations at two locations and participated in excavations at a third. The first location was where aircraft wreckage and potential human remains had been reported along a stream directly across from where an Air Force aircraft was known to have been lost. The second was a cemetery established by a North Vietnamese field hospital where there had been rumors of an American POW being held. Neither of those locations yielded remains that could be identified as Americans. The third location was a known U.S. Navy aircraft that had been shot down and crashed into a rice paddy. At that location we were able to recover not only remains of the pilot, but also his dog tags. DNA from the remains were tested at the lab at Hickam AFB in Hawaii and positively identified. As a result of our work, a family was able to get closure and bury their loved one. That is probably the single-most fulfilling project I have ever had the honor to work on.
What advice would you give to someone who aspires to a career or position like yours?
I worked in the private sector for many years before coming to federal service. Being in a position where you have to review other people’s work and interpret regulations is difficult. I would recommend that any aspiring federal archaeologist work in the private sector and get several seasons of fieldwork and report writing under their belt before trying to review someone else’s work. For someone who isn’t yet an archaeologist but wants to be, I would say to stick with it. It’s really not what most people imagine and can be tedious and tough. It’s important to get at least a Master’s degree in order to run projects and meet the minimum standards for the profession, and it’s important to make sure you have a good background in geography, anthropology, and biology (as well as several other things). Be prepared for anything! You find yourself working in every kind of weather (from below zero to 100+ and sometimes in pouring rain) and every kind of terrain. Lastly…. NEVER leave your wet boots in the truck! You never know when it might freeze. ;-)
How does your position fit within the organization/career field/industry?
Unfortunately, USACE archaeologists get a bit of a bad rap in the industry. It’s in large part due to Appendix C, which minimizes the area over which we have regulatory authority under the National Historic Preservation Act. State Historic Preservation Officers hate it; the tribes hate it; most private sector archaeologists hate it. Even I thought twice about applying for this position. I’m so glad now that I did apply, however, because I’ve learned so much about the Corps and about Regulatory and I’ve been able to educate a lot of other people in my career field about why we do things the way we do. I’m glad I’m here, and I’m extremely thankful for the opportunities I’ve had with USACE. Essayons!