By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – If you look on a map, it’s a long way from Meeker, Oklahoma to Mobile, Alabama. It is an 11 hour and 30-minute drive by car, or 762 miles.
For a young girl growing up in small town Oklahoma, that distance can seem even farther.
Kris Mullins took that journey, and for her it has been both exciting and rewarding path to becoming the first female Chief of Staff in the Mobile District.
“It’s definitely been a career I never would have imagined,” Mullins said. “I’m tremendously proud of the work I’ve been able to be a part of with the Corps. They make a difference in so many lives every single day.”
As the first member of her family to attend college, Mullins attended Oklahoma State University where she graduated with a degree in chemical engineering. After graduation, she took a job with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command Southwest in San Diego. While there she was intrigued by an opportunity to work with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
She took a job with USACE and moved to Germany in 1996 and has been with Corps ever since.
“My Mom was and continues to be my biggest fan,” Mullins said. “She’s always encouraged me to reach beyond what I know I can do in order to do more.”
According to Mullins two highlights of her career so far have been a deployment to Afghanistan and her work with the “Water Wars” here in the District. She said the people she worked with in both tasks is what made those experiences memorable.
“I spent 13 months in Afghanistan and going in, I think I underestimated the impact of the work we were doing,” Mullins said. “Being able to work with my team members and the local nationals, was just amazing. And then coming to Mobile and the work on the water wars was really challenging. Getting to work with great (subject matter experts) and an outstanding team, we pushed through some really hard challenges.”
Mullins advice to young people coming up in the Corps is to be open to any and all opportunities and not be afraid to try something new.
“I took a very, ‘leave all options open’ approach,” Mullins said. “If I saw a position or assignment I was interested in, I would apply and pursue it. Be willing to step outside your comfort zone. Also, don’t be afraid or concerned to ask for help. And take advantage of career mentoring opportunities. Always be willing and able and have the courage to help.”
In that vein, Mullins said, she had two mentors that have helped her in her USACE career, Dr. Christine Altendorf, HQ USACE Director of Military Programs and Ed Watford who was Director of (Planning), Programs and Project Management (DPM) in Little Rock, Arkansas.
“Ed was one of the first people that told me I was DPM material,” Mullins said. “That was a job I wanted, but I never voiced it. He was the first person to validate it. He always supported my career and supported me deploying to Afghanistan. Christine and I have known each other since 2012 and we have stayed connected over the years. She has been a huge inspiration and has been a big supporter of anyone up and coming in the Corps. She has always provided a sounding board and has been a very good friend and mentor.”
Four other people who provided Mullins support for her career is her family. Her husband John, who is an electrical engineer in the Operations Division, sons Jackson and Seth, and daughter Alyssa, all age nine, have supported her in whatever she does.
“My family continues to support me as I have opportunities like this chance with the Los Angeles District,” Mullins said. “It’s hard on everyone when one of us has to travel, but they don’t complain. If and when a great opportunity is offered to John, I will do whatever I have to for him to have that experience.”
In light of Women’s History Month, Mullins is proud of the fact that USACE seeks to provide equal opportunity for everyone.
“USACE has a great track record and has put a lot of emphasis on developing the next set of leaders,” Mullins said. “They have done a great job with Leadership Development and developing more talent. There’s always room for improvement but continue to select the right person for the right job having diversity within innovation. Also continue to incentivize and excite the next generation as they continue their pursuit for talented leaders.”
As Mullins looks back on her journey to the Mobile District and forward to the rest of her career, she said she knows what she wants her legacy to be and her goals for the future.
“I want people to remember that I love and loved the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Mullins said. “The people I have worked with, their dedication, their contributions, everything that they do. That is the reason I stayed with the Corps. They have changed lives every single day. I want to continue to build that bench.”