By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – Broken down, 42 years equals 15,330 days, which is 367,920 hours, or 22,075,200 minutes, or 1,324,512,000 seconds.
Now add hard work, dedication, and love for the job, then you know what Karen Williams, Chief of the Project Support Section, has given to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Mobile District as she retires after 42 years of service.
“The best thing that I ever did was coming to work for the Corps,” Williams said. “I’m so glad I took that first step to come to work here for the first time. I’m really thankful that I stayed and worked for the Corps and the Mobile District.”
Williams first started as a summer hire for the Corps here in the District as a GS-2 typist between semesters at Florida State University after her mother, Gloria, who also retired from the Mobile District, talked her into getting a summer job.
While on that summer job, her supervisor at the time, Pat Flannigan challenged her.
“I was at Florida State at the time, and he challenged me to change my major and become an engineer,” Williams said. “At the time I thought an engineer had to do with trains. So, I transferred to the University of South Alabama to pursue becoming an engineer.”
During her time at South Alabama, Williams started co-oping at the District in March of 1980 in the Planning Division, and she has been with the Corps ever since.
Williams has held a variety of different positions and has seen a lot of changes in the District during her time here. After receiving her Professional Engineers License, she started working in what was then called the Spec Section. After a Reduction In Force in 1995, she moved back to her co-op job in Planning Division.
Then after the RIF she took a job as a Project Engineer for Latin America. She then became the Air Force Project Manager for Hurlburt Field, Florida., until it culminated in her current position as Chief of the Project Support Section in 2018.
Of all the different titles and job descriptions she has held, she said she has enjoyed her current position the most.
“I love this position because I have been able to get closer to my co-workers,” Williams said. “This position has allowed me to be more committed to everyone in this section. You can develop a rapport. You can develop new people in this position. All of the people here are like a family or an extension of my family.”
One person who can testify to the dedication of Williams is Angela O’Connor, Chief of the Technical Services Branch. O’Connor said the care and mentorship she provides her co-workers is priceless.
“I consider Karen the upmost example of a true selfless leader,” O’Connor said. “She is dedicated and loyal and always puts the needs of others and District before herself. She works enthusiastically every day because she genuinely cares about our work family and has a passion for what we do to support the various District divisions and customers. She is a shining example of relentless service and devotion for all. It has been an honor to be mentored by Karen, to be her coworker and friend.”
Another team member who will be sad to see Williams depart the District is Jason Krick, Chief of Engineering. Krick said Williams has played key role in a number of projects the District has executed over the years.
“It’s not every day that you get to work with an employee who has served over 42 years for the Mobile District,” Krick said. “Ms. Williams has served in multiple positions in Engineering and Project Management that have given her the experience to handle project acquisition for some of the most complex vertical and horizontal projects the District has executed. Along with her experience, Ms. Williams possesses a very calm and levelheaded attitude to deal with high stress projects. That attitude has a trickledown effect to her colleagues and staff. Ms. Williams will be missed, but her retirement is well deserved, and we wish her the best.”
Williams said her advice to young people starting out or thinking about a career in the Corps is to take advantage of every opportunity you are given.
“Work in as many areas as you can to see what other people do,” Williams said. “Take advantage of 120-day assignments, you may find something that you love to do and if not, it will enhance what you are currently doing. It will also give you the chance to work with other people and find out what they do.”
As Williams, who was one of the first-ever recipients of the Lighthouse Award, gets ready to say goodbye to USACE and the Mobile District, she wants everyone to remember her love of the Corps, the District, and the people.
“I did my best to represent the Corps of Engineers in the most professional way,” Williams said. “The things we do here go out to the world. I always tried to put together the best product, taking pride and ownership of what we produced. To make sure it was top quality. I hope that I was a light to the others around me. And that I played well with others.”