By Chuck Walker
MOBILE, Ala. – Remembering where you came from and paving the way for those who follow in the same footsteps are admirable traits of true leaders.
One of the trailblazers in the Mobile District is James Hathorn, Water Management section chief.
Hathorn, who has worked for District since 1990 and in his current position since 2012, said that having the proper attitude and being open to new ideas are the keys to his success.
“My excitement and enthusiasm comes from believing I can make a difference each day,” said Hathorn. “There is an opportunity to learn something new every day as a Corps employee. I really enjoy the people I work with and I like being in their presence. Your attitude influences others. I want to move the needle from negative to positive, because inherently every day does get better.”
Hathorn grew up with a large extended family. The oldest of four children and born and raised in the 9th Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana, Hathorn’s father was the oldest of 22 children and his mom, was one of 15 children.
He said the monthly family picnics would often be mistaken for family reunions by neighbors. It is out of this upbringing that has influenced Hathorn to be an exceptional leader for the District.
“All of the children were encouraged to be their best and to rely on your family always,” he said. “I became the first engineer in my family and there are 10 now. My Dad is a bricklayer and worked 7 days a week until recently. He works for himself and barely charges enough to pay for his materials. He helps others out of the kindness of his heart. The courage to pursue my best come’s from my mother’s family and my work ethic and dedication comes from my father’s side.”
The water management section is responsible for the daily operation of 27 projects. It is also responsible for the amount of water released daily to meet up to seven legally authorized purposes.
Hathorn’s background and upbringing has helped him forge a very successful and cohesive team.
“What I like most about Water Management is our family environment and our immediate response to our actions,” he said. “Trusted relationship between our teammates are fostered because of the dependence on the accumulated knowledge of the group.”
Their cohesion is also one of necessity as their decisions have the ability to affect others, both positively and negatively. Sometimes they may be the difference between life and death.
“Others may not realize our job responsibilities are 24/7,” Hathorn said. “Similar to the on-site operators at the projects, we have to be prepared to respond to emergency situations such as a flood event, mechanical malfunction, search and rescue efforts or other related extreme events. Our job is to ensure the public health and safety of municipalities and industries impacted by our operation.”
One person who has been impressed with Hathorn’s work, not only as Chief of Water Management, but as a recruiter for the District is Jason Krick, Chief of Engineering.
Krick said Hathorn’s devotion to his job and District is what sets him apart.
“In his role as water management section chief, James continues to foster a team environment with a passion for mentoring new employees as well as building camaraderie within his team,” Krick said. “James Hathorn is one of the hardest working people in the Mobile District. He does whatever it takes to deliver the mission.”
Another role that Hathorn has taken on is that of District recruiter. Hathorn often visits local schools in the surrounding area speaking to the students about engineering and promoting USACE and the Mobile District.
This desire to plant seeds in the minds of young people stems from some experiences from his own childhood and the mentorship he was given when he was in school and the desire to fulfill a promise he made to himself.
“I attended college on a Pell Grant and made a commitment before graduating to give back to those taxpayers that provided for my education,” Hathorn said. “That meant working for the federal government and encouraging others to do so. My 9th grade physics teacher introduced me to engineering. He had a knack for making science fun and exciting. That inspired me.”
Krick said Hathorn’s love and concern for others is what makes him a successful recruiter.
“James has a passion for giving back to the community by volunteering to go out to local schools supporting our STEM program,” Krick said. “As well as developing and running his ‘Water Manager for a Day’ program where we reach out to park rangers and other project personnel to give them a better understanding of what Water Management does and how it fits into the bigger picture of the District’s mission. His passion for people has been a tremendous resource to the District.”
Hathorn uses his story, his experiences growing up and the skills learned as a little league baseball coach, visible example of what young people can accomplish. By doing this, Hathorn helps fulfill the promise he made to himself.
“Unfortunately, I did not meet my first engineer until my second year in college,” Hathorn said. “So I thought it would be pretty cool to go into elementary, middle and high schools to introduce students to engineering like I had been. I wanted them to see and hear from an engineer that come from humble beginnings. It’s a necessary requirement for a student to see themselves in the person talking about a future way to make money. Often seeing is believing, and this can especially be the case for minority students. My motivation is to make the school visit memorable enough for the student to discuss it with family and friends.”