FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – Stacye Downing was 17 years old when she decided to dedicate her life to being a civil servant.
Thirty-three years later, she serves as the first female director of Fort Campbell’s Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, supervising the largest garrison directorate on post.
March is National Women’s History Month and the Department of Defense, U.S. Army and other federal agencies are celebrating the contributions of women throughout history.
Downing, who grew up in an Army Family, has lost track of how many times she’s been the “first woman” to take on certain responsibilities and job titles within DOD. She also is dedicated to “Writing Women Back into History,” with speeches she has given, mentoring others and recognizing the talents of the 800 workers she supervises at Fort Campbell.
Learning from mentors
It all started with a six-month job program and the mentors who inspired her.
“The accomplishments of women are absolutely groundbreaking,” Downing said. “I learned the importance of mentors at a very young age, because when you’re so young, you can’t really see yourself in the far-off distant future, so all of them would give me different advice and things to consider, and as soon as they learned of different vacancies, they would encourage me to apply. Quite frankly, I have not had a mentor steer me wrong.”
Downing grew up with three siblings, her father, Jose Hernandez, who served 30 years in the U.S. Army before retiring as a command sergeant major, and mother, Lena Stacy. Downing was born in Germany. She learned early on the importance of serving others and developed a passion for military Families.
“Both of my brothers joined military service, but I opted to become a civil servant,” Downing said. “Being surrounded by military my entire life, and watching my dad in his various leadership roles, I developed the same passion for service that he had.”
She also developed the same passion for being a leader. She landed a coveted job with the Winter Hire Program assisting other clerical assistants while still attending high school.
That rare opportunity gave her the chance to become proficient in useful skills, and when another woman took a week off, she was tasked with those duties alone. She graduated from the program after six months and went into a permanent position with the 37th Transportation Group in Germany, the first of many full-time jobs she would tackle in her DOD career.
Becoming a leader
Downing has served many roles, such as the first chief of Business Operations Division, U.S. Army Garrison-Baden Wurttemberg, Heidelberg.
In that position, she was responsible for running the business operations for about 14 restaurant and snack bars, overseeing bowling programs, kids play zones and night clubs.
“I had a very intensive role in helping these garrisons offer successful programs,” she said.
She also oversaw the food and beverage warehouse.
“Everything that came through from overseas came in through our food and beverage warehouse, which was also a property warehouse,” she said. ”It was a very significant role for me and that was my very first position that was mostly male-dominated.”
Downing was director of Family and MWR at Hohenfels, Germany, for five years before a Family member’s health prompted her to move stateside again. She served as division chief of nonappropriated funds support at Fort Hood, Texas, overseeing logistics and financial management for DFMWR from February 2013 until she moved to Fort Campbell in January 2018.
She has raised two daughters to be leaders and servants too. Kayla Rausch, 27, lives in Austin, Texas, supporting special needs children in her work environment while working on a master’s degree to become a behavioral health therapist. Rachel Rausch, 23, will graduate from Austin Peay State University in May before joining the graduate apprenticeship program at the University of Kentucky in aquatics.
“Talk about embracing a leadership role, this young one went into lifeguarding at the age of 15,” Downing said. “She also has a passion for serving.”
Downing enjoys mentoring women, just as so many did for her.
She hopes sharing her story will inspire women.