A shining example of someone believing in your abilities is Regina Schowalter who, many years ago, was afforded an opportunity with USACE Albuquerque District, despite no Federal Government attorney experience. She’s never looked back.
She credits LeeAnn Summer, (then Albuquerque District counsel) for seeing her abilities and hiring her into Federal Service, and David Cooper, (now USACE Chief Counsel, then Transatlantic Division Counsel) for selecting her for deployment as a USACE attorney downrange. This set the path for the rest of her USACE story.
In September 2020 Regina Schowalter deployed to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan to perform her duties as the USACE Afghanistan District Counsel. In early March 2021, she redeployed to the states to be a part of the America Project Delivery Platform, carrying out her assignment through a teleworking status for a couple more months.
Her steadfast dedication and attention to detail earned her the prestigious Corps of Engineer’s Bronze de Fleury Medal, which she can take justifiable pride in her accomplishments and service to the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Engineer Regiment.
Schowalter provides legal sufficiency and business judgement advice to the District decision makers and the Project Delivery Teams. She is no stranger to gearing up for a deployment. Her first deployment was in December 2011 to Kandahar as an Assistant District Counsel, followed by an April 2013 to January 2014 deployment to Kabul newly established Transatlantic Afghanistan District. In January 2016 through January 2017, she was the District Counsel for TAA at Bagram Airfield, and just wrapped her fourth tour downrange with that same District, in the same capacity.
“Each deployment has had a different ‘flavor’,” Schowalter said. “In 2011/2012 we were mid-Surge, and building, building, building - big Afghan National Army bases and police facilities. In 2013/2014, we thought we were leaving because there was no bilateral security agreement, and were cancelling projects. Then in 2016, the focus was on the Women’s Police Program. This tour there was a shift in mission as it was centered around retrograde, the February 2020 Peace Agreement, and the Power Program” she said.
She will tell anyone that the District Counsel position for TAA is, in her opinion, “the best job in USACE” and really truly feels that the USACE mission in Afghanistan is important to both the U. S. security posture, but also to the women and children of Afghanistan. “You never know how your actions will affect another person, and by being a part of the process that brings electricity and stability to Afghans, we’re also bringing education and empowerment,” she said.
“The TAA mission has always felt more personal/meaningful to me,” Schowalter said. I can see the direct impact on people’s lives.”
April marks nearly eleven years since Schowalter began with USACE where she had previously spent eight years in the private sector, developing real estate and employment law experience. “I also did some divorce work,” she said. However “that’s not what qualified me for the position, though it does give me a unique perspective on dispute resolution issues,” Schowalter said.
USACE is a great fit for Schowalter who likes problem solving, which to her can be one of the most rewarding aspects of her job, which is why she enjoys being forward-deployed and in an executing posture.
“If you are just thinking about deploying, do it,” Schowalter said. It will change your life. It is fulfilling for the mind, career, and spirit.”
Her spirit can be attributed to the women in her life whom she says have been truly supportive. “I always say I have been fortunate enough to have three moms: my mom; my step mom; and a woman who has been like a mother to me since I was in early elementary school,” she said.
Additionally she pointed out that her maternal Grandmother, a Navy veteran, helped raise her as a little one, and that her paternal Grandmother, though not in the military, was married to an Army Soldier and raised eleven children, four of who went on to serve in the military.
Asked which women in her life have also been great influences, Schowalter mentioned that as a child born in the late 70’s, the NASA space program was established, though “still surrounded by awe and wonder. I had posters on the walls of my room of the planets-they were newly taken photos by the Voyager program,” she said. And NASA had a woman Astronaut, Sally Ride!
Schowalter said she never met her, never talked to her (there were no Social Media platforms at that time), but seeing a woman’s face in an astronaut suit told her, without telling her, that women too could do that! Schowalter said, “Of course at six years old I didn’t know at the time that Sally Ride was able to be an astronaut, because in part, of the efforts of other women that came before her, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the Suffragettes before her.
“We’re all connected in time-one generation to the next. Ultimately, alas, I didn’t become an astronaut, I chose the humanities instead of the sciences, but I could have – which is why representation matters – why it’s important for kids to see their likeness in successful adults.” Schowalter said.
She concluded that she could have become an astronaut if she’d wanted to, because of Ruth, Sally, and the more immediate women in her life that encouraged her, and told her that she could be whatever she wanted to be when she grew up, and allowed her to believe in herself, even if she herself didn’t.
Congratulations to yet another successful deployment to a country where you yourself have pointed out the irony on the other end of the spectrum in women’s rights in Afghanistan, where those same choices aren’t so easily made. And congratulations for also being a newlywed.