SAN ANTONIO - After college, all Mary Ellen Maly wanted was a “decent-paying job playing in the mud.” The environmental science and engineering major worked on wastewater treatment systems after graduate school before finding a job announcement in the newspaper for the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency, as the U.S. Army Environmental Command was previously known.
She was immediately drawn to the restoration and cleanup work advertised. “It was the exact kind of work I wanted to do,” Maly said. Despite not knowing anything about the Army, she applied for the job and was hired.
She relished being out of the office and diving in head first on projects. She was forced to learn quickly about equipment and tools she wasn’t familiar with, usually asking “Can I try that?”
An early project at Fort Dix in New Jersey was a learning experience in many ways. “I’m supposedly in charge of this project and have no idea what I’m looking at,” she says now. “I look at our geologist and ask… is that a well drilling rig?” Maly said. She was right! But it was a reminder of how new she was, even though she was the boss. “I learned quickly,” she said
The job took her all over the country. Some of her personal favorite spots were Utah, Colorado and Hawaii. She describes herself as “...primarily a cleanup person. I was never interested in compliance,” Maly said.
One thing Maly enjoyed in her early years was the vibrant atmosphere of the office. A lot of her co-workers were just out of college, and she called it a “much younger organization.” She greatly enjoyed the camaraderie and extra activities, including softball and volleyball. The young average age of her teammates meant that she “became an old timer” after only three years on the job.
Maly became one of the go-to mentors for new employees within USAEC after her first few years, and mentorship became an important part of her career. She was initially thrown into the role during a period of turnover, but it was something she continued doing for many years and still continues to do.
Though she never wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a teacher, the role came naturally to Maly.
“People seemed to like what I was saying,” Maly said. Serving as a mentor is something she “thoroughly enjoyed” throughout her years.
As she approaches retirement alongside her husband, they claim to have “no definite plans” for how to spend their new free time. However, the list of ideas is reflective of someone who loves the outdoors and nature.
Their plans include hiking, horseback riding, skiing and biking. “As long as our bones and joints cooperate,” Maly added.
She also looks forward to enjoying the outdoors right at home, with plans for landscaping, planting flowers and trimming the yard. With family “all over the US,” there is also lots of travel planned for the Malys.
The outdoors have always been a refuge for Maly, who recalled a story about taking her two pre-school age kids skiing for their first time while her husband was on a 3 week business trip overseas. She wanted to make sure everybody was “good and tired.”
While it’s hard to imagine Maly slowing down, one of her key plans does sound relaxing - she says she needs to “learn how to play golf better.”