A security manager at the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has earned the 2009 Society of American Indian Government Employees Award for the Department of the Army.

"In a nutshell, it was a shock. I never expected that ever in my life," Elaine Halchak said.

The SAIGE Award is presented to American Indians who have demonstrated measureable actions and significant achievements in recruiting, retaining and providing career advancement to American Indian civilian and military employees in the federal workforce.

Halchak, of Bel Air, has worked for the Army for nearly four decades, nearly all of those at Aberdeen Proving Ground. She also worked at the Pentagon for three years, and spent another three years with the Headquarters, U.S. Army Materiel Command. Halchak retired for a time, but returned after a position as security manager for the special access programs opened.

This was the first time Halchak had been recognized for the work she's done inside and outside of her professional career.

"You work for a lot of years and do a lot of things to help other people, and help them to learn--mentoring and coaching, and stuff like that. And, finally I'm getting recognized for the stuff I did...that's pretty cool," she said.

Halchak recognizes the critical need of mentorship programs so that women and minority employees can excel in the workforce.

She is also an active member in the community ensuring ongoing dialogue on Native American issues.

Halchak mentored and taught for the Harford County School Systems through Title IV programs.

She spoke at schools about the Native American culture, and she served as the commissioner for human relations for Harford County as a representative for Native Americans.

Still, Halchak said she was surprised when she received the SAIGE Award.

"It was very nice. I've never had anything like this happen," she explained. "It was an honor to accept this award recognizing the things that I've done, and I accept this for the ancestors, for the people who are here today, and for those who will come after us."

Halchak has been a member for the American Indian Society of Washington, D.C., for many years, but is not yet affiliated with SAIGE, although she recognizes the services the organization provides and has planned to join.

"I think they're fabulous. They're always talking about outreach, and reaching out to the different colleges and universities and ethnic groups to have diversity in government, and I think this is great. That's why I want to be a member of this group. Their outreach is something that we don't see that often here at [APG] because the outreach is a little more focused in other areas.

"A couple of times I've mentioned to the people who are doing outreach here that even though a lot of the Native people are out west and in the southwest, there should be more outreach in the Native American community. I think there should be more outreach locally because there are a lot of groups that can help the young people, and they should know that there are jobs here in the Army."

Halchak accepted the award at a national awards banquet in San Diego with award recipients from the Navy, the Air Force, the National Guard Bureau, the Coast Guard and other defense agencies.

SAIGE was founded in 2001 and exists to promote the development of American Indian and Alaska Native government employees, and work to ensure their equal treatment under the law; to educate federal agencies in the history and obligations of the Federal Indian Trust Responsibility and to assist them in its implementation; to assist government agencies in the development and delivery of initiatives and programs which honor the unique federal-tribal relationship; and to provide a national forum for issues and topics affecting American Indian and Alaska Native government employees.