(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WIESBADEN, Germany –Melanie Barajas, IMCOM-Europe safety director, has built her 13-year federal career by seeking out opportunities in varying assignments around the globe.

“I’ve always taken the jobs that may be the challenging ones,” said Barajas, who joined IMCOM-Europe in August, following an assignment as the division safety chief with the Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Division in Winchester, Va.

For Barajas, she looks to improve not only herself as she takes on a new assignment, but also the entire organization she moves into.

“That’s what I hang my hat on is rebuilding – rebuilding safety programs, growing safety cultures, integrating safety management systems, and increasing safety education and awareness. Safety is a team effort, and wherever I go, my goal is to make it better and educate the team on what safety is all about, why we should care, and how we can work together,” she said. “And that goes for the leadership too, so when they move on, they carry the culture with them.”

After graduating from Western Kentucky University, Barajas became an Army intern at the Army Safety Center at Fort Novosel (at that time Fort Rucker), Ala., finding a calling working with safety professionals and learning the Army from a retired warrant officer and other teachers and mentors.

“At the beginning of my career, I directly supported the Safety and Occupational Health Installation Career Field (at the time Career Program 12). I loved my position. It was eye-opening and I enjoyed helping our worldwide safety community,” Barajas said.

Recognizing that she would want to try different echelons and move out of a headquarters environment, Barajas went to work as a safety specialist for a small Army installation in California, Camp Parks, followed by her first assignment with the Corps of Engineers in Sacramento. But Barajas had more in mind for herself.

“I always wanted to work overseas. Europe was on the top of my list,” she said, but realized that decreasing force structure in Europe was limiting her prospects. “I moved to Korea and spent time working at U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan as their deputy safety officer, managing the explosives and radiation safety programs, and then took over as the safety director.”

Barajas also worked as the tactical safety manager for Eighth Army in Korea and the district safety chief for the Corps of Engineers, Transatlantic Middle East District. Barajas cites one important thread that has run through each challenging assignment she has taken on.

"Relationship building is critical. I'm constantly coaching, teaching, and mentoring, but must build trust first and credibility, of course," she said. "Early in my career, I quickly realized that when people start coming to you asking for your guidance or expertise, that's when you know you're doing something right and have buy-in."

One of her most memorable opportunities was joining an exercise with the Australian and New Zealand armies called Talisman Sabre.

“There was a last-minute need for a tactical safety representative to support the exercise, so I volunteered to deploy to Australia and gained valuable experience in tactical safety,” she recalled.

True to her adventurous willingness to learn about new places, cultures, and experiences, Barajas and her husband, Mario, are looking forward to traveling in Europe with their two sons, Mario and Myles.

“I have two incredible boys who continue to amaze me. There is a never a dull moment and they keep me on my toes,” she said.

Barajas is likely to teach them an important lesson she carries from her own mother, about learning – and about being safe.

“Years ago, my mother told me that once you think you know everything, that's when you should be scared and need to watch out,” she said.