Corps employee nearing half-century of service

Published Aug. 18, 2017
Southern Operations Area Manager Calvin Foster

Southern Operations Area Manager Calvin Foster

Calvin Foster takes Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts on a tour of the internal workings of the tower portion of Success Dam in 1995, when Foster was a park ranger.

Calvin Foster takes Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts on a tour of the internal workings of the tower portion of Success Dam in 1995, when Foster was a park ranger.

Significant events of 1971

Baltimore Colts defeat Dallas Cowboys 16-13 in Super Bowl V
America orders 45,000 troops home during Vietnam War
Apollo 14 launched, achieving first landing in lunar highlands
Joe Frazier beats Muhammad Ali in 15 rounds to retain title
Calvin Foster enlists in U.S. Army, beginning 46+ years federal service

Calvin Foster will turn 66 years of age in September. A bit of a grin spreads across his face when he’s asked when he plans to retire. He says, “Probably in three to five years.” But he’s been saying that for more than 10 years now.

He says he’s enjoying the job, the people, and the day-to-day challenges, so why rush to retire?

Foster is currently the Southern Operations Area Manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District, but he started a few years ago as a parks maintenance worker. Well, make that several years ago. OK, more than four and a half decades ago.

Not one to sit around and let fate draw straws on his life, Foster’s federal service started 46 years ago when he enlisted in the Army in 1971 instead of waiting to be drafted – as America was still entangled in the Vietnam War.

Foster grew up working on a farm in Porterville, California, but knew he didn’t want to continue that work. Enlisting was his get-out-of-farming ticket.

“My number was coming up and I knew I would eventually get drafted, so I went ahead and enlisted. It just gave me a little more control over when I would go,” said Foster.

Upon finishing basic training at Fort Ord, California, Foster was fortunate to spend the remainder of his two-year enlistment at Fort Hood, Texas, pulling duty as a truck driver instead of pulling a trigger in Vietnam.

When he had served his tour of duty, he returned home to Porterville in 1973 and immediately signed up with the unemployment office. He was soon notified they had a job for him – a parks maintenance position with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Success Lake, right near his hometown.

Upon being discharged from Army service, Foster was unemployed for a grand total of two weeks. He would go on to serve without a break in service for 46 straight years. In fact, he would go on to serve guided by a break...

In his fifth year as maintenance worker, Foster decided he would start doing some motorcycle racing on the side. Two races into his newfound hobby, he crashed and suffered a compound fracture of his left leg. It was this particular break that led him to discover a new passion – bass fishing – which would ultimately lead to a different career opportunity.

As he continued to fish, Foster made several connections within the local bass club. Those connections led him to volunteer work with fisheries habitat projects, and that experience helped him land a position as a park ranger in 1992.

“You just never know what’s going to lead you to your ideal position,” said Foster. “If I hadn’t broken my leg, I might still be a maintenance worker today. It was a pivotal point in my career.”

Foster spent seven years as a park ranger, and was promoted to senior park ranger in 1999. Three years later he was promoted to park manager of Eastman and Hensley lakes, and just 18 months after that he was promoted to his current position as Southern Operations Area Manager.

Foster says there are many reasons he’s kept working instead of racing his bass boat into the setting sun, but can sum it up simply.

“If I had to choose one word, it’s diverse,” said Foster. “One day you’re out on the lake moving buoys – what’s not to love about that? Another, you’re responding to an emergency situation with campers, the next you’re at an elementary school talking to third-graders. It’s always something different.”

Despite nearly 47 years of service and an extensive list of accomplishments and accolades, Foster can name several projects he’d like to see finished before he moves on.

Foster oversees six projects including Isabella, Success and Pine Flat Dams as well as a few others. These multipurpose dams provide flood control, irrigation, power generation and recreation, and several are in the midst of major upgrades. Foster says that he would like to see some of these upgrades completed before he retires, especially those projects near his hometown of Porterville.

But how long will it take to see those completed?

He grins and replies, “Probably three to five years.”