Mother’s Life Lessons Guide Eller Ever Higher

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District
Published Feb. 18, 2020
Tambour Eller stands near Mosul Dam in Iraq.

Tambour Eller stands near Mosul Dam during her deployment to Iraq. Eller spent more than a year there serving as the Transatlantic Division's Project Executive for the Mosul Dam Task Force.

Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite awards Tambour Eller the USACE Civilian of the Year Award.

Tambour Eller, deputy district engineer for programs and project management at Sacramento District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, smiles Aug. 1, 2019, as Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, USACE Commanding General, prepares to present her with the USACE Civilian of the Year Award as Command Sergeant Major Brad Houston looks on. (Courtesy Photo)

Many people struggle to find or recognize their higher purpose in life. Some never come to understand the significance of the minutes, hours and days that make up their life. Tambour Eller is not one of them.

From a young age Eller looked to her mother, who raised her alone, for such answers. What she found was an example of how to face life's daily challenges straight on, with faith that hard work and perseverance would reveal all she needed to know.

"She taught me that when the going gets tough, it's tough for everyone – people have different ways of handling it. But every day, you get up, be thankful and get to work because you are a part of a larger plan – God's plan."

While studying at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale in 1993, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ad seeking college students for work at nearby Rend Lake, caught a family member's attention. The announcement changed both the vector of Eller's life and the Corps' history.

"One of the first experiences I had with the Corps was the flood fight in 1993 while working with the St. Louis District," recalled Eller. "I was able to volunteer and see the way public servants respond to communities in need. I knew that was something I wanted to be a part of."

After graduating with a bachelor's of science in Natural Resources Management and Policy, Eller decided to stick with the Corps to see what new opportunities to help others might lie ahead. Twenty-seven years later, she's still seeking, finding, and even creating them for others.

Her career with the Corps spans five districts, two divisions, two headquarters, two deployments to Iraq, and an assignment in Europe. Currently, she serves as the Sacramento District's Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management. She said everywhere she's served, tough challenges existed, but so has the gratification that comes with working in an organization that does so much for so many people.

"It's been an exciting, fascinating experience full of unexpected challenges. And it's been greatly rewarding to see what the Corps can do for the Nation and people in other countries," said Eller. "We truly accomplish many things that people don't believe can be done."

In 2018, Eller recognized a deployment opportunity to Iraq would allow her to contribute in ways she couldn't find anywhere else, so she went for it. While there, she served as the Transatlantic Division's Project Executive for the Mosul Dam Task Force. The deployment was supposed to last six months, yet when it was time to return home, her desire to continue helping stabilize the most at-risk dam in the world, was just too strong. Millions of people relied on the Corps and their interagency partners to complete the largest drilling and grouting project in the world, so she extended the deployment for another seven months to see it through.

When she returned to the Sacramento District in 2019, it came as little surprise to anyone when she received the USACE Civilian of the Year Award.

"Anything and everything I have accomplished is a testament to the caliber and talent of the teams around me," reflected Eller.

Now that she's back in Sacramento, her focus is on being the best DPM and regional leader she can be for her team. She says that after nearly three decades of Corps service, helping others recognize their own potential, and then seeing them step up to big challenges and successfully deliver the program, is where she finds her greatest professional gratification.

And when she faces her own great challenges, she says she just goes back to her upbringing.

"My mom's wisdom and whatever God has planned for me keeps me going."