SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Sharon Caine, Sacramento District real estate division chief, will retire at the end of 2014 after serving the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for 54 years. Most of that time was spent with the Corps’ Sacramento District.
Caine worked her way up from a clerk typist handling day-to-day office work in 1960, to a Sacramento District corporate board member responsible for advising the commanders of two districts on real estate matters. After so much experience in the district, she has some advice for anyone who may be considering a career with the Corps of Engineers.
Throughout her experience, some of Caine’s fondest memories of the Corps of Engineers are of her fellow employees and working on the Combined Federal Campaign.
George Waddell, her former supervisor in engineering division and mentor, taught Caine that as a supervisor she needed to be friendly with her employees, but she cannot always be their best friend.
“From George I learned just from observing him that he was always very friendly with everybody, but you never really knew who his best friends were,” said Caine.
Caine credits Waddell for her friendly attitude toward everyone.
Throughout her service to the district, Caine was very involved with the Combined Federal Campaign and remembers the district winning awards for reaching campaign goals on several occasions. However, she believes that it is not about the awards but the good that the district employees are doing.
“There is so much need in the community and you want to do something to feel like you are helping your fellow man or woman,” said Caine.
Caine comes from very humble beginnings in the Corps of Engineers. She spent nearly 30 years in the district’s real estate branch and 15 years in engineering division, but it was in 1960 at a Corps’ supply and maintenance depot in Granite City, Illinois, that she got her start as an entry-level clerk typist in shipping and receiving.
Caine remained in that position for only a year before moving on to another position in supply and maintenance as a stock record clerk. While in this position she met her former husband, a U.S. Army reservist from Sacramento, also serving at the depot in Illinois.
In 1961 President John F. Kennedy ordered additional troops to Europe and Caine’s husband mobilized to active duty. He returned to the U.S. in 1962 and settled back in Sacramento to finish studying for his degree. Caine moved out to California to be with him and was quickly picked up by the Corps again in the Sacramento District.
Caine anticipated working in the district’s engineering division, but almost didn’t get hired when she was found to be three months pregnant during a physical. However, the special assistant to the chief of engineering division was able to convince the branch chief otherwise.
“Major Roan Aicklen went to bat for me and said, ‘You could always hire a clerk typist. Give her an opportunity,’ and so that was the beginning of my career in the Sacramento District,” said Caine.
After Caine had her son she returned to work and this was enough to convince her supervisors that she was here to stay. From then on she would be a part of exciting and busy times in the Sacramento District.
In the 1960s, the Sacramento District had a lot of military projects, but also received projects supporting President Kennedy’s challenge to go to the moon. The district constructed launch facilities at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, NASA’s alternate launch site after Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The rockets which would eventually carry the first astronauts to the moon were test fired in California and the Sacramento District built the rocket stands at the launch site.
“This district was involved in many projects that are probably long forgotten,” said Caine. “The behind the scenes design and project engineer work was all done here.”
On the civil works side, Caine remembers the impressive size of several dam construction projects.
In 1978 a position in the Sacramento District real estate branch opened, which would lead Caine to where she is today, but at first she was not going to apply.
George Waddell, Caine’s supervisor, recommended that she consider positions in other technical offices to learn other skills and add value to her career. To her surprise, she got the job.
“I walked into real estate as a new section chief knowing very little about real estate,” said Caine.
At first it was a little tense. Caine had to prove her mettle in a branch where she had practically no experience. Not to be discouraged, she took home regulation manuals and studied at night while also taking care of her two-year-old son.
Caine went on to become acting branch chief before being selected for the position permanently. One of her first goals as chief was to increase her employees’ training, which she believes would improve performance and success.
“I don’t believe people come into work with the intent of failing,” said Caine. “They come in wanting to do the best they can and go home really pleased with what they’ve accomplished.”
Although Caine went to work right away leading the real estate branch, it took her about two years for it to sink in that she had become the branch chief.
“I kept thinking that the boss will arrive,” said Caine. “Oh, I am the boss.”
Looking back, Caine is pleased with her career and the many opportunities.
“The Corps can take you around the world,” said Caine. “I’ve seen people really progress and build great careers for themselves within the Corps of Engineers.”