Women building up women

Published Oct. 9, 2019
Women in Leadership

The Charleston District's newest commander is Lt. Col. Rachel Honderd. Now, the District's commander, head civilian and division commander are all female. Learn about their views on women in leadership.

The Change of Command ceremony on July 12 brought several firsts for the Charleston District; the first female commander, the first time a female commanding general conducted the ceremony, and the first time the District has females simultaneously in these top three leadership positions.

“I am very excited about this historic occasion, because it shows how far we, as a society, have come,” said Lisa Metheney, Charleston District deputy of programs and project management and senior civilian. “We, as a government entity, are setting a great example for the rest of the business world, in that if you want to be successful, you have to have that balance in demographics.”

Maj. Gen. Diana Holland became the first female commander of the South Atlantic Division in July 2017, Lt. Col. Rachel Honderd took command of the District on July 12 as the first female commander, and Metheney became the first female senior civilian in January 2014. In addition to being the District’s first female commander, Honderd is also the first female commander of a district in SAD, which encompasses five districts along the southeast coast.

“I enjoy working in a team setting and I feel very fortunate to be joining such a great team of women leaders as the new District commander,” said Honderd.

This is a monumental milestone considering the size and workload of the District. With 240 employees, Charleston District is the second smallest district in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by number of employees, but the District ranked number 16 out of 43 districts in the size of the program they executed in fiscal year 2018. Based on the size of the workforce and the size of the program, the Charleston District is fourth per capita in the entire Corps. 
“Numbers by themselves don’t tell the whole story, but they are indicative of what the bigger story is,” said Metheney. “That’s the way it is with our stats; our story is our people and what we do for the nation every day, whether it’s supporting the active duty warfighter, our reserves or whether we’re assisting Defense Logistics Agency or civil works projects, but all of that can be summed up in these statistics.”

Within those 240 employees, approximately 40 percent are females and of the 50 chiefs and senior chiefs, approximately 32 percent are female. 

“When I go visit the big projects in SAD, many times the project manager is a woman,” said Holland. “We have a lot. Now it’s not 50/50, which is where it should be. However, I think that’s a reflection of while the stats may not be where they need to be, there are definitely opportunities when you prove your competence and the leadership of this organization is promoting that.” 

As Holland points out the level of competency is important, and the District is fortunate that all three leaders have the necessary experience and education to make it one of the best districts in the Corps. 

Holland is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy West Point and has a Master of Arts from Duke University and Master of Military Arts and Sciences from the Army Command and General Staff College and the School of Advanced Military Studies. Due to her education, experiences and leadership skills, she was recently promoted to Maj. Gen., which is no small feat. 

“Of the 6,915 officers who were commissioned in 1990, Diana’s year group, 40 brigadier generals are on the 2019 promotion list, only 15 have been confirmed for promotion to major general,” said Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at Holland’s recent promotion ceremony.  “Diana is just one of two engineer general officers and so the fact that you are in a very small percentage, less than one percent, is a big, big deal.” 

Honderd enlisted in the U.S. Army as an intelligence intercept analyst and electronic warfare specialist. After serving her first tour of duty as an enlisted Soldier, she was selected for the Green to Gold program and commissioned into the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Augusta State University. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology from Western Washington University, a Master’s in Public Administration from Augusta State University, and a Master’s of Science in Construction Management from the University of Washington. Not only has Honderd worked in several different Corps districts in a wide-variety of roles, she also has experience in the “operational-side,” which is the non-Corps side of the U.S. Army, giving her the capability and leadership skills needed to be a diverse commander.

“Rachel’s been going back and forth between the Army and Corps quite a bit,” said Holland. “She has a lot of experience in the Corps and that’s going to be a tremendous benefit to Charleston. Rachel will fit in seamlessly with the team here in Charleston.” 

Metheney graduated from Marshall University with a Bachelor’s of Business Administration in Economics and followed that with a Master’s of Business Administration. She joined the Huntington District in 1993 as an economist and the Charleston District in 1999, where she quickly worked her way up to chief of programs and project management and finally to her current role as senior civilian. 
“It’s the civilians that make the Corps of Engineers, what we are today, and it’s people like Lisa who are passionate and who are dedicated, and are not going to just settle for the status quo,” said Semonite.  

While this is a first for the District, this is not the first time that Holland and Honderd have been the first females to lead an organization. Before taking command of SAD, Holland was the first female commandant of the Corps of Cadets at the U.S. Military Academy and, prior to that, the first female to be the deputy commanding general for support at Fort Drum, New York. While stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Honderd was selected as one of the first three female lieutenants to be the company commander of a sapper unit. Another instance of a first occurred while Honderd was a company commander in Iraq. There, it was the first time that all five companies within a battalion were led by a female officer. 

Despite the many recent firsts, this does not change the mission, service nor projects that the Charleston District provides, and will continue providing, nationwide. 

“Regardless of who’s sitting in these three chairs, the District is always going to continue to serve the state and the nation,” said Metheney. “It’s very exciting that the three of us get to do it together and bring a different perspective to do that, but the Charleston District has been here since 1821, and will be here long after were all gone, and it is going to keep serving those who our mission is set to serve.”