By Cheryl A. Moore, Public Affairs Specialist
U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District
There’s Bornhoft and Meuleners and Volz and Tillotson, on Ubbelohde and Bedey and Press and Ruch, but do you recall, the most recent commanders of all?Since 1991 Margaret E. Oldham recalls them all, having worked under the previous commanders and the newly-departed Colonel Cross along with the present commander, Colonel John Henderson. Not only has she worked under 10 commanders, she has been under the supervision of two Kevins, Mayberry and Quinn, Paul Johnston, and three lieutenant colonels, Jordano, Martinez and Sexton. “I am grateful for the opportunity to work alongside so many good people at the Corps who look out for one another and also give back to the community, through Operation Santa, the Paint-A-Thon and individually through other causes on their own time,” said Oldham.Oldham’s own time began January 1, 2016. Following 30 plus years in the federal civilian service she is retiring from the force, as another “force awakens”. This Omaha native earned her Bachelor of Science degree in journalism at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. She began her career as an intern reporter for the Council Bluffs, Iowa The Daily Nonpariel newspaper during her college years. In 1978 she put her college aspirations on hold and married her husband Tom. A year later Tom joined the Air Force and Maggie joined him at Sheppard AFB, Texas where she worked at the Base Exchange wrapping expensive gifts during the Christmas holidays. “Very humbling when married to an airman basic and being strapped for cash ourselves,” she said. It is during this time of year that Oldham reflects on what she has had, and how far she has come. Their first military assignment was to Rhein Main Air Base, Germany in 1980. “We were actually hoping that his first assignment would bring us either closer to home, like in Colorado or on the East Coast,” she said. “But it turned out to be a turning point for us, a very good move and one that would define our life forward,” she added.
Their humble beginnings as a young couple in the military reflect what so many young couples endure even today: They didn’t have a car for the first six months, then picked up a Volkswagen bug, but it was on its last tires. Two years later the tires held out, but the battery caught on fire putting an end to the bug. Bicycles became their mode of transportation going back and forth from their efficiency apartment they rented from a German family. “We lived in town and I remember having to adjust the pictures on the wall now and then, because we lived only a block from the Bahnhof (train station),” she said. In June 1981 Oldham began her civil service career in Rhein Main in the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division as a GS-3 clerk typist and received a GS-4 promotion before it was time to pack up and head to a new duty station. With a few more moves and career changes, Oldham continued to reach for her ultimate goal of mixing her journalism talents with her love for working with the government. “My goal upon returning to the states was to go back to school and finish my college degree, then I could combine my journalism and government work somehow,” she said. What made it much easier for her was the surprise her husband received when they got orders to Offutt AFB. They left Germany in October 1989. “At the time the Berlin Wall was coming down and we had just visited the city that July, so it was an interesting perspective to hear the news,” Oldham said.
They returned to Omaha where Oldham was glad to be back home in her hometown. “But we missed Germany after being there for almost seven years,” she said. She also wanted to add how much patriotism one feels when they are living outside of the U. S. and see the American flag raised or hear the national anthem played, as they did during various functions at the bases in Germany. “It really makes you proud to be an American and to respect the members of the military. I feel grateful that I had the opportunity to witness that and to support the military as an Air Force civilian employee,” she said. Two months after returning to Omaha she embarked on her educational goal at the University of Nebraska at Omaha in the communications program. She reached that goal by earning a B.S. degree in communications in 1991, with a minor in psychology. With Offutt AFB in the midst of a reduction in force, Oldham worked for the Bellevue Leader newspaper during the summer.
The Corps door opened for her in October 1991. She began as a secretary in the Environmental Branch of the Engineering Division where she remained excited about her opportunity. When she saw a news item about a freelance writer for the base newspaper at Offutt, she applied and began her writing career, while concurrently working for the Corps. “Everyone has a story if you are willing to sit down and talk to them. My stories were always about people, but also their passion for whatever the story was about,” she said. Oldham said that you never know what life will throw at you, but it’s amazing how things turn out. And turn out, they did. In 1995 though the Omaha District was going through a downsizing, Oldham was tipped off that a Public Affairs Officer position may become available. “Kevin Quinn will remember that I called him on lunch hour from a phone booth that used to be in the Zorinsky building in 1995,” she chuckled.
Her freelance writing paid huge dividends. The executive officer who hired her picked up the weekly Air Pulse newspaper and was very familiar with Oldham’s journalistic skills. In March 1995 she transferred to the Public Affairs Office and ironically had to give up her freelance work for the Air Pulse. Her humble beginnings as an editorial clerk, which eventually led to her promotion through the years to a GS-11 Public Affairs Specialist in 1998 cemented her dream and goals as she had planned.
With many awards, recognitions, a master’s degree from UNO in public administration and much earned respect, Oldham moved up the Career Ladder to a GS-12 Public Affairs position with the Department of Veterans Affairs, Nebraska Western Iowa Health Care System. Her two-year career as the Deputy Public Affairs Officer there allowed her to be involved in the National Veterans Wheelchair games. “I was there during the H1N1 flu when the first case in the Omaha area was at the VA and I launched a communication plan to address it,” she said.
And now to her final chapter: “The happiest day of my federal career was when I found out I had been selected for the GS-13 Chief of Public Affairs for the Omaha District,” she recalled.
Oldham returned to the Omaha District in January 2011. And like the saying goes be careful what you wish for. Oldham received a welcome back like none other with the 2011 Missouri River Flood. A Public Affairs “Gold Mine” when you’re dealing with the Public, the Stakeholders, and informing the media.
“I returned to the place that felt like home,” she said. “The true impact we have on people’s lives, livelihood, and quality of life is what motivates me as a Public Affairs professional,” she concluded.
As the 30 plus career for Oldham comes to an end New Year’s Eve, she continues to take that proactive approach to life as she prepares for family, friends, and possibly “freelancing it a lot”.