Flashback Friday Moment of The Week: 9/4/2020

by Just Juan
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On Tuesday, the Director of the Office of Facilities & Administrative Services at the U.S. Department of the Interior presented me with a certificate of appreciation for the work I’ve done in my 4 years of service to the Department. My official last day in the office isn’t until next Friday but he’s going to be out on leave and we’re already minimally manned due to the maximum teleworking brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. As such, Tuesday was the last day all of the important people would be in office in my waning days. Looking at that certificate reminded me of July 25, 2016 and how I felt on that day. Although I still have a week left, I figured it’s the perfect segue for this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the DOI experience.

How I first came across this moment? My experience at the U.S. Department of the Interior—in particular, the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building—started when I applied for the GS-1176-12 Building Management Specialist position in February 2016. At the time, I was a GS-1640-11 Facility Operations Specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Opelika. While it was a fantastic job—complete with constant TDY travel, teleworking, a flexible work schedule, and comfortable living in Lee County, Alabama—I needed something more. I didn’t feel as if USACE would provide me the opportunities to put myself in a better position for the Foreign Service job I’m slated to start in 1 ½ weeks. Factor in me being in Year 3 of a 4-year term appointment and the pressure was on me to find something elsewhere fast. Initially, I found that something else in the form of a GS-1640-11 Facility Operations Specialist position at the U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base outside of St. Louis. I was familiar with the requirements as I had applied for their GS-12 Supervisory Facility Operations Specialist position a half-year earlier, only for it to ultimately go to a fellow 3E6 who was retiring and already at Scott…thus saving them the relocation charge to bring me onboard. I accepted the job on April 21, 2016 and conducted a drug screen to pretty much finalize everything. As a condition of my acceptance, I requested that my start date be July 25, 2016. That would give Mercedes and I 3 months to get married and prepare for the move. A week later—on April 27—I received an email from the U.S. Department of the Interior, requesting an interview. I interviewed with them on May 3. Obviously, they were impressed because they offered me the job a week later. I literally had 2 jobs in my hand: (1) a job at USTRANSCOM, which would put me back into Air Force culture or (2) a job at the Interior headquarters, which would bring me back to the National Capital Region. The deciding factor for me was something that the guy at USTRANSCOM—the one who ultimately got the GS-12 job over me—said after I accepted the position: “you’ll run the day-to-day and I’ll just supervise and provide top-cover”. That offended me because I felt as if I was good enough to have his position and if not for USTRANSCOM wanting to save $3500 or so in relocation costs, that would’ve been my job. His rubbing me the wrong way with that led me to fully commit to the Interior position. I negotiated a delayed start (July 25th) in order for me to wrap up my business in the South and move up to the National Capital Region. July 25th came and I walked into the building for the first time, where my supervisor met me at Security and the rest is history.

What it meant to me then? Back when I started in July 2016, I was very green. I was the youngest AND newest person in OFAS. It was an incredible learning curve but my colleagues were very supportive and they helped me out tremendously. In no time, I integrated myself into the culture and went about doing my job. It was a far different experience than that which I had at USACE in Opelika, where I was all by myself. For the first time in my facilities career, I felt as if I was in a place where I was on the same wavelength as everybody else. At my other stops, it always felt as if I was out of place. I enjoyed the increased responsibility, the autonomy, and the constant teaching moments. They made me a much better facilities professional.

What it means to me now? So here we are: a little over 4 years later. I’m set to leave next week as one of the more integral pieces on the board in the Branch of Building Operations. Not only have I grown close to my team professionally, but I’ve also grown close to them personally. It definitely hurts to be leaving them and the tremendous work we do at the MIB. But, as I told them all a month ago, there was only one job I was leaving Interior for…and I happen to be starting it 2 Mondays from today. Next week will definitely be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. For the first time since May 2010, when I was making my exit from the Yokota Air Base assignment, there’s a part of me that wishes I wasn’t leaving a position. I’ll always have fond memories of my time at Interior and the great people I worked with. I’ll remember the projects I worked on and all of the secrets of the ancient building. I’m thinking I’ll be around in the area for a while before I get shipped off somewhere in the world to manage an embassy or consulate so I’ll stop through when I can to visit.

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