ANCHORAGE, Alaska –
Editor’s note: March is Women’s History Month and throughout the month, we will spotlight Defense Logistics Agency Energy employees who are honoring their history and making a difference through their accomplishments both in their workplace and community.
What is your name and where is your hometown? Jill Chouinard. I was born in Glennallen, Alaska, and currently live and work in Anchorage, Alaska.
What is your title? General Engineer
Describe your job: I am DLA Energy’s engineer for Alaska. My team is in Richmond, Virginia, but I am on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska. I have not met my current supervisor nor my team members in person as I sit roughly 3,400 air miles from them. All communication is by email, phone, and videoconferencing. I have worked for DLA since October 2014. I transferred from U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska District where I managed the DLA program along with military construction projects.
I provide engineering and project management oversight for DLA Energy Sustainment, Restoration and Maintenance efforts and various military construction projects for Alaska. I support both Air Force and Army customers, which is unique to my position as most of our engineers only support one branch of service. Work in Alaska, a state that’s 586,000 square miles in area, is centered on logistics and planning and requires great communication and teamwork for success. A short May to September construction season and project locations without road or rail access make working in Alaska interesting. Cold temperatures that routinely reach -40 degrees in the winter make arctic design and engineering important for project success.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, construction impacts were a big concern. Construction materials routinely travel through Canada for Alaska projects, and at one point all travel through Canada was suspended. Considerable advanced planning was required to mitigate material delays and the project team continues to track new restrictions or changes.
How did you get into this career field? My dad is an engineer and I like math and science, so an engineering degree was a good fit. I am also a practical gal and wanted a field of study where I would have a variety of employment choices.
What makes you proud about your job? My daily focus is the men and women on the ground, in uniform, trying to get the job done and making their lives safer, easier, and more efficient. The Alaska team includes DLA Energy, Air Force, Army, and USACE members who communicate well and are team players consistently working together to get the job done. I am proud to be a part of their team.
What or who was the biggest influence on your career? I had two great mentors early in my career. One was my supervisor Air Force Capt. Scott Hill. I was fresh out of college with Civil and Environmental Engineering degrees. The job I filled had been vacant for six months and was a sole position. Capt. Hill told me to “jump right in and do your best. If you make mistakes, we will correct them together.” He gave me the freedom to make mistakes, prioritize my work, and approach problems in whatever way I chose. He was confident in my ability to succeed even before I was and showed me the value of allowing people to rise to the challenge to grow and learn.
Another mentor was Ms. Moira Dennis, an Air Force Real Property Manager and one of the only female senior civilians in my organization. My job involved real property, so we coordinated frequently. Initially she was frustrating because she often stopped progress on my projects. She was nice, but I found her difficult to work with. A coworker told me she was very helpful and if I had a problem with her, it was me. I realized I was the problem, so I had to change my approach. That led me to something that I still use to this day. If you don’t get the answer you desire, then maybe you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking if I could do something, I started to ask what was required to accomplish what I wanted. Once she understood I was willing to complete documents and route forms my projects were approved. We became friends and she was a model of calm professionalism, helpfulness, and teamwork.
What advice do you have for others who may want to follow in your footsteps? Dream big and be determined even if someone else doesn’t believe in you. When I asked my high school counselor what college prep classes I needed, he told me it didn’t matter as I had a boyfriend so I would get married and never finish college. His words hurt me but trigged a spark to prove him wrong.
This year’s theme is "Women Providing Healing, Promoting Hope." Why do you think this theme is important to emphasize? How do you honor this theme? The emphasis on healing is important as we remember past accomplishments of women that were credited to men and are now being publicly recognized as belonging to women. Being recognized as an equal and valued member of the team is important as it provides hope to young women that their success will rely solely on their accomplishments. My hope is both that young women and men can equally pursue any career field they choose without barriers.
Are there any other ways you contribute to your community or workplace? I was as Girl Scout Troop and Service Unit leader for many years, at one time I led three troops at once as I have three daughters.
I am on the board of the Alaska Women’s Hockey Association. I started playing hockey when I was 18 and currently play on two teams: a recreation level team and a competitive team. I am not a super star player but love the comradery of being on the ice with my team and mentoring new players.
I serve on the Board of Trustees at my church, and we are responsible for planning and executing maintenance and construction projects.
Is there anything else you’d like to share/add? I am a mom of three wonderful girls, and I consider the fact that they have all graduated from college as one of my major accomplishments. They did all the hard work, but I will still take credit.