Forty years ago, career choices for women were generally not as diverse as they are today. Pam Peralta never let that stand in her way. Her choices leaned toward the non-traditional and resulted in several historic firsts.
In 1973, Peralta served in the Women's Army Corps (WAC), the women's branch of the United States Army. The same year, she graduated from the Southeastern Signal School in Fort Gordon, Ga. After serving a year as a telecommunication specialist at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Peralta received orders to serve overseas at the Army Security Agency in Okinawa. Peralta was one of only 12 women in a class of 125 to graduate from the Korean-based non-commissioned officer academy. She served for a total of five years in Okinawa, first as a telecommunications shift chief and later as the communications security chief.
Peralta returned to the United States when she was assigned to the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, where she served until her honorable discharge in 1979. In total, she served nearly seven years in the U.S. Army and earned several awards, including the National Defense Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Good Conduct Medal (2nd Award) and the M16 Rifle Expert Qualification Badge.
Peralta began her federal civilian career in a six-month temporary position with the Corps’ Huntington District, as a lock and dam operator at Racine Lock and Dam, West Virginia. She was later hired permanently at Marmet Lock and Dam, also in Huntington District.
In 1984, Peralta accepted a lock and dam operator position with Jacksonville District, at Moore Haven Lock and Dam on the west side of Lake Okeechobee in Florida. Her selection was historic – Peralta was the Corps’ first female lock and dam operator in Florida. After nine years, she filled a critical vacancy at the Ortona Lock and Dam on the Caloosahatchee River for one year, before returning to Moore Haven.
In 1997, Peralta was promoted to lock and dam leader at the Moore Haven Lock and Dam. Her promotion was another historic first for a woman in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the state of Florida. Peralta served in that position with a reliable, steady dedication for 16 years.
Peralta’s responsibilities as the Moore Haven lock and dam leader included scheduling, coordination and execution of work projects for three lock operators manning a year-round 12-hour daily mission for navigation of vessels and spillway operations to balance water levels from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee River.
“Pam has always found ways and means to be successful,” said Steven Dunham, chief of the South Florida Operations Office in Clewiston, Fla. “Despite the maintenance challenges of working on a lock built in the 1930s, she has worked steadily and responsibly to keep the mission going, even through times of great adversity. She was an expert in the abilities of the hydraulic machinery, gate operations, gear systems and spillway capabilities and she ensured any discrepancies were addressed and resolved.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District recognized Peralta’s 40 years of outstanding federal service by awarding her the Steel de Fleury Medal April 29 at the Moore Haven Lock.
“Pam's four decades of outstanding service to the nation is exceptional and exemplifies the selfless service of those in our workforce,” said Lt. Col. Thomas Greco, deputy district commander for south Florida.
Greco described the significance of the award as he presented the medal and a certificate signed by the Chief of Engineers.
“The engineer regiment adopted the de Fleury medal as an award because of the values demonstrated by the man for whom it was struck – values of special meaning to Engineer Soldiers,” he said. “The de Fleury Medal was the first congressional medal struck. This prestigious award recognizes both civilian and military personnel for outstanding contributions to the United States and to Army engineering.”
“Pam was the first female hired by the division, and she maintained the position until her retirement. She kept up with all of the regulations, always made sure her people followed the standard operating procedures, and safety was always on her mind,” said Jack Pasch, her supervisor and acting chief of navigation operations. “Pam made sure that her people were doing the right thing and then she always backed them up.”
“Pam was gifted in leading others and did her job very well during many storm events,” said Dunham. “Her quiet confidence and resolute abilities on the job are her hallmark traits. She has earned this distinguished award given her 40 years of military and federal service.”