Posted on December 18, 2023
Edwina Smalls started working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District, in 1982 as a student aide in Human Resources while studying at Savannah State University.
Smalls moved into the Word Processing Department shortly after and later transitioned to Savannah Technical College to earn a diploma in word processing. After graduation in 1985, Smalls accepted a position outside the Corps with the Allies Wholesale Clothing Store headquarters and began substitute teaching in her free time.
Not six months went by before Smalls received a call from the District’s HR department informing her of a temporary position within Resource Management. After some consideration, Smalls decided to return to the Corps and eventually moved into a permanent position as a data control clerk and purchasing agent with the Contracting Division the following year.
After 41 years of federal service, the contract specialist is officially retiring. Smalls’ retirement ceremony took place Dec. 13, 2023, but her official last day with the District is Dec. 29.
“I envisioned myself retiring some years ago, but this timing was perfect,” said Smalls. “Only you know when you’re ready to retire and I think it’s something I’m going to enjoy.”
The Savannah native said it took her coworkers some convincing before they believed she was really retiring. Smalls has worked in every area of the Contracting Division and has become a source of knowledge for the entire team.
Her supervisor, Chad Arnett, contracting officer and reimbursable section chief, has known Smalls for more than 13 years and said that he relied on her quite a bit to train new employees.
“She had a very high standard for quality work, and you want someone like that teaching new contract specialists,” said Arnett. “She provided a lot of continuity over many years and always remained focused on providing support to Soldiers, families and district programs.”
Whether it was a question of the best places to eat lunch downtown, or how to best tackle a task, Smalls had an answer for everything.
“We’re all in here together, we can help one another,” said Smalls. “It’s all in how we finish the product and how we all get to go home.”
Through her career, Smalls made sure to volunteer for every training opportunity and offer a hand when someone needed assistance. Her on-the-job experience proved invaluable, and as she climbed the ranks, Smalls made sure to hold the door for others who followed.
“People like her paved the way for people like me,” said Fabiola Ducelus, contract specialist in the architect and engineering section. “She was a trailblazer.”
Many friends and colleagues gathered at the ceremony to celebrate Smalls and all her accomplishments.
Smalls reflected on her career and noted some pivotal moments starting with her role during the consolidation of all the buildings downtown to the District’s current, central location on Oglethorpe Avenue.
She was also instrumental in overseeing new programs and processes over the years including the introduction of the Government Purchase Card and the conversion from paper files to the electronic filing system.
Of all the major projects that she worked on, Smalls said it’s the people she will remember most.
“I will miss the people,” said Smalls. “The way I look at it, they are like my second family.”
Lt. Col. Alex Duffy, Savannah District Deputy Commander, presented Smalls with a Department of the Army Civilian Service Commendation Medal, a DA Certificate of Appreciation, a commander’s coin and her 40-year certificate and pin.
To the teammates she is leaving behind at the District, Smalls said she wants them to continue participating in team building events.
“Cross the aisle and talk to your neighbor,” said Smalls. “We spend eight hours a day with our coworkers, so get to know them.”
Smalls was always one to introduce herself to new faces in the building and mentor others whenever possible. While she spent time building her career and helping guide career paths for others, she also made sure to invest in her children’s life goals.
As a mother of three, and now a grandmother of six, Smalls is proud of her family’s accomplishment. Her oldest, Ebony, is a paralegal; her son, Craig Jr., is following in her footsteps in the purchasing realm; and her youngest, Fatina, is a teacher. Two of her children already have their master’s degrees and one is currently seeking theirs.
Smalls plans to spend her retirement years with her family and travelling abroad occasionally.
“It’s not easy being a contract specialist, but once you get into it, you really love it.” said Smalls. “I feel like I can pat myself on the back with the job that I did.”