Full Circle Moments: An Interview with Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell

Fort Worth District, USACE
Published Feb. 16, 2024
Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell

As a project engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell is proud of her involvement to provide a safe training environment for future Air Force trainees. (US Army photo by Brittany Scruggs)

Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell

As a project engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell has coordinated many construction projects, but none as close to her heart as the U.S. Air Force’s Airman Training Centers located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. (US Army photo by Brittany Scruggs)

Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell

Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell, Project Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, receives a safety overview of the day by Daniel Olivas, Resident Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. (US Army photo by Brittany Scruggs)

As a project engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vanessa Pellegrino-Badell has coordinated many construction projects, but none as close to her heart as the U.S. Air Force’s Airman Training Centers located at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas. Growing up, Pellegrino-Badell always had a passion for service, and when faced with the opportunity to enlist in the Air Force, she felt it was a natural step toward this. Her military service opened her eyes to new levels of possibilities and gave her the tools to be prepared for any challenges that lie ahead. We sat down with Pellegrino-Badell to discuss joining the Air Force, and how her training and military service prepared her for a new chapter in her career of becoming a project engineer for USACE.

Q: How did you come to work for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers?

A: I started researching different government agencies, during my last year in graduate school. I was seeking a sense of service and honestly didn’t know much about USACE. At the time, I was living in Boston, mid-pandemic, where the job market slowed down significantly. I was looking for a position with an emphasis on construction, and found a job for a technical team, which is like a subject matter expert, with an opening for San Antonio or Nashville. I chose San Antonio because it was a familiar area and I felt more comfortable having already been in the area during my basic and technical school training with the Air Force.

Q: How has the Air Force prepared you to be in your current position?

A: In the Air Force, I learned how to be adaptive to work with different people from different backgrounds and walks of life. It taught me how to go after whatever I put my mind to like goals, and how to work as a team. I feel like that's like the basic component of basic training too, right. It's like you come in as an individual, and then they break you down and then they build you back up as a group that moves as one unit.

It also taught me to remain flexible, and working in construction is a beast so it forces you to work as part of a team. Having been through the Air Force, it allowed me to have an emphasis on cohesion with team members and being “always ready” (a term often heard shouted in unison across multiple drill pads as a rallying cry for order). You come to understand that it's not just about you, and that you are only as strong as your weakest member. You learn how to build up those weaknesses and make the team stronger overall. I have always kept this in my mind when working with any team and my current team is like my family; the people that I need to work with, and that I need to look after, and perhaps lead, to have a successful team and mission.

In order to become a good leader, you also must become a good follower. Although I did almost 5 years, I enlisted when I was 26 years old, and separated from the service as a staff sergeant. So, I was already older, and my flight leaders saw a lot of leadership qualities in me and delegated a lot of responsibilities to me.
In a way, coming back here, it is a full circle moment. I’m starting my professional career with USACE where my foundation began, with the Air Force. This new cycle has allowed me to learn and be led by some of the best in my field and will help me become a better leader in the future.

Q: What is your role on the Airman Training Center project?

A: I do both quality assurance and project engineering on the project. While I’m not leading any of the projects, I am helping one of my seasoned counterparts with the project engineering side of things. For the quality assurance side, I spend a lot of time in the field doing quality control checks to make sure that we are receiving quality workmanship.

Q: Being that you are prior Air Force, how does it feel to be working on a project, like this, with the Army?

A: I’m finishing a cycle. I’m beginning a career where things ended in the Air Force. I will always be an Air Force veteran, but now I get to use my gained experience and put it to great use working for USACE. My experience has been given a voice and it feels great to have a say on how things progress. I remember what it was like to go through basic training so when I walk through the new hallways and I start to see the building starting to take shape, I take pride in and feel responsible for its success.

Q: Have there been any challenges you have had to overcome while working on this project?

A: As an Air Force veteran, I have a unique viewpoint into understanding the hardships the trainees may face and find and eliminate as many outside stressors as possible. I have seen how stressors can take its toll on you, and being back here is a reminder, both good and bad, and is also why I am passionate about protecting my team, the district and ultimately the final customer, a well-trained Air Force. One way I do this is by making sure the trainees have a safe training environment, and I take my role, no matter the position, to heart.

Q: Have there been any successes that you have experienced while working on this project?

A: This project has taught me a lot about architecture, and I am currently taking those exams. The exposure I have through construction and construction management has allowed me to be more successful in my exams and get that much closer to reaching my goals.

Q: What advice would you give for someone looking to go into construction with the Army Corps of Engineers?

A: Go for it! We need more women in this field and deserve a seat at the table. What we do here, creates environments that influence not only locally, but globally in many ways, and having women in construction would help provide another viewpoint needed for mission success. Communication is always a key component in our line of work; we act as connectors between USACE, contractors, the customer, etc., and I believe women are natural connectors.

Q: Do you have any final thoughts or anything you want to add that I have not asked?

A: My Air Force background has allowed me to provide a great service because I understand its standards and culture. Working with USACE allows me to fulfill the sense of community and camaraderie that you experience while serving in the military. Some of my coworkers are veterans of other military branches, so we still have that same fun and competitive spirit, and it brings several different viewpoints that work together for meeting of mission of protecting the American people and the Constitution of the United States.

I have enjoyed my time working with USACE and hope to continue working here. Not many can say they are helping build Airman Training Centers on the very base where they began as an Airman. This project will always have a special significance to me. I’m able to make a difference and impact future trainees that will go through these training centers by creating safe environments where changes and challenges will be formed into one unit. Where else can you explore possibilities, Aim High, and Be All You Can Be?