If there was a soundtrack for your life, what would it be?
Tina Hadden's would probably be “Don't Fear the Reaper” by Blue Oyster Cult. Disregard the meaning of not fearing inevitable death; just focus on the title.
Hadden, the regulatory chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Charleston District, spends time getting cursed out by some people, threatened by others and even convincing a staff member that she's not intimidating.
The first female engineer of the Charleston District commands authority by nature. She speaks the loudest in the room and has the credentials to be respected. She and her staff can walk onto your property and tell you what you can and cannot do with it.
Justifiably so, that doesn't always sit well with people.
“I never make anyone happy,” Hadden said. “No one ever says, 'Thank you for being here.'”
About five years ago, an ex-district colonel asked her to write an article about what it means to be a regulator. “Why would so many people love a job that requires you to be hated by half the population and tolerated by the other half, and never loved by anyone?” Hadden read from her response.
“You have to be an expert on everything from wetlands to navigation to cultural resources to air quality to aesthetics to contaminated sediments to endangered species, etc., etc., etc. It's not an easy job, and it's very stressful.”
But, the reaper – er, Hadden – loves it. She calls her relationship with the stacks of binders filled with evolving regulations “sick.”
“I will sit there and read volumes and volumes of regulations,” Hadden said. She's fascinated by science, laws and the daily struggles to protect both the interests of developers and the environment.
Regulators within the Army Corps of Engineers walk the tightrope of protecting our nation's waters while providing fair and balanced permit decisions. Building a house? You need a permit. Expanding your business? Get a permit.
Regulators visit prospective sites of individuals or businesses who submit an application. The regulator reviews the site, conducting a jurisdictional determination to figure out if a wetland is affected. Rarely do applications get denied, Hadden said. Instead, they're often modified to minimize wetland detriment, while still providing a viable solution for the application's original purpose.
“I always tell people who come to work for me: 'If you have a desire to be liked, don't take this job,'” Hadden said. “It's something that's needed for our nation, but the general public is not happy that we're going to work on their personal property and tell them, 'No you can't do that.'”
Hadden added that people have pulled guns on regulators, and a man working on a bulldozer once tried to run over a regulator.
Why should you care about wetlands? The Lowcountry's unofficial mascot, the oyster, probably wouldn't be able to visit every neighborhood's annual roast every weekend like it does now.
And, residentially, if a neighbor fills in a wetland that you share, your home becomes a prime target for flooding.
Hadden said the latter example is usually enough for people to recognize the regulatory program's importance. Hadden has been working in regulatory in the Charleston district since graduating from the University of South Carolina about 30 years ago.
She was the first female engineer of the district. Army Corps employees begin their employment by visiting other offices within their respective district's coverage area. Hadden's final stop along the South Carolina trail was in regulatory.
“I immediately loved it. The typical engineer is introverted and I'm not. I'm a major people person,” she said. “I really like dealing with people.”
Even people that curse at her?
“I still like dealing with people,” she maintained, laughing. “I would much rather do that than work on my computer.”
The average person burns about 50 calories just sitting in a chair. Hadden's number is probably five times that amount. Her self-prescribed Type A personality includes plenty of hand movements, crossing and uncrossing her legs and waving her arms.
Lt. Col. Ed Chamberlayne laughed when he heard Hadden's name. “She's dynamic,” he said, smiling.
Glenn Jeffries, chief of corporate communications, said, “You'll know why the colonel laughed so much after you meet her.”
Hadden's stress reliever after she clocks out for the day isn't a punching bag or a pillow to muffle screams of frustration.
No, she knits.
The woman who people yell at from 9-5 is known around the office for her knitting skills. Chamberlayne's right – dynamic, for sure.
But, what's not out of context from Hadden's natural demeanor was how she got started with the hobby popular among women twice her age in rocking chairs. A co-worker was persistent that she try knitting, even after Hadden repeatedly turned her down.
Another co-worker overheard the two's converation and said, “Tina doesn't have the patience.”
“That was it. I left work that day and bought yarn and needles,” she said. “Then, I became addicted.”
Hadden even has a group of friends referred to as “knitsibs” who meet weekly to knit together. She's made shawls, sweaters, hats, blankets, gloves and socks.
That's one terrifying reaper.
A family thing
At about 2 p.m. every weekday, most work environments hit a lull. Five o'clock seems centuries away.
But, at the Charleston district, a brisk walk through the halls defied that. By the elevator, one woman hugged another in an apparent reunion. Jeffries enthusiastically navigated the Corps' website seeking clarifications of regulatory vocabulary and sipping ginger ale. Chamberlayne poked his head in her office, jokingly reading a newspaper article as if for the first time in front of the writer.
And, Hadden was Hadden. No lulls. Ever.
“This is my motto: I may have the right to remain silent, but I don't have the ability,” she said.
She's always been as boisterous, too. Perhaps it's because she's a Gamecock cornered by Tigers.
It's like Thanksgiving with the Corps – a family-like atmosphere. Turn on the football game and fetch some stretchy pants.
Hadden has a literal family feel to the workplace. As a wide-eyed 22-year-old in her first full-time job, she met her husband. It wasn't on a blind date or anything romantic that might come to mind.
When Hadden rolled back in her chair, and the gentleman behind her rolled back in his chair, they smacked chair backs into each other. The Romeo responsible for invading the two feet of clearance between the two and providing startling jolts to Hadden's back was Jimmy Hadden.
They got married and now have a daughter named Cameron.
Don't fear the workplace, and don't fear the reaper.
Follow Tyler Heffernan on Twitter @TylerHeff.