Armstrong is ERDC’s new chief counsel

Published 7:35 pm Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Three women stand on the desk of Alissa Armstrong; caricature statues of Princess Leia, Wonder Woman and Sophia from the “Golden Girls.”

“I guess all of them are a part of my character,” she said.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

And her new position as chief counsel for the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center may require her from time to time to draw from the character traits of all three.

Armstrong, who has been a member of the ERDC legal staff for 91/2 years, was named the agency’s chief counsel about two weeks ago, and is responsible not only for overseeing the attorneys in Vicksburg, but also the attorneys at ERDC’s labs in Champaign, Illinois, and Hanover, New Hampshire.

A graduate of Mississippi State with a degree in chemical engineering, Armstrong was a process engineer at International Paper Co. when she decided she wanted to do something different.

She went to law school at Mississippi College, did an externship at ERDC, “and that allowed me to hire in under the chief counsel’s honors program. You’re eligible for that program if you’re in a clerkship while you’re still in school.”

ERDC, she said, wasn’t a target for employment.

“My husband is a partner at May and Company, and one of the partners there had some contacts at ERDC and talked to me about coming out here.

“I needed a nonprofit or government agency to do an externship. It was not on my radar at all for full-time employment. It was a very successful externship, I enjoyed it and I think they were pleased with my work.”

Representing ERDC, Armstrong said, is different from practicing law in a civilian environment.

“Every day, we get new legal issues that are unique to the Corps of Engineers, because we’re different than the district and the division.

“We don’t do any work like real estate; we do contract work, but it’s governed under a different set of regulations than you would do in the private sector. We get a lot of chances to do things that are kind of first time for USACE (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers).”

Because ERDC’s mission is worldwide, Armstrong said, “We’re not limited to other Corps entities. Our work that comes through this office is other federal agency work: Department of Homeland Security, Department of State. We work with the (Corps) districts and divisions, but just as much of our work is outside of USACE.”

Her biggest challenge, Armstrong said, is the new initiatives and innovative new ideas ERDC director Dr. David Pittman and commander Col. Ivan Beckman are pursuing for the agency, including opening the campus.

“Everything we do is part of government, and we have to have authority to do it. We’re actively looking at ways we could use agreements to open it (the campus) up, but there are some legal limitations to that. It takes more time to research. And some things they want to do, we’re not always able to find a legal way to do it.”

Right now, Armstrong is handling the adjustment to her new position.

“I was acting counsel before I was promoted so it was not a big shock,” she said. “I did have to move my office, but it feels good, and the executive office has been very supportive.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

email author More by John