West Wing Woman: MCHS grad is White House communications officer

Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Vickie Beard-Segarra, 45, is a 1984 graduate of Marshall County High School.

A Marshall County woman, who's a communications officer in the White House Situation Room, was back home over the weekend with family, but before returning to Washington, D.C., she planned to see about voting in Lewisburg's election on May 3.

Vickie Beard-Segarra, 45, a 1984 graduate of Marshall County High School, maintains her permanent residence here with her mother, Julia Norwood of Barron Road who says, "I want Marshall County to know they have a MCHS graduate who works in the White House."

So, will Vickie be voting in the city election? No. Her permanent residence isn't in Ward 1 or 5, but she did vote here by absentee ballot last year in November.

Vickie and her husband, Romualdo "Jose" Segarra, have living quarters in Springfield, Va., a suburb of the nation's capitol. Jose recently retired after 20 years in the Army. Vickie's daughters are in college. Brooke Beard, 26, is studying at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Bridgett Beard, 21, is at George Mason University. Both have associates degrees from Northern Virginia Community College.

Speaking for nearly an hour at Shoney's on North Ellington Parkway on Saturday, Vickie reflected on how her public service career in the U.S. Army opened her eyes and changed the course of her life, those of her daughters and, somewhat obliquely, her relatives here. In some respects, it was meant to be and Vickie always knew it.

"When she was in the fourth grade," Julia said, "Vickie told me, 'Mama, I'm going to travel,' and she has. I went to Germany four times when she was posted there."

Vickie smiles sheepishly.

"I had never been on an airplane" before joining the Army, she said. "So, when I got on the plane... and looked out the window and saw those cotton balls..." just hanging there in the sky.

Since then, and because of the professional work environment for fast, personal, face-to-face communications, Vickie finds herself called upon by her first name by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, John O. Brennan, the deputy national security advisor for homeland security, Nate Tibbits, special assistant to the President and executive secretary of the National Security Council and other decision makers.

Vickie is a sergeant first class in the Army, but in the White House, professional business attire is the uniform of the day. It eliminates class distinction and refocuses attention on the task at hand.

Vickie and her co-workers are dealing with international issues that have life and death consequences. She's working in the White House Situation Room and it's nothing like the movies, or CNN's show "The Situation Room," anchored by Wolf Blitzer.

One notable, albeit less stressful aspect of the job, is the fact that Blitzer does not have Bo, the first dog as permitted by President Barack Obama for his daughters.

The dog "goes everywhere in the White House and even in the Situation Room," Vickie says, clarifying that it's not an everyday occurrence for Bo to wander into her work place.

Perhaps a dog seems out of place there, but the woman with a Lewisburg address speaks from her country heart about Bo's appearance at the crossroads of information to and from the President: "People look at him as if they hadn't ever seen a dog before."

Vickie's journey from Lewisburg began when it became apparent that her first marriage could not last. She'd married young. They had two daughters. She'd been to school at Forrest, Cornersville, MCHS and Columbia State Community College in Maury County. She'd worked at Cavalry Bank as a teller on West Commerce Street, the Red Food deli before the building became the Goodwill, at the Sonic when it was next to Coble's Furniture, and at Oakwood Health Care Center as a recreation coordinator.

She wanted to make a better life for her two daughters and herself.

"I wanted to continue my education," Vickie said. "I knew I couldn't afford it here and I wanted to try to do something different.

"When I joined" the Army on Jan. 9, 1991, she said, "I never thought I'd do more than one tour of duty, but it worked out for me..."

She transferred Columbia State college credits to the University of Maryland European Division and earned a bachelor's degree in management.

While in Germany, she met Jose.

"We were in the same unit ... working together," said her husband, a recently retired Army sergeant first class. "The relationship just came from being co-workers ... friends and so forth, and we got married in 1996."

He took her to Puerto Rico to meet his family. They spent more than two weeks there and he's "been in Lewisburg a lot," Segarra said.

After he proposed, he said, "Everything went real fast because of the situation in the service and orders to go back to the U.S. I have a lot of good friends who helped me. We had to fly from Germany to Tennessee."

Their marriage license is a public record at the Marshall County Clerk's Office. They were married in Nashville and they continued to serve in Germany for three years.

"Then, I had an interview to work for the White House Communications Agency," he said. "I was accepted, so we had to find a place for her to work here," stateside.

The job she landed was in the Pentagon where she was working on Sept. 11, 2001.

The way Segarra remembers it, Vickie's workstation was on the same floor of the Pentagon near where the 9-11 terrorist attack occurred at the mammoth federal building that's headquarters for the American military.

"I was on the phone with her when it hit saying, 'Have you seen the news?' And she was saying something was going on there when the building was hit," Segarra said. "I was calm because she was on the phone with me, but there were a lot of people who didn't know (where their loved ones were) and didn't know for 2-3 days..."

It was during her assignment at the Pentagon that Vickie earned her master's degree in human resources from Strayer University. She graduated with honors.

"Anybody who knows me from high school wouldn't believe it because I was so interested in my (then) future husband," Vickie said.

Reflecting on her graduation nearly 27 years ago, Vickie says, MCHS teacher and coach "Fred Shelton shook my hand and told me he had been concerned that I'd graduate because I hadn't been focused, but part of that was because I had a job."

She married three months after graduation and continued working. Her mother wasn't married at the time, so Vickie was one of the breadwinners for that household. She'd been working since age 16. Ten years later she was bound for basic training.

Here, last weekend, Vickie spoke of an attitude within the people of Germany. She compared it to Southern hospitality.

"People in Washington, D.C., they are so much on the go, they don't get to know each other... Overseas, especially... if you get out and try to learn the culture, they will go out of their way for you. I still have friendships with people who come to visit" from Germany.

"Not that I'm trying to solicit people to join the military, but it will open your eyes to things in the world that you never thought about..."

What she's never forgotten is family. Her time here with mother Julia Norwood, sisters Tina Martin and Christie Miller, and niece Katlyn Krieg-Martin included enough "down time" that she almost forgot that the president spoke to the nation on Monday night.

Her vacation, however, included telephone conversations with White House personnel. She's the only communications officer who's not on shift work. She oversees 15 employees. There were eight when she started working at the Situation Room. More may be hired.

"We support National Security Advisor Tom Donilon for the President. They have a very high expectation of dedication to duty."

Today, Vickie flies back to the nation's capitol.