Rise through the ranks: Daughter of UOG ROTC takes command of Army base
Years of leadership roles, trainings, and accolades still did not prepare University of Guam alumna Col. Karin L. Watson for the news that she was selected to take command of the U.S. Army garrison in Fort Lee, Va., and the 28,000 service members and civilians who work there.
Her new role became official on Aug. 7, when she replaced retiring Col. Hollie J. Martin. There, Watson received praise from her seniors who noted her exceptional leadership, managerial, and organizational skills. Her predecessor left her with a friendly warning: “You’re about to start the most exciting experience in the Army.”
Garrison commander is an enormous and prestigious responsibility to assume — and one that only approximately 1% of all Army officers are selected for, according to UOG ROTC lead Lt. Col. Thomas Anderson. Watson likens it to that of a chief operating officer who oversees day-to-day operations of the installation.
“The garrison is responsible for providing and maintaining key infrastructure and services on the post, including roadways, utilities, security, community programs, and more,” she said.
Fort Lee is home to some 800 service members and civilians, but this is only a fraction of what Watson now oversees. Adding those who work and train on the post, her command supports 28,000 people on-site and an additional 63,000 off-post. The installation is often known as the “Army Home of Sustainment.”
A Guam native and graduate of John F. Kennedy High School as Karin Alba, Watson began her decorated career as a cadet in the UOG Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program. She graduated from the University of Guam in 1998 with a bachelor’s in psychology, minoring in military science. She received a commission into the U.S. Army, where she branched into the Military Police Corps.
“I’ve pretty much gone where the Army needed me and have just worked hard at every job. These assignments have included deployments around the world, such as Operation Bright Star, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom,” Watson said.
Her work ethic opened several leadership roles, including a dual-hatted capacity as the battalion commander of the 705th Military Police Battallion and facility commander for the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. She also served at the Pentagon, both as chief of the Detainee Affairs Division of the Joint Staff J-37 Directorate of Special Operations and Counterterrorism and branch chief of the Deputy Chief of Staff G-8 Programs of the U.S. Army. She has earned various medals for her duties.
Just before assuming command of the Fort Lee garrison, she earned her master’s degree in national security strategy with a concentration in cyber security leadership, at the National War College in Washington, D.C. This was her second master’s, following a degree in management and leadership at Webster University in Missouri.
The foundation of Watson’s teamwork and leadership skills were nurtured in UOG’s ROTC program, the place of some of her favorite college memories. Many of her classmates became lifelong friends and motivators.
She also acknowledged the guidance of the cadre and staff during her time at the university, calling them “a fantastic group of people.” Most notably, she said she received crucial mentorship from former UOG ROTC program leader Lt. Col. Roque Salas, now retired, who helped her figure out which branch she was best suited to pursue.
Anderson said her career is a testament to the successful history of the program and inspiration to new cadets.
“Col. Watson embodies a life of leadership and service that we hope all our cadets will aspire to,” he said. “In taking command of the garrison at Fort Lee, Col. Watson adds to the great legacy of UOG ROTC graduates, and I know she will do her very best to take care of the soldiers, family members, and military organizations who call Fort Lee home. We’re so very proud of her.”
To the new and prospective cadets of the program, Watson said: “Keep moving forward. Know who you are, but don’t let your past hold you back, and be open to new ideas and different perspectives. Oh, and have fun! If you aren’t laughing, then something needs to change.”
Photos courtesy of the U.S. Army Garrison Fort Lee Public Affairs