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District Professional Development Immersion Offers Engineer Officers Hands-On USACE Experience

Published March 7, 2013
1st. Lt. Diana Worth (right) briefs Maj. Gen.Kendall Cox, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deputy commanding general for Military and International Operations (front, left) on South Range facilities during an on-site briefing in Oct. 2012.

1st. Lt. Diana Worth (right) briefs Maj. Gen.Kendall Cox, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deputy commanding general for Military and International Operations (front, left) on South Range facilities during an on-site briefing in Oct. 2012.

By 1st Lt. Diana Worth

643rd Engineer Company, 84th Engineer Battalion (Construction Effects), 130th Engineer Brigade

FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii - The world of U.S. Army Engineers is one of numerous capabilities across many different specialty career fields.

The Engineer Regiment is comprised of combat engineers, bridge crews, geospatial engineers, divers, firefighters, and construction workers of various trades.  When a new Engineer Officer is commissioned, he or she can be assigned to any of these diverse types of units.

On rare occasions, junior engineer officers may also be assigned to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), a command with approximately 37,000 dedicated Civilians and Soldiers delivering engineering services to customers in more than 90 countries worldwide. Because the Corps of Engineers sets the standard for our profession in military construction, many junior officer engineers leap at the chance to work within the organization. As such, any opportunity to learn from the vast expertise within the Corps would definitely be a tremendous boost to my skill set and career path.

After being graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point with a degree in civil engineering, and a commission in the U.S. Army as an engineer officer, I found myself fortunate, excited and lucky to be assigned to the 84th Engineer Battalion (Construction Effects), 130th Engineer Brigade at Schofield Barracks. I knew working with a troop construction unit would help my career development as an engineer. Many of my commissioned college classmates who studied civil engineering were assigned to work in route clearance units whose mission is to find improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.  While this is a critically important mission, it does not afford them the opportunity to develop as civil engineers in the same way as engineer officers who get assigned to construction units.

I was initially assigned as a platoon leader for the 523rd Engineer Company, a horizontal construction company made up of heavy equipment operators within the 130th Engineer Brigade, and soon found myself leading on the jobsite without any practical experience in construction. I definitely had a lot to learn! With the help of the experienced Soldiers in my platoon, I began to understand the capabilities and limitations of our equipment, how to plan for projects, and how to manage a busy jobsite.

Unfortunately, troop construction projects can be few and far between, so I was only able to spend about a month and a half immersed in on-site construction.

While establishing my basic troop construction knowledge at the 130th, I learned the Brigade and the Corps’ Honolulu District had established a professional development program in which junior engineer officers could be assigned to the Corps to work as project engineers for a period of six to 12 months.  During the assignment, officers would gain valuable knowledge and exposure to various military construction techniques and to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in particular. I immediately applied and was assigned to work at the South Range Resident Office’s project site at Schofield Barracks.

At the South Range jobsite, I joined a talented group of engineers who immediately began sharing their vast knowledge with me about the project scope and the roles of the many individuals on both the Corps and the contractor sides who work to make the project a success. They also taught me how to use the Resident Management System (RMS), the Corps program used to compile every document that contributes to the Quality Assurance system on the project.

While spending part of nearly every day on the jobsite, which I found to be an amazingly beneficial opportunity for me, I discovered innumerable processes and new construction activities for me to absorb. I observed numerous concrete pours, hot mix asphalt pavement, plumbing and electrical work, roofing, and finishing work, just to name a few things.  As an engineer officer with the 130th, I wouldn’t have been afforded such exposure to a large-scale project.

As I learned more about the details of the project and how the Corps administers it, the South Range team included me in key project engineer tasks. One such example was participation in the decision making process for rerouting of a sewer force main so it wouldn’t go through the Schofield Barracks Cemetery as originally planned.

My Army Corps experience continued to evolve as the South Range team walked me through the change process for design-build contracts, preparing Basic Change Documents for tele-communication lines, a building within the electrical power substation, and the sewer force main near the Schofield Barracks cemetery. I learned about the process through which the contractor is paid, and I was even able to complete a few progress payments. 

One task I truly enjoyed was facilitating the visits of Army personnel to the site.  As someone who works in the type of buildings being built on the South Range campus by the Corps, I was very interested to showcase the space and capabilities being constructed for our Soldiers. Being able to brief future commanders (owners) on the facilities on-site was beneficial for me in that I was able to visualize from both sides – as a constructor and an end-user.

I also had the opportunity to conduct an on-site briefing of the South Range facilities for USACE’s Maj. Gen. Kendall Cox, deputy commanding general for Military and International Operations. During the briefing, Maj. Gen. Cox told me that when I return to the 84th Engineers Battalion, I should spread the word among my peers “that working for USACE is a rewarding, meaningful job.”

I knew that spreading the word would be very easy for me to do, as I truly found my time working and learning within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to be an enriching opportunity to develop both as a civil engineer and an engineer officer.  BUILDING STRONG ®!

Joseph Bonfiglio

Release no. 13-008