Army Corps Japan Engineer District Reorganizes

A historic re-organization has occurred within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Japan Engineer District (USACE JED).

Enacted by Col. Gary Bonham, JED’s commander, and approved by JED’s higher headquarters, USACE – Pacific Ocean Division (POD); the Programs and Project Management Division (PPMD) and Construction Division have restructured and realigned their respective workforces in order to meet the construction requirements of the ever-changing alliance between the U.S. and Japan, and to optimally shape JED into a more efficient district.

“The structure that we [previously used] to carry out our host nation program in the mainland was outdated. It reflected a time when there was a much different host nation program with a large facilities improvement program (FIP) and the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI) program ongoing in Iwakuni,” said Bonham. “That is no longer the case, and we needed to alter our organization to reflect the current situation. This will be much easier to do with all of our host nation program falling under one branch focused on the host nation mainland program.”

PPMD’s re-structuring was a project more than three-years in the making – after the emergence of the Coronavirus in 2020, plans to streamline the division were put on hold in order to place safety first among JED’s team members.

“[The re-organization] was deemed necessary by Col. Bonham and I, as our offices in Okinawa began to progress and change from a largely U.S.-funded and Host-Nation (HN) branch into a more balanced model,” said Shelley Spayde, Deputy District Engineer for PPMD. “That [organization] model was wildly successful, and our goal has always been to give the best delivery of U.S and Host-Nation products that we can.”

Bonham and Spayde saw problems that needed attention and enlisted some help to put their plans into action. John Zambrano, the Honshu Host Nation Land Branch Chief and Cory Waki, the Navy, Marine Corps, DLA, Environmental Branch Chief, were brought into the fold to help lead their sections and assist in streamlining the process in which projects were managed, to establish a more linear chain-of-command.

“For a period of largely two-years, we were teleworking while still rotating personnel in-and-out of The District, while becoming less aware of some of the problems that needed attention,” explained Spayde. “Coming out of COVID, we wanted to re-focus our energies to make sure we were supporting our people in our U.S. and Host-Nation funded teams.”

Previously, branch chiefs held multiple responsibilities and balanced many plates, making lines of effort and reporting less than optimized, a problem that had been building in both Construction and PPMD.

Jim Wolff, JED’s Construction Division Chief, explained how his division’s layout has undergone changes, affecting performance over time.

“Originally, there was only one construction office dedicated to Host Nation work (Ryukyu Resident Office),” said Wolff. “As the program grew, the resident office continued to grow, add employees, and eventually became unwieldy (30+ people) for one supervisor.”

An issue, the JED’s commander assures, that has been fully rectified by breaking these divisions into smaller units under an area office structure, thereby creating focused teams and allowing for greater agility.

“This had resulted in a benign neglect of the host nation program on the mainland due to the very large size of our MILCON program in Japan as a whole, which the two branches are focused on vice the much smaller mainland host nation program,” Bonham offered. “As a result, our hard-working host nation PMs have not had the support they need and deserve to carry out their mission.”

Going forward, a designated representative will be selected for each project (either US or HN funded), creating continuity and providing oversight; thus, forging a stronger connection to ongoing processes, ensuring precise control over various domains.

“Among our many goals for this re-organization is to create a common pool of project management resources for our teams,” mentioned Waki. “The hope is to become more dynamic, to shift resources to meet project workloads while simultaneously standardizing some of our previously service-specific practices.”

Historically, as projects from various defense bureaus were received by JED, workloads would be given to those only working with specifically assigned armed service components. PPMD will look to standardize and evenly distribute the workload, providing new opportunities to those looking to tackle new projects in sectors and service components they previously might not have had the chance to work with.

“It’s a robust commitment and opportunity to better serve the alliance, to reinvigorate The District’s important role towards both maintaining and growing the alliance,” said Zambrano. “The Japanese word ‘kaizen 改善’ meaning ‘continuous improvement’ is our vision for this [re-structuring.]”

But despite the new restructuring of the two divisions, and the potential uneasiness of the big move, Spayde assures that none of her Engineers are in danger of being released or that job security is a concern.

“Redistribution of workload based on the needs of newly assigned projects will be the only thing we are looking at doing,” said Spayde. “The re-organization is really going to give the district a chance to focus stronger and build up subject matter experts.”

The same can be said for the reorganization of JED Construction side of the house as well. Wolff offered insight on how things will be shaped for his offices going forward.

“Work throughout JED Construction will not change in dramatic ways – no one’s job is in jeopardy,” Wolff emphatically states, admitting that the whole thing, although already in motion, is still somewhat taking form. “There are subtle changes coming to Construction Division on the mainland that will take about a year or so to roll out. Currently, Construction leadership is discussing what those changes should look like. We want to be sure to plan [those changes] for maximum effectiveness.”

Since 1945, where the roots in the military engineering mission in Japan began, though 1957, where JED became a separate entity from the Far East District (FED), and then finally in 1972 and beyond, where JED has continued to pave the way for U.S., military, and Host-Nation construction projects, one idea remains constant: The District is continuously evolving to deliver the capabilities needed by US Forces Japan in direct support of the alliance.

This realignment within PPMD and The District is only one of many steps into the future of what JED’s mission embodies – evolution through engineering.

“The reorganization within PPMD will allow us to have a much better focus on the host nation mainland program, ensuring the supervisors assigned to oversee our mainland host nation program managers are focused on only that program and give their full attention to it, ensuring that we properly resource our PMs with what they need in order to be successful,” said Bonham. “It will also allow us to make necessary adjustments to our mainland host nation program to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the program as it is today and adjust as needed in the future to best execute the program.

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