Michael Flynn Reflects on 43 Years of Army Service

I initially became familiar with the military because my older brothers were all on active duty. Also, when I attended Mayo High School in Darlington, S.C., they implemented a program called ROTC (Reserve Officers’ Training Corps). I was not aware of such a program, but I needed extra credit, so I gave it a shot.

It was very interesting, so I stuck with it throughout high school. I attended college at Claflin University on a basketball scholarship and received a bachelor’s degree in Education. I also participated in a ROTC cross-enrollment program at South Carolina State College, where I received a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army.

First assignment

My initial assignment was the Army Engineer Officer Basic Course (EOBC), (a six-month school at Fort Belvoir, Va.) and to be reassigned into the U.S. Army Reserve. That would allow me to be a civilian and attend active-duty assignments at an Army Reserve unit each month.

At EOBC, I learned about survival in war, leading troops, combat construction and demolition of roads and bridges. Once I completed the EOBC, the Engineer School notified me that there were other assignments available for me, if I chose to stay on active duty. One assignment was at a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) district, which I accepted.

Introduction to a USACE district

My next assignment was at the New Orleans District. This was part of a new program initiated by the Army, designed to introduce young army officers to Civil Works districts. That was my first introduction to an engineer district and working with civilians.

I didn’t realize that such a thing existed. I completed my two-year assignment at the New Orleans District, learning about waterways and Civil Works projects. I worked in each of the divisions throughout the district headquarters and the project sites to see how the Corps of Engineers operated.

Michael Flynn is promoted to first lieutenant by New Orleans district commander Col. Robert Lee in 1981.
Michael Flynn is promoted to first lieutenant by New Orleans district commander Col. Robert Lee in 1981.

South Korea

My next assignment was a one-year deployment to Korea. I was part of the 802nd Engineer Battalion, located at an installation near the city of Pyeongtaek, Korea. Although this was far south of the DMZ, it was still clear that an active conflict was going on.

This was a big jump from technically being a civilian at a district. Each assignment was a learning experience. When I arrived in Korea, I asked, “How far is North Korea?” I was told, “the North Korean air force could attack us in less than 5 minutes.”

I asked, “Where are all my weapons?” They pointed out the arms room and said, “Don’t worry, if you need one, the weapons will be all over the place.”

That was a wakeup call. We took it extremely seriously. The work we did was real, such as building construction and airfields. At the time, our engineer units did the planning, design, and managed the construction. Here at the Galveston District (SWG), we contract all these things out. In fact, right now, I understand that Pyeongtaek/Camp Humphreys, is now a major airbase in South Korea and my platoon built the helicopter pads. I’m very proud of that accomplishment.

A young Lt. Michael Flynn takes a walk through the local downtown food market in Pyeongtaek.
A young Lt. Michael Flynn takes a walk through the local downtown food market in Pyeongtaek.

Return to Fort Belvoir

My next assignment was a 3-year tour at the Engineer Center at Fort Belvoir, Va. My job was to write Army Technical Manuals and Field training Manuals for use in the field. This was based on my experience at a field unit in Korea. That experience near the DMZ allowed me to write Army manuals using real world experiences to assist Soldiers who had not been there. I completed the Engineer Officer Advanced Course (EOAC) after that tour of duty. I also met my wife while stationed here.

U.S. Army Airborne School

My next assignment was the 36th Engineer Group at Fort Benning, Ga. This was a 3-year assignment that included many twists. Our primary duties were being able to deploy at a moment’s notice, support maneuver units (Infantry, Armor, etc.), survive and build in hostile environments. Fort Benning is known for having the U.S. Army Ranger School and the Airborne School. Although there was no pressure to do so, I did attend the two-week airborne school and received my airborne wings (successfully completed 5 jumps from an aircraft while in flight). I did not attend the Army Ranger school.

First combat deployment

Also, during that time my unit, the 36th Engineer Group, was ordered to deploy to Honduras, Central America for six months. It was an interesting deployment, because there was an ongoing conflict between the Contras and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua at the time (This was technically my first wartime experience).

Honduras is on the other side of the mountain from Nicaragua; therefore, the entire area was a bit hostile. We airdropped heavy equipment (trucks, dozers, other equipment) from a C-141 aircraft and set up a base camp and temporary airstrip in the jungle. We had to build a base camp to house all the Soldiers and equipment.

Capt. Michael Flynn, 36th Engineer Group, deployed to Honduras, Central America in 1985, in support of Operation Golden Pheasant.
Capt. Michael Flynn, 36th Engineer Group, deployed to Honduras, Central America in 1985, in support of Operation Golden Pheasant.

Our mission was to build roads from the mountain tops, through the jungles, down to the city. This would allow the Honduran president to communicate with the citizens and establish a more democratic society. At the same time, it wasn’t far from the Nicaraguan conflict, so the deployment was a secret, until President Reagan addressed the nation and said that U.S. troops were deployed in Central America.

Until that presidential address, we weren’t allowed to tell our families where we were going and we kind of left in the middle of the night from Fort Benning to Honduras. We were out of Honduras prior to the monsoon season. There was a massive amount of work required that included lots of demolition and heavy equipment required to remove boulders, trees, and clear roads down the mountain and through the jungle.

We also built a Ford Site (an underwater bridge – built with rocks and wire mesh called gabions, a few inches under the water), this allowed any type of vehicle traffic, 5-ton trucks, etc. to cross routinely. This construction site would remain in place to be used by the locals when we left. I thought this was the coolest thing that I had seen.

The Berlin Wall

My next assignment was in Karlsruhe, West Germany. This was a 3-year assignment with the 18th Engineer Brigade. We primarily trained to defend against an East German threat. We also built new military bases and training facilities. This tour ended prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

I had moved to my assignment at the Galveston District when the Berlin Wall came down. Many of my friends who were still there sent me fragments of the wall, which I still have. I show them to my kids, but they’re not impressed. We took a family trip back Europe, a few years ago, to see how the area changed after the merger of East and West Germany. The military bases and housing areas that we used were now occupied by the citizens that fled East Germany.

Arrival in Galveston

I arrived at the Galveston District in 1990, as a captain, on a 2-year assignment (90’ to 92’). I was assigned as project officer for the deputy commander, later designated the emergency management Chief and then security manager, based on the security issues they we were having at that time. I also had a security and intelligence background since I was the Brigade S-2 while in Germany.

The district headquarters was in the Essayons building at the time, with probably a couple hundred people. It was leased through the GSA, which was responsible for security. It was not working out very well with the Federal Protective Service guard force. Luckily, the Jadwin facility construction would begin shortly after (This facility is owned by the Galveston District).

Also, during my assignment at the Galveston District, I had the opportunity to see President Clinton during his visit to Houston and got to take a personal family tour inside Air Force One (at Ellington Field). My family member was a flight assistant on the aircraft at the time. We were only allowed to take photos outside the plane.

Michael Flynn and family pose for a photo on the steps of Air Force One at Ellington Field, during a presidential visit in the 1990s.
Michael Flynn and family pose for a photo on the steps of Air Force One at Ellington Field, during a presidential visit in the 1990s.

Military drawdown of forces, Reserve duty

I got off active duty in 1992 and became a civilian security manager with the Galveston District. There was a presidential declaration for a drawdown of military forces (The Graham-Rudman-Hollings Act). Many officers, including myself, were required to separate from active duty.

That was a difficult time for me because I loved the Army. We entered into an agreement called a Voluntary Separation Incentive (VSI), in which the military technically did a buy-back of our contracts or it could be called a semi-retirement.

I continued as a U.S. Army Reserve officer until I retired in 2008. One of my reserve assignments was as a West Point liaison officer for about eight years. I really enjoyed this assignment, which was primarily helping high school kids prepare for and get appointments into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Maj. Michael Flynn mans his post as a West Point recruiter at a local high school (college night) in the Galveston area in 1995.
Maj. Michael Flynn mans his post as a West Point recruiter at a local high school (college night) in the Galveston area in 1995.

I was the liaison officer for several schools, from Galveston to Clear Lake areas. Those kids were extremely intelligent and real go-getters. I was honored to talk to many kids, parents, and teachers about West Point and what it offered.

The liaison program included instructions on training requirements needed, Grade Point Average requirements, how to get congressional letters of recommendation and what clubs and activities would make them the most well-rounded individuals. I used this model to help my own kid prepare for the future.

The 9/11 Attack

I was working at the Jadwin building when the attack occurred. I still remember the day, as a co-worker stopped me, in route to my office, asking, “Did you see what happened?” I was not aware, but he explained, “They blew up the tower!”

I initially thought it was an accidental plane crash, until the second tower was hit, then I realized we were under attack. I attempted but was not able to receive guidance from higher headquarters on security measures to take. Eventually, guidance started trickling down, and we initiated our emergency procedures.

At the time, there were no entrance gates at the Fort Point installation, no armed guards, and no significant monitoring with security cameras. After the 9/11 attack, government facilities like SWG were given funds to increase security. We used the funds to get armed guards, upgrade the electronic security system, reinforce the perimeter fence, and install the boulders at the facility entrance along with funding the installation of the wetland area inside the fence to deter heavy vehicle bomb explosions.

Active-Duty Recall After 9/11

As an Army Reservist you remain available for call-up to active duty. I received that recall to active duty after 9/11. I was a lieutenant colonel at the time. Returning to active duty was not very high on my priority list. But after much discussion and negotiating with the Department of the Army assignments officer, I agreed to return to active duty.

Michael Flynn following promotion to lieutenant colonel.
Michael Flynn following promotion to lieutenant colonel.

I was reactivated initially for one year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. I remained at SWG as security manager along with assignment as deputy commander for Military Programs and acting deputy. The second year of my active assignment I was deployed to Iraq for six-months.

Deployment to Iraq/Kuwait in support of Global War on Terrorism

Before the Iraq War began, SWD was designated by the Army, to send a task force, called Task Force RIO (Restore Iraqi Oil) to Kuwait and be prepared to cap damaged oil wells. I was designated as the task force commander of the Advance Team (ADVON) and later became the operations officer once the command cell was established and the SWD commander arrived.

Prior to arriving in Kuwait, we received a quick lesson at SWD on the process for shutting down an oil refinery. I thought that would be an interesting task to shut down an oil refinery, that could explode if not done properly, while on the battlefield, bullets flying, tanks rolling, landmines, and bombs exploding. I thought they couldn’t be serious, but they were not too far off. Although we did have a contract company with expertise on location that had oil equipment staged and were on stand-by to shut down the oil wells or refineries. The Iraqis did not have the opportunity to damage the refineries.

Army Lt. Col. Michael Flynn, (Task Force RIO), deployed to Iraq in 2003, for the initial U.S. army assessment of the oil wells damaged during the attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces after Operation Enduring Freedom began.
Army Lt. Col. Michael Flynn, (Task Force RIO), deployed to Iraq in 2003, for the initial U.S. army assessment of the oil wells damaged during the attack by Saddam Hussein’s forces after Operation Enduring Freedom began.

My living and working quarters were co-located with many senior officers and was a primary target for the Iraqi military. We had 68 missiles fired directly at us from Iraqi forces. Luckily, we were supported by a Patriot battery that successfully shot down each of the Scud missiles, prior to them reaching our location. We were also concerned that the Scud missiles had chemical munitions attached, but that didn’t seem to be the case.

Return to Galveston

I returned to SWG from Iraq after my 6-month deployment and later returned to civilian status. I presented the SWG Commander with the Corps of Engineers flag that I carried into Iraq at the start of the war. The flag is currently located in the trophy case, on the first floor of the Jadwin Building.

Army Lt. Col. Michael Flynn returns to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, and is welcomed back by then Galveston District commander, Col. Leonard Waterworth in 2003.
Army Lt. Col. Michael Flynn returns to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Galveston District, and is welcomed back by then Galveston District commander, Col. Leonard Waterworth in 2003.

That was a great experience, but I’ve enjoyed my return as the security manager. It has also been great working with Emergency Management. I’ve gone out on hurricane recovery deployments. I participated in hurricanes Katrina and Rita support. I deployed to Beaumont/Port Arthur and Puerto Rico to assist.

I like helping people. Hurricane and disaster recovery is real-world stuff. You have a specific mission, and you can see the results. You see real life people having real difficulties and you help them get back on their feet.

FEMA and USACE Relationships

FEMA provides the funding and oversite for disaster recovery and the Corps of Engineers goes out to the sites, makes the damage assessments, and manages contractors’ repairs. I participated in assessing and providing trailers for flood victims and providing damage assessments.

Soldier and father

My family has been a great support to me throughout my career; my daughter was born in Germany and was about 6 when we arrived in Texas and my son was born here in Texas.

Working for USACE, as a Soldier and a civilian

The Corps of Engineers is a great place to work, both as military and as a civilian. You learn a lot while meeting many great people. There are Corps districts and military bases all over the world. You can travel, and you see some of the same people wherever you go. You find out it’s a small world. I left the military with many great memories, and now I will leave the Galveston District with the same warm feeling. It has been a great run.

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