Col. James J. Handura assumed command of the US Army Corps of Engineers South Pacific Division in a ceremony held today at the Bay Model Visitor Center in Sausalito, Calif.
The ceremony was hosted by Lt. Gen. Scott A. Spellmon, commander of the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Handura assumed command from Col. Chad Caldwell, who currently serves as the Commander of the Sacramento District and has been serving as Acting Division Commander since August 30, 2023.
“Command of a division goes beyond accountability for projects, people, and money,” said Spellmon during the ceremony. “It’s about driving change, developing future leaders, and serving as guardians of the Corps’ reputation. COL Handura will serve as that guardian -- a leader who will develop solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges while taking care of people.”
A native of Clearwater, Florida, Handura graduated in 1996 from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee as a Distinguished Military Graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Geology, and a commission in the Engineer Regiment. He holds a Master of Science in Geology and Geophysics from the University of Missouri-Rolla, a Master’s degree in Military Art and Science – Theater Operations from the U.S. Army School of Advanced Military Studies, and a Master’s degree in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College. He is also certified Project Management Professional.
Prior to South Pacific Division, Handura served as the Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters in Washington, DC. Handura began his military service with the United States Navy Seabee Reserves, serving as a Utilitiesman from 1987 to 1989, at Bayboro Harbor, St. Petersburg, Florida. From 1989 to 1993, he served in the U.S. Army as an enlisted Combat Engineer, with the 82nd Engineer Battalion (Federal Republic of Germany) and the 20th Engineer Battalion (Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and later Ft. Hood, Texas).
Handura’s command assignments include Commander Sacramento District, USACE; Commander 19th Engineer Battalion, 20th Engineer Brigade, XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Deputy District Commander New Orleans District, USACE.
The South Pacific Division provides vital engineering solutions in collaboration with partners to secure the nation, energize the economy and reduce risk from disaster. South Pacific Division operates in California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and in parts of Colorado, Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming and Texas that includes 1,100 miles of coastline, 3.9 million acres of estuarine wetlands, 2,290 miles of federal levees and 46 dams and reservoirs.
As Commander of South Pacific Division, Handura oversees water resources, military construction, environmental stewardship and restoration and emergency management with a workforce of 2,500 civilians and military personnel in four districts across the 10 states.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Engineer Regiment hosted a senior delegation of Brazilian Army engineer officers Nov. 13 to 16, for a wide-ranging tour as part of an ongoing military engineering partnership between the two nations.
The Brazilian delegation included Gen. Anisio David de Oliveira Jr., chief of the Brazilian Army Dept. of Engineering and Construction, Maj. Gen. Everton Pacheco da Silva, Brazilian military attaché in Washington, and other senior officers.
U.S. Army Engineer leaders escorted the delegation to the USACE Mississippi Valley Division (MVD) headquarters and USACE Engineering Research and Development Center (ERDC) in Vicksburg, Mississippi; the U.S. Army Engineer School at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri; and the Pentagon and USACE Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
“We were incredibly proud to host Gen. David and his team's visit with our engineer family. The relationship we share with our Brazilian counterparts is extremely important to us both,” said U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Kimberly M. Colloton, USACE deputy commanding general for military and international operations. “Our ongoing dialogue over many years enables us to explore new ideas to help each other to address existing and emerging environmental and climate risks, understand design and construction challenges, and share best practices for solving our nations’ toughest problems.”
While at MVD on Nov. 13, the delegation received a brief by the division’s commanding general, Brig. Gen. Kimberly A. Peeples, about the importance of the Mississippi Valley Division and its mission to serve the region by providing vital public engineering services and stewardship of water resource infrastructure, partnering in peace and war, strengthening the nation’s security, energizing the economy, and reducing risks from disasters.
The delegation rode an inspection barge along the Mississippi River at Vicksburg, where they met the USACE Vicksburg District commander, Col. Christopher Klein, and learned about the Mat Sinking Unit (MSU). The MSU places hundreds of thousands of articulated concrete mats, also known as revetment, along the Mississippi River to protect flood control works, prevent riverbank erosion, and provide navigable waterways for commercial transportation. The unit’s work spans the jurisdictions of the Memphis, Vicksburg, and New Orleans districts and more than 1,500 miles of river.
During their Nov. 14 visit to ERDC, the delegation received overviews of a variety of coastal, digital and geotechnical technology. They visited the Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory for a presentation on the center’s ship simulator and physical river models. At the Information Technology Laboratory, they received more information about CAD/BIM technology, and at the Geotechnical and Structures Laboratory, they learned about ERDC research in the area of post blast forensics.
At Ft. Leonard Wood on Nov. 15, the delegation met U.S. Army Maj. Gen. Christopher Beck, commanding general of the Maneuver Support Center of Excellence and Ft. Leonard Wood. They learned about the U.S. Army Engineer School and even tried out bulldozer simulators. They visited the Contingency Basing Integration Training and Evaluation Center (CBITEC), which provides U.S. Army Prime Power School students with testing facilities throughout their year-long training program. They also visited combat engineer mine detection dogs and learned about their training program.
Ft. Leonard Wood is the home of the U.S. Army Engineer Regiment, which encompasses over a dozen engineer-related military occupational specialties and represents more than 80,000 uniformed personnel assigned to Engineer units across the active Army, National Guard and Army Reserve.
The visit concluded in Washington, D.C., Nov. 16, where the delegation visited the Pentagon, including the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works and the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Installations, Energy and Environment. They were welcomed to the USACE headquarters by Colloton, who also joined them for dinner along with U.S. Army Maj. Gen. William “Butch” Graham, deputy chief of engineers and USACE deputy commanding general, and other senior USACE leaders. The dinner also included a performance by the U.S. Army Band.
“The delegation was very impressed with how well they were received in all visits and especially at the dinner,” said Marcelo Salles, USACE South Atlantic Division’s international program manager, who accompanied the Brazilian leaders throughout the trip. “The Army Band was a great success.”
Regular visits between the Brazilian and U.S. armies’ chiefs of engineers began in 2006, along with other long-running initiatives to continually enhance engineering partnership and increase technical interoperability between the two armies.
Another key feature of the U.S.-Brazilian army engineer partnership is the ongoing Military Personnel Exchange Program, which started approximately 20 years ago. The current MPEP positions were established 10 years ago and include a Brazilian colonel at MVD’s division headquarters, a Brazilian colonel at ERDC, and a U.S. Army captain serving in the Brazilian Army’s 1st Engineer Group.
In 1973, the U.S. ended its involvement in the Vietnam War by signing the Paris Peace Accords, George Foreman became the heavyweight champion of the world by knocking out Joe Frazier. Model and actress Tyra Banks was born, and artist Pablo Picasso died.
And in Mobile, Alabama, Willard Bush was beginning his career as an accountant with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District.
Fifty years is a significant milestone, and that is how long the Mobile native has been serving the District and his customers.
“I have always enjoyed the work I do; this is my dream job,” Bush said. “I have stayed so long because I enjoy my work environment, and I also enjoy the services we provide our customers.”
Bush was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and has been married to his wife, Phyllis, for 44 years. They have four children: Willard Bush, Jr., Sharon Bush-Coaxum, M.D., Jeremy Bush and, Jonathan Bush.
He and his wife also have two grandchildren, Sarah Bush and Louis Coaxum, IV.
Bush said his family has always been an essential source of strength while serving the District.
“My family is very supportive of what I do,” Bush said. “They are always encouraging me. Whenever I am having a hard time, I can always depend on them to help me.
Bush has also been willing to share his vast knowledge with others.
One person who benefitted from learning from Bush was Brian Ivey, Chief of Resource Management.
Ivey said Bush took him under his wing as his first supervisor when he came to work for the District.
“He spent many hours training me on many aspects of accounting,” Ivey said. “He has always been willing to share his knowledge of accounting procedures and the history of events effecting accounting data. His keen memory has been very helpful over the years to us to remember why we do what we do in the financial arena and which laws and regulations we have cited for our decisions.”
Another person who can testify to Bush’s willingness to share his knowledge and offer advice and help is Lita Trotter, supervisory accountant.
“Willard was already working with the Corps when I was hired in 1994,” Trotter said. “Over the years, he has taken the time to explain a number of functions and processes to me. I really appreciate the time he took out with me. He is always willing to share his knowledge. Whenever we are discussing complex issues and getting into a lot of details about how something should work, his favorite saying is, “That’s too much sugar for a dime.’ It always tickles me. He is very dedicated and loves his job.”
Bush’s advice to someone who wants to work with the Corps, is to remember that it is an honor to work for the government.
“First, it’s a privilege to work for your government,” Bush said. “The pay is good, and it’s a stable work environment. The work can be rewarding for one who has determination, passion for work and good work ethics.”
Bush said that overall, working for the Mobile District has been a great experience, and he loves the people he works with and his work environment. He says it has indeed been a dream job.
“I consider my career with the Corps as one great experience, and I count it as a blessing,” Bush said. “I have always loved accounting, and this is my dream job. I am pleased to have had over my career the opportunity of being surrounded by and interacting with hard-working, capable co-workers who are knowledgeable and dedicated to their work.”
On an overcast October morning, the 249th Engineer Battalion, Prime Power, came together with linemen from across the globe at the National Agricultural Center and Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas, to showcase their unique skill set in the 39th Annual International Lineman's Rodeo.
The event brought the U.S. Army’s power generation specialists to the forefront, emphasizing how their expertise goes far beyond the battlefield, proving essential to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. A gathering of elite linemen from the United States, Brazil and Canada, this rodeo provided an excellent opportunity for the U.S. Army’s 249th Engineer Battalion to demonstrate its capabilities in full-spectrum operations.
“It’s important for the public to see us out here,” said Maj. James “JD” Hala of Delta Company. “Whether it is supporting our partners like the FEMA during a crisis or the warfighter overseas, it gives them a better understanding of how we serve local, state, and national communities.”
The annual event brought the Battalion’s five companies and higher headquarters to the Kansas City District. It linked up active duty and reserve component Soldiers from Fort Belvoir, Fort Liberty, Schofield Barracks and Cranston, Rhode Island. Maj. Gen. James Kokaska Jr., deputy commanding general, Reserve Affairs and Command Sgt. Maj. Douglas Galick, USACE, were also in attendance supporting the 249th Engineer Battalion.
“It is a great honor to be here representing Alpha Company,” said Sgt. 1st Class Brandon Ecker, a 30-year career Soldier. “This will be my last rodeo,” he reflected.
Ecker hails from Mana Koa, the moniker for the 249th’s Alpha Company. Bravo Company are Hurricanes, Charlie Company are Spartans, Delta Company are Roughnecks and Higher Headquarters Company are Renegades. Regardless of immediate company affiliation, they all wear the traditional white hard hat with the iconic red castle of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The linemen, divided into journeymen and apprentice categories, showcased their skills in hurt-man rescue and various pole climb challenges, demanding not only expertise and finesse but also unequivocal adherence to safety. The event facilitates Prime Power Soldiers' hands-on experience in uncommon daily operations tasks. It allowed them to expand their critical skills, sharpen their expertise and become more proficient in various roles.
“This is an outstanding opportunity, and we appreciate the electrical community putting this together,” said Lt. Col. Langston Turner, commander, 249th Engineer Battalion. “The [Soldiers ] interact with fellow professionals within the industry — learn and take advantage of the tools and skill sets presented here that we do not normally get our hands on.”
During emergencies, the 249th Engineer Battalion works in lockstep with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Prime Power assists in power generation and distribution to help communities in times of crisis. These capabilities complement routine operations, including power requirement assessments, production, inspection, testing, maintenance, repair and overall upkeep of essential power infrastructures.
As Soldiers honed their craft and highlighted their capabilities at the rodeo, the 249th Engineer Battalion reinforced the notion that their skills extend well beyond linework and are indispensable to the broader mission of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
As we come near the end of celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month, we focus on one teammate in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Mobile District, who uses the lessons she learned as a girl growing up to impact those around her positively.
Rosario ‘Rose’ Swafford, Personnel Security specialist, grew up in a traditional Hispanic home in Santa Cruz, California, and has been working here in the Mobile District since 2017.
Swafford said the lessons she learned from her family help form how she does her job and treats others outside of work.
“It was always ingrained in me to respect others and to see the good in the world,” Swafford said. “To provide help for those who cannot help themselves. So, that fits into what I do now as a Security Specialist. I treat people like I want to be treated, with respect and dignity.”
Swafford said that growing up, she spoke only Spanish in her home or family settings outside of the home, while she learned the American culture outside of her home. When she was young, the celebrities she liked were predominantly Hispanic, but in high school, her attention began to focus on American stars. Something she said her father understood.
“In high school, Madonna, Bobby Brown, and Whitney Houston were on my Walkman,” Swafford said. “I was surfing with my friends and protesting against drilling for oil off the coast of Northern California. My mother didn’t know what to make of me. My late father said, ‘Let her be. She is doing what we sacrificed for. For her to enjoy life freely, yes, even if she is swimming with the sharks. As long as she doesn’t bring one home, it’s all okay.’”
As for heroes in her life, as a child, her hero was Zorro. But now her hero is someone entirely different, and someone she says relates to her job.
“Wonder Woman is totally my hero now,” Swafford said. “She encompasses everything I hold true. She is a protector, a warrior, she has empathy, and is a beautiful soul. She fights along with Batman and Superman. She fights for those who can’t fight for themselves. And she does this all while being in heels and a stylish outfit.”
Greg Barr, Mobile District Chief of Security, said that Rose’s position in the District is vital, and her role cannot be more emphasized.
“Rose serves in an integral position that facilitates onboarding new employees, contractors, teams, and volunteers. Rose ensures that personnel assuming duties/responsibilities have the proper background checks and vetting required for federal employment. The importance of this position cannot be overstated, ensuring that the protocols relative to Homeland Security Presidential Directive-12 are complied with and adhered to.”
Swafford said she doesn’t view or think of herself as a Hispanic Woman in her job but focuses on the opportunities she has been provided to make a positive impact and a difference in what she does.
“I have a great environment that gives me grounds to become the best of what I wish to accomplish,” Swafford said. “Learning through security is tough, but definitely worth it. I am the first college graduate in my family. I have been in a predominately male profession. I hold my own soundly. I am an active volunteer member of the Mobile Citizens Police Academy, Fire Department, and soon Sheriff’s Academy. I support our first responders, and giving back is important to me.”
Swafford said that what she loves best about her job is that it is always exciting and allows her to help and assist others.
“Security is never a dull moment,” Swafford said. “Everything from backgrounds to Embassy requests, not to mention the other various tidbits Security touches. I have made contacts with people in different parts of the world. I enjoy my interactions with people. I like to problem solve and, if possible, assist even if it’s outside my lane. I see good in people, and I know there is bad in others. It’s my job to keep those I can safe. I have always found it fulfilling to help others.”
Rose advises other Hispanics, whether male or female, who are interested in a job or career in Security or with the USACE Mobile District not to let their background stop them from going after what they want out of life.
“Don’t let your heritage be a hindrance,” Swafford said. “You can be the best security specialist despite not being American-born. We are all Americans. We come from different parts of the world but have one mission. To be the best Americans we can be. We do it for our families, for our well-being, and for our Nation’s Security.”
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Motor Vessel (MV) PUGET ‘s mission is all about keeping other vessels safe.
The debris recovery vessel patrols Puget Sound inland waters, collecting debris and obstructions that may damage vessels. For their job, the crew of five uses an onboard crane, chainsaws, and other equipment for their dangerous job of snagging debris out of the frigid waters.
Not surprisingly, they must apply risk management practices, to ensure employees minimize risking injury, damage or harm as they execute tasks and serve the nation.
It is the district’s “Taking Care of People” approach that secured Seattle District’s PUGET crew the Army Risk Management Award. Director of Army Safety and U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center Commander Brig. Gen. Jonathan Byrom presented the crew with their award at the USACE-owned and operated Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Locks), Sept. 21.
“The fact that you had the wisdom to slow down and not cause an accident that would have caused significant loss of time and resources, must be recognized,” said Byrom. “If we can get soldiers across the entire Army to have this mindset, it would change our safety culture.”
Byrom said he intends to share the PUGET crew’s example of applying deliberate risk management practices across the Army.
USACE Northwestern Division Commander Brig. Gen. Geoff Van Epps attended the ceremony and shared the Army safety director’s views.
“The PUGET crew absolutely exemplified the right approach to safety,” said Van Epps. “The team was not only deliberate and methodical in their approach to risk management, but they respected and took the Army Corps’ mission seriously. We always advocate the right way to do things.”
For the crew, the award confirmed their obligation to keep safety at the forefront of everything they do.
“Safety is always our No. 1 priority in navigation and on the PUGET,” said Captain Stephen “Skipp” Green. “We encourage this mindset from the top down, and it’s how I believe we caught this issue. I always put my trust in what the crane operator’s decision for the lift is, whether it can or can’t be accomplished.”
Feb. 14, 2023, was like any other workday. The crew’s task, to use its mounted crane to lift two, 6-ton small lock floats from the small lock at the Locks, was part of their standard operations. In fact, the crew, part of the district’s Waterway Maintenance Unit (WMU), had completed this maneuver using the same equipment and configuration countless times before with no issues.
For Small Craft Operator Luis Hernandez, completing this critical lift for the first time on Valentine’s Day presented the ideal opportunity to focus on risk management.
“As the person sitting in the seat, the crane operator is ultimately responsible for pre-planning during all lifts including routine ones and making on-the-spot decisions during daily operations,” said Green. “They ensure the crew’s safety. The decisions they make are critical and always changing. Routine is what gets everyone in trouble. Attention to detail is key.”
Original load charts show the critical lift is under 75 percent of the crane's rated load. Concerned the new load charts might be more restrictive, Green, Hernandez, Crane Operator Jordan St. John, Section Marine Machinery Mechanic Joshua Deming, Small Craft Operator Silad On, and Locks Maintenance Lead John Ryan, reassessed the lift rather than assuming it was still safe.
With this approach, and after taking cursory measurements based on the tentative center location, they determined the lift might not be within specifications according to the new load charts. After Hernandez completed the critical lift plan, the team confirmed the lift may be at risk with the estimated radius and rigging.
“Luis ‘really went to town’ digging into all the resources available to him,” said Green. “He looked through the old load charts and noticed that while it was being performed safely and nothing had changed with the crane or on the vessel, they weren’t ‘within specs’ of our current load charts…That’s when the conversations started.”
They began collaborating with the Marine Design Center, the Corps of Engineers' center of expertise and experience in developing and applying innovative strategies and technologies for naval architecture and marine engineering. This led to the crew updating its load charts, fully aware that any updates could affect the crane’s lift.
By testing their theory in the real world on a previously successful routine task, and applying deliberate risk management principles, the crew reduced the risk of potential costly accidents and future catastrophes.
“The team made the unpopular decision to go against the norm and complete a task they’d routinely done, but in a more methodical and intentional way, to prevent a mishap,” said WMU Chief Bradford Schultz II. “Their course of action empowered the WMU to set a precedent of applying risk management techniques now, to avoid disasters later.”
The Army Safety Awards Program recognizes, promotes, and motivates success in accident prevention through risk management, by recognizing safety accomplishments of individuals and units in the field.
“Fostering a safety-conscious environment, that includes everyone being a part of that process, leads to an amazing team,” said Green. “The PUGET provides an invaluable service to the Army Corps, the American public and the Pacific Northwest.”
“Every time you go out on one of these missions, there are people who’ve just had one of the worst days of their lives, so getting out, being able to do whatever you can to help them put their lives back together and get back on their feet and back to normal is probably the biggest motivation.”
When Eddie LeBlanc, the current team leader for Emergency Support Function 3, Public Works and Engineering responding to the Hawai'i wildfires, reflects on what compels him to serve, he also reflects on a 25-year career with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—one that has prepared him to take on the numerous responsibilities of leading an ESF3 mission team.
LeBlanc started out in construction, taking a student co-op role in the USACE New Orleans District’s Lafayette area office. His construction work eventually led him to Emergency Management, where he was introduced to deploying by becoming part of the Debris Planning and Response Team.
“My first deployment was in 2004, during Hurricane Isabel in Virginia,” he said. “From there I continued deploying for many years in various other positions on the PRT and then became a debris subject matter expert.”
All this experience with the debris team culminated in 2013 with LeBlanc becoming the debris program manager for USACE, then a decade later taking a position as a permanent ESF3 cadre member, one of only five such positions in the agency. The overall team leader and assistant team leader cadre has about 80 people.
He noted, “I think a big part [of being on the cadre] is just helping others. You see the fruits of your labor, helping people get back on their feet after they’ve had such a horrible experience. It’s always good to see the communities come back, especially coming from a state that gets a lot of hurricanes and disasters themselves. I know what it means to have others come in and help you and your family.”
LeBlanc arrived Sept. 4 in Hawai'i to lead the ESF3 response. As the second team leader to rotate in, he quickly began linking up with principal contacts at the State of Hawai'i, Maui County, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other partners. Because an ESF3 response is funded through a FEMA mission assignment, it’s especially important to build strong relationships with FEMA leaders on the ground.
“They’re the ones who once we have deployment orders let us know who’s who and what’s expected for the disaster [response],” said LeBlanc.
Shortly after arriving, LeBlanc surveyed the damage of the impact areas on Maui in Kula and Lahaina. Though he had seen wildfires before, serving as the debris program manager and lead debris subject matter expert for the 2017 California wildfires—the first wildfire mission USACE had received—the differences in this event are clear.
“It’s some of the worst devastation I’ve seen in my numerous years deploying,” he said. “It’s definitely different than what I have seen in the past, especially knowing the cultural sensitivity on Maui and [logistical] challenges of it being an island and isolated really puts a lot more perspective on how to manage it.”
Recently USACE stood up a Recovery Field Office as a central location on Maui to help manage the recovery effort. The ESF3 team works in tandem with the RFO to ensure mission assignments are written and executed correctly and to coordinate between the RFO and FEMA for mission requirements.
“We’re doing that continued coordination on what the needs are from the RFO to execute the missions, making sure they have the funding and that we meet any other needs,” he said.
Another important aspect of being an ESF3 team leader is working with PRT action officers to ensure mission resourcing and overseeing the allocation of the mission assignment task orders that act as checks to fund various objectives.
“We’re the conduit that goes back and forth between FEMA and the state to those on the PRTs to coordinate timelines and funding to help keep them on track to complete the mission in a timely manner,” said LeBlanc.
This mission is the first where LeBlanc is the sole team leader. In his past recovery missions where he’s responded in this position, there were multiple team leaders, so this has offered a new learning environment and an opportunity to sharpen his skillset.
“You always learn lessons, and every mission you come away with something different, but coordinating at this level for the first time is a big eye opener and will help me further my confidence and expertise in the position going forward,” he said.
Disaster response also brings its own unique stressors and challenges. LeBlanc credits his family for helping him stay mentally fit to lead.
“I know there’s a strong network back home and having support from my wife and kids after doing this for 20-plus years helps me keep focus on the mission and what I’m doing for others,” he said. “The biggest thing I get out of every mission is the satisfaction of helping others in their time of need.”
While more than 50,000 fans and alumni gathered at Mississippi State University’s Davis Wade Stadium to cheer the Bulldogs for their college football season opener against Southeastern Louisiana State University, Sept. 2, two U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Honolulu District employees who are Mississippi State alumni were cheering them on in spirit while supporting emergency response efforts to the recent Hawai'i wildfires.
Brittany Keyes, a mission specialist with the Honolulu District Power Planning and Response Team, is from Laurel, Mississippi, and a 2013 graduate of the College of Arts and Sciences at Mississippi State. Jon Runnels, a quality assurance specialist and logistician, is from Pass Christian, Mississippi, and is a 2015 graduate of the Bagley College of Engineering at Mississippi State. Runnels works as a project engineer for the Honolulu District Construction Branch.
USACE’s Power Planning and Response Teams oversee the installation, maintenance and overall management of Federal Emergency Management Agency generators that provide temporary emergency power to critical infrastructure, critical care facilities and municipal buildings for Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments.
Keyes is responsible for personnel accountability, documenting the team’s mission-related actions and contractor performance. When she is not participating in emergency response missions, Keyes serves as a management and program analyst at the Honolulu District. She joined the Power PRT to share a piece of the kindness she said she has experienced at her alma mater.
“Many times, I’ve witnessed Mississippi State University pull together for their students, their faculty and their community in times of crisis and despair because ‘Bulldog Nation’ is family,” said Keyes. “Likewise, the USACE Honolulu District Power Team is honored to show up for our Maui ‘Ohana in a time of crisis. Of all the skills MSU has equipped me with, a heart of compassion and kindness is of the utmost importance, and that is what I proudly display throughout this mission.”
Runnels has served in multiple positions on previous emergency responses. During the USACE response to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017 and 2018, he served as a quality assurance specialist, a quality assurance lead, and office engineer.
In his full-time job at Honolulu District, Runnels is a project engineer in the district’s Construction Branch. On Maui, Runnels has been a QA on the swing shift, checking generators to ensure they were properly maintained, and is now tracking generators to ensure accountability.
“Being able to help others in a time of need, I don’t see a higher calling than that. To rise to that calling, there’s just nothing more important,” said Runnels “It’s not uncommon to stop and help people in Mississippi when you see someone broken down on the side of the road. It’s just something Mississippians do. It’s the right thing to do.”
Stephanie Gates thrives on problem solving. Her work at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Middle East Division (TAM) gives her a lot of opportunity to do that. Stephanie relates, “Each project has its own unique problems and figuring out the best solution to deliver the best product to our mission partners is what I love doing. Every project challenges me to learn and apply skills in different ways so it’s never boring.”
Stephanie Gates grew up in Los Alamos, N.Mex. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degree in civil engineering with a focus on structures from New Mexico State University. Prior to her position at TAM, she worked for the private sector in Colorado. The firm’s portfolio included custom houses, small commercial properties, schools, and apartment complexes. Those projects allowed her to work with wood, steel, concrete, and masonry construction. In time she felt there was no more room for professional growth with that company. As she pondered career next steps, she was intrigued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) mission. With initial research she realized that “USACE does cool stuff, and I want to do cool stuff too.”
At the time she was determining her next steps, she visited her brother who was stationed in Washington, D.C. During that visit, she realized that the D.C. metro area might be the change she was looking for. In 2019, she applied for and accepted a structural engineering position at TAM. At first, she was a bit hesitant about working for the Middle East District, but in time realized she found an ideal niche for her abilities and interests. She really likes living in Winchester, Va., preferring a smaller town over a big city.
Her first major project came in helping rebuild the entire base of Camp Santiago in Puerto Rico. According to National Guard.mil, “In 2017, Hurricane Maria devastated islands in the northeast Caribbean — especially Puerto Rico. The hurricane made landfall on the island Sept. 20, taking more than 3,000 lives and leaving almost $90 billion in damage in its wake. Camp Santiago, the Puerto Rico Guard’s primary training center near the island’s southern coast, bore irreparable damage to 60% of its facilities.”
Stephanie was part of a team that designed buildings at the base to withstand future weather-related calamities. Colleagues from the USACE Jacksonville and Philadelphia Districts also brought their expertise and manpower to the project. Experiences like this has enabled her to build her professional network throughout USACE. She is grateful to have colleagues with different expertise across the organization to tap into when the need arises.
In time, she became also became the subject matter expert on antiterrorism force protection (ATFP). TAM’s area of responsibility (AOR) has unique requirements for antiterrorism design. Depending on the building type requires different design factors. Stephanie said, “Ensuring that infrastructure like barracks and air traffic control towers are designed to resist terrorist attacks are critical to providing a safe and quality product for our customers.”
TAM has provided Stephanie with many leadership developing experiences, which she felt was lacking during her time in the private sector. She recently completed TAM’s Leadership Development 1 Program. Their final project was a staff ride at the Third Battle of Winchester. The team had to research and develop a program about how a commander’s leadership effected the course of the battle. Being from the southwest, she did not have a great interest in the American Civil War. The research gave her a better understanding of that period of history, and she finds that era interesting. That exercise taught her how leadership is an integral part of the battle experience and was able to carry those lessons into her professional life. She looks forward to future leadership development opportunities.
Another thing that Stephanie enjoys about working for USACE is that it is a predominately civilian organization in the military. Both her father and brother served in the military, and she feels this is her chance to also be of service. Her brother is a helicopter pilot, and she has used his real-world experience to find out what pilots really need in the design of a hangar. His insights have provided her to create superior design products for TAM’s customers.
In early 2023, Stephanie applied for and accepted TAM’s structural engineer supervisor position. Looking towards the future, Stephanie sees continual opportunities for leadership and her professional growth. “I look forward to continuing to lead our structural team and helping them learn and grow so that we can deliver even better products for our soldiers and host nation partners. I’m also excited for our future projects because I know they will challenge me as a structural engineer.”
For the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ 2023 Architect of the Year, the best part of the job is helping others reach their full potential. “It’s rewarding knowing that other people are benefiting from the services that I can provide,” said Breanna McBride, a senior architect at the Seattle District.
Each year, USACE’s Engineering and Construction Community of Practice recognizes employees and teams for excellence in performance, leadership, professional development and support. Ms. McBride is the second Architect of the Year from Seattle District since the award’s inception. This award recognizes her contributions to the field of architecture, technical leadership on large, complex projects and her work developing technical lead training and resources.
After leaving the private sector in 2019 to join the Seattle District, Ms. McBride found an institutional knowledge gap among new architects serving as technical leads on military construction projects. Ms. McBride then came up with a simple, yet effective solution: gather resources into a toolkit and start a monthly training series covering different aspects of the job.
“It’s a good place to find all the information. It’s a little bit like a Wikipedia page, where we can all build on it over time, keep improving it and making it better,” said Ms. McBride.
As support grew for Ms. McBride’s toolkit, word spread to other sections and districts. At an American Institute of Architects conference earlier this year, Ms. McBride shared her toolkit with 50 architects from other districts, many of whom now want to implement a similar program back home. This new precedent for knowledge sharing throughout USACE is also a testament to her mentor and trainer roles.
In addition to her work as a senior architect, Ms. McBride is involved in a variety of efforts throughout the district. As the sustainability coordinator, she develops resources, procedures and training to improve awareness of sustainability throughout district projects. Not one to rest on her laurels, Ms. McBride is also developing a sustainability-based toolkit in conjunction with USACE Headquarters and Northwestern Division to be used throughout the enterprise. Lastly, Ms. McBride also leads the monthly Design Branch Users Group meeting to troubleshoot issues and discuss solutions.
“I have a lot of different things that I’m involved in because whenever I see an area that can use improvement, I step up and try to make things better,” said Ms. McBride.
Ms. McBride has a bachelor’s degree in art history and minored in math at the University of California, Los Angeles. And due to her father’s business in the ceiling tile industry, her interest in construction started early.
After earning a master’s degree in architecture at San Diego’s NewSchool of Architecture and Design, she worked on a variety of projects that supported her love of design and logistics, from schools and country clubs to multifamily and residential properties.
A common theme that underpins Ms. McBride’s work, from her architectural projects to her mentorship efforts, is her passion for improving the world.
“I don’t like to sit by and accept the status quo,” explained Ms. McBride. “I’m always trying to look for ways that we can improve. I think in the architecture, design and construction fields, there are lots of opportunities to have impacts on the built environment, the way people use spaces, providing universally accessible spaces for people, and making sure we’re keeping the environment in mind for sustainability.”