Training with Industry: Teaching the Next Generation of Leadership What the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Has to Offer

Progress in a profession is often the result of an innovator identifying an issue, proposing a solution and working to accomplish that solution. That is just what the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Kansas City District did in 2012 when they collaborated with the Command and General Staff College, also known as the CGSC, hosted at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, to develop a new educational program. CGSC is a joint, interagency, intergovernmental and multinational College, and was the perfect place for a program to teach more about USACE.

At the time, the Kansas City District identified a need for greater recruitment of officers into USACE, as well as a need for increased understanding across the U.S. Army of what USACE could provide to the nation. The solution they proposed, spearheaded by then district commander Col. Anthony Hofmann, was Training with Industry, or TWI, an educational program administered by the Kansas City District. The program is now an annual elective in the CGSC curriculum. The first few years of the program, the class averaged about 10 to 15 students. This year, 31 students participated in TWI, including international students from partner nations. The 2023 course started on April 6 and ran through May 31. Although the need to recruit officers into USACE is still ongoing, the benefits from the program have not gone unnoticed.

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“[TWI] has received outstanding reviews by U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, U.S. Army Engineer School, USACE and CGSC,” said Larry Myers, executive officer for the Kansas City District and administer for the TWI program. “[It] was heralded by former Chief of Engineers, Lt. Gen Todd Semonite, as an innovative and excellent partnership with the U.S. Army warfighters.”

This year, students visited the KC Levees project, discussed lake operations and management at the Smithville Lake dam, toured the Lower Missouri River by boat, learned about water management and river maintenance activities and spent 10-12 hours job shadowing a USACE subject matter expert.

TWI students enter the Smithville Dam control tour for a tour on April 20, 2023. (USACE photo by  Abigail Voegeli)
TWI students enter the Smithville Dam control tour for a tour on April 20, 2023. (USACE photo by  Abigail Voegeli)

 

Students also attend a Q&A session with the Kansas City District commander, Col. Travis Rayfield, for a commander’s perspective on leading a district.

Lt. Col. John Chambers, deputy commander for the Kansas City District, provides command oversight for the TWI program. His role is focused on ensuring TWI continues to operate smoothly, while making sure the students receive training that is relevant to their specific interests.

“In the program we have engineer officers, we have non-engineer officers and we also have officer’s from sister services or other countries,” Chambers said. “I work with the USACE team to set up times for students to visit the project sites and business lines and ensure we have the right mix of mentors available for the interests of the CGSC students.”

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During the program, the students are given a list of different USACE career fields where they could seek mentorship. For example, they could be partnered with a USACE employee working in hydropower, operations, hydrology or more. Although there is a list of approximately 15 topics students could choose from for the individual study and mentorship portion of the program, there is flexibility built in to support diverse interests.

“[Students] have the ability to propose other topics [for individual study], which the District is happy to support if they have the expertise available at the time,” said John Wettack, a professor at CGSC who administers the program. “For example, discussing geographic information systems, or GIS, and geospatial usage was a student-initiated topic several years ago that is now a staple of the program.”

TWI students receive a briefing on current construction operations while on a tour of the Smithville Dam stilling basin on April 20, 2023. (USACE photo by Abigail Voegeli)
TWI students receive a briefing on current construction operations while on a tour of the Smithville Dam stilling basin on April 20, 2023. (USACE photo by Abigail Voegeli)

 

Working with the TWI students is a learning experience for the USACE employees as well. Melissa Bean, a natural resource management specialist for the Kansas City District, is one of many USACE employees who work with the TWI students during the program. Within her career field, Bean engages with the students and helps determine their interests and learning goals.

“I really enjoy sharing our passion for the natural resource management missions with the next generation of leadership,” Bean said. “I gain a lot of understanding of their experiences and goals coming through CGSC and the Army as a whole, and I hope they walk away with the same [increased] knowledge of programs.”

Bean works with her team to tailor the visits to the lake projects during the program to make the most of the students’ time spent learning about the recreation and environmental stewardship programs within USACE.

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“I think most of the students are surprised by the variety and complexity of programs under the recreation and environmental stewardship program,” Bean said. “The students were quickly engaged in discussions about facility and natural resource management, real estate outgrants, contracting, partnership agreements, public outreach and more.”

In addition to recreation and the other divisions within USACE, the Kansas City District even opened up the deputy district commander position as a mentor this year, with the intent being for a student to shadow the deputy commander and learn about what positions might be available to them after their developmental time in a tactical engineer unit.

TWI students pose for a photo on a Missouri River boat tour on April 27, 2023. (USACE photo by Abigail Voegeli)
TWI students pose for a photo on a Missouri River boat tour on April 27, 2023. (USACE photo by Abigail Voegeli)

 

Beyond opportunities for the active-duty officers, Chambers highlighted the benefits of exposure to USACE for students in the Reserves or National Guard. Beyond the importance of recruiting military officers for leadership positions, USACE also employs an approximately 98% civilian work force. USACE employs members of the National Guard and the Reserves in a civilian capacity and is a supportive and flexible place of work for part-time military members.

“This program helps other officers who are in the Reserves or National Guard understand their employment opportunities,” Chambers said. “It helps them understand what USACE provides for them, not just as a military employer but also a civilian one.”

Whether it’s mission, mentorship or employment opportunities, the program provides valuable information to the students that they can carry with them in their careers going forward. The education, exposure and experience TWI provides CGSC supports the college’s mission of educating, training and developing leaders for a wide variety of operational environments.

“Any time you can offer something that gets [the students] out … into something that more and more people are starting to see as a potential long-term career path, that raises interest,” said Wettack. “The ability of the [Kansas City] District to support this program with their time and personnel, and the energy and enthusiasm they provide into it, have made it what it is today.”

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