Enhancing Cutting and Welding Skills

Brooke Hernandez’s journey to becoming a Lock and Dam repairer with the Mississippi River Project Office, started when she saw welding as a class offered at her high school. The course looked interesting and she decided to give it a shot. Hernandez found she not only loved welding but performing the trade came easy to her.

“I kind of knew college wasn’t my style; I’m a hands-on worker. I took one class in high school, and it just came to me so naturally I was like I gotta do this for a living.”

After the Moline, Illinois, native graduated high school she left her hometown for a welding school.

“I ended up going to trade school in Ohio for a nine-month program to be a pipe welder,” Hernandez recounted, learning pipeline work wasn’t what she wanted to do.

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“I ended up being a fabricator; I worked for a company called Marion Process Solutions. We built custom mixers for processing manufacturers; like Purple Mattresses, Chester’s Chicken Seasoning, and concrete mixers, mulch mixers; so many different things. It was good for a while, but it was hard.”

Although, the 25-year-old was working for an Iowa company closer to home and was happy as a shop welder she was open to a new career path, especially one that would bring her back to the Quad Cities area.

“I was getting my nails done,” she laughed. “I saw a family friend and – I was living in Cedar Rapids at the time- she said if you ever want to come back home, I can get you a job at the Corps.” Hernandez recalled.

Since Hernandez didn’t know what the Corps of Engineers was, she reached out to her mom who is a federal employee for some insight.

“When I asked my mom about the Corps she answered with ‘Oh, that’s the place you want to be, that’s the place you’re going to work” Hernandez remembered she didn’t initially jump at the opportunity before calling the family friend and said “Alright, I’m ready to come home, so here I am and gosh I love it.”

Hernandez joined USACE in early August 2023 and has quickly acquired a wealth of knowledge during her tenure. As a lock and dam repairer, she has enhanced her endurance, adapting to work outdoors in various weather conditions. Hernandez’s perseverance has paved the way for numerous opportunities, including further refining her welding skills and mastering the operation of heavy machinery.

As she continues to gain knowledge and learn new things working along the Mississippi River, she has set her site on achieving another career goal within the next year.

“I want to be a diver,” she declared during an interview. “I want to learn and take in as much as I can being a repairer and apply it to when I become diver. That’s what I’m working for.”

Hernandez has been working with other lock and dam repairers on a closure at Lock and Dam 17 for maintenance and repairs which is set to be done by the end of March.

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