USACE Real Estate: The Foundation of Military Recruiting

Local armed forces recruiting offices are often the first place a prospective service member interacts with the military. It’s here where America’s sons and daughters make the decision to serve their country, and as a gateway to service, it’s important these spaces honorably reflect the branches that will welcome Americans to the profession of military service.

What may not be known about the military recruitment effort, however, is these offices are all facilitated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). It is through USACE’s Real Estate function that military recruitment offices for all branches are procured and maintained.

Janice Williams, then a Regional Program Manager, takes a selfie during 2017 renovation work at the Times Square recruitment booth in New York City. USACE PHOTO BY JANICE WILLIAMS

As a former regional program manager for the Armed Forces Joint Recruiting Facilities Program, Janice Williams worked for USACE for 32 years, before recently retiring with more than 40 years of federal service. In that time, she oversaw many recruitment projects across 22 states.

“What I always tried to instill in my realty specialists was people no longer join the military by way of a draft. It’s an all-volunteer armed force. When someone visits a recruiting office, it’s important that we make sure it represents our nation. We don’t want a parent to feel uncomfortable leaving their child in a setting that, from the start, doesn’t feel safe. Realty specialists should take great pride in every recruiting office we build and ensure each is top quality. This is the first impression they are going to get of the military, and we don’t want to do anything that would make them second-guess their decision,” she said.

Real Estate doesn’t simply oversee the lease acquisition of properties, however. It’s an all-encompassing effort. Once a property is leased and build-out is complete, realty specialists are responsible for all necessary contracting, such as janitorial, utilities, parking, security, facilities maintenance, seasonal upkeep, and more.

With properties across the country, this translates to very time-intensive work that requires much attention to detail. Some of these recruitment offices are also iconic and highly visible. One such office is the recruiting booth located centrally in Times Square in New York City – a property Williams calls her “claim to fame.”

“The military recruiting station in Times Square has been a presence there since 1942. It’s the most visible symbol of armed forces recruiting in the world, and it is a product of the Army Corps of Engineers. I first became involved with the property around the year 2000 when we began serious renovations to the space – at that time, it didn’t even have a bathroom. More recently, we did even more overhauls that also included significant security upgrades.”

These days, perhaps the building’s most iconic features are the illuminated American flags along each long side of the booth. In years prior, the building featured an actual flagpole, but it was difficult to keep the flag clean and maintained. By creating the illuminated side panels, this remedied the issue and aligned the building with the aesthetic of Times Square in a modern and enticing manner.

Army branding enhances recruitment messaging within Army recruitment centers at locations in the United States and overseas. USACE PHOTO BY BRAD TERRILL

Outside of the Northeast, there are four other regional program managers for the Joint Recruiting Facilities Program, covering the rest of the United States, as well as stations overseas. Williams originated the role, and more positions were added later. On the West Coast, Brad Terrill, the Northwest Division regional program manager and a 28-year veteran of USACE, has a similar take on the role, and emphasizes the security element of procuring recruitment spaces.

“By far, this is a mission to ensure the security of the country. If the recruiting program doesn’t succeed, the military has a hard time putting bodies in boots to defend the country. So, for me, that was one of the things that drew me to the leasing side, because I knew [the importance] of maintaining this image. This is the No. 1 and most satisfying thing for me – knowing that I’m helping to protect the country and its citizens,” he said.

This effort is two-fold; Terrill helps military recruitment attract and retain service members, but also puts into effect security measures that enhance the safety of recruiting offices and staff members themselves. Much of this work involves fortifying the recruiting structures with physical security measures. Often, security incidents – like in 2015 when an active shooter attacked a recruiting center in Chattanooga, Tennessee – prompt reviews that result in upgrades needing to be implemented across the range of facilities. It’s complicated work that isn’t without its challenges.

“One of the biggest challenges is working within strict budgets,” said Terrill. “Protecting the facilities with new mitigations and making sure that issues are fixed – the amount of dollars that we have for those isn’t very large, compared to the overall budget, which pays for rents and associated utilities. But when it comes to upgrades, that funding is tight. The challenge has been trying to get enough funding at the right time to complete certain projects.”

Joint recruiting messaging welcomes prospective Service Members to a recruiting facility in Southern California.

Some challenges are also regional and dependent on the geographic area a program manager oversees. For Terrill, his territory covers the largest amount of land mass, with significant diversity in terms of facility locations. His includes major urban centers like Denver, and far more isolated locales like Guam. Aside from the inherent hurdles of varying business practices from one place to another, special considerations must be made for many offices, such as extreme weather and seasonal fortification.

Military recruitment is only one facet of the Real Estate mission, however. Other areas include civil works, environmental, and other military-specific work. Real Estate plays a role in nearly all projects undertaken by USACE. Both Terrill and Williams emphasized the imperative for Real Estate to have a seat at the table when every project is being planned. Real Estate may not always get the glory, but most projects couldn’t move forward without its efforts.

In the case of military recruitment, one aspect remains steadfast: Whether presenting to the individual, their family and community members, or various distinguished visitors, a recruitment facility exists as a face for the military and its service branches. They are structures that, at their best, portray excellence and the military values that motivate individuals to serve. Their success depends on the dedication of USACE Real Estate professionals.

This story featured in the 2022-2023 edition of America’s Engineers: The People, Programs, and Prjects of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers