Every year-and-a-half a group of a dozen or so retired U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Senior Executive Service members and their spouses visit a USACE organization, keeping current with Corps’ activities and how it continues to provide service to the nation.
On Oct. 29, the group visited Huntsville for the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center’s first Leaders Emeritus event.
Col. Robert Ruch, Huntsville Center commander, provided the visitors with the Huntsville Center command overview briefing and Boyce Ross, director of the Center’s Engineering Directorate, and his team demonstrated the Center's Building Information Modeling capabilities.
This year’s group included Paul and Diane Barber - Barber was Chief Engineering Civil Works USACE; Achiel (Ace) Wanket - Chief Engineering South Pacific Division; Dan and Peggy Mauldin - Mauldin was Deputy Director Civil Works USACE; Jay and Carole Soper - Soper was Chief Engineering North Atlantic Division; Nelson and JoAnn Dunnam - Dunnam was Chief Project Management Military Programs USACE; Henry and Janice Everitt - Everitt was deputy commander at Huntsville Center; Dave and Crista Fulton - Fulton was Construction/Operations SPD; Ray and Marial Aldridge - Aldridge was Huntsville Center Chief of Procurement; Mary Higgs - her late husband Joe, was Chief Engineering Ohio River Division; Donna Blake - her late husband John, was Chief Construction/Operations at South Atlantic Division.
Everitt, who worked to pull together the most recent gathering, said when the group first began to get together, they were all working in their various geographic locations under the leadership of Chief of Engineers Lt. Gen. Elvin “Vald” Heiberg.
“He correctly realized that the civilian leadership of the Corps had not been exposed to the same emphasis on leadership that the military had experienced,” Everitt said. “So, as part of his strategy to deal with this, he began a practice of an offsite Senior Leadership Conference somewhere every year.”
Everitt said Heiberg’s intention for the group was promoting teamwork among the senior leaders and the gathering was effective even as the practice continued under his successors.
“The importance of those gatherings was better teamwork across geographical boundaries, and it worked,” Everitt said.
However, over the years, Everitt said something else happened.
“I don’t know if it was intended or not—maybe it was – but a by-product of the teamwork objective was the building of this small group. We gained a high level of respect for each other and a bonding occurred among the spouses, as well.
Everitt said the current community supports each other and gathering to remember their past brings the group enjoyment in their retirement years.
“Without these gatherings, we wouldn't know what our former professional partners are going through and we wouldn’t have the opportunity to enjoy each other’s company—remembering about ‘back when.’”
Everitt said although the visits are very socially focused – a way for old friends to keep in touch and visit regularly – there is also a deep interest within the group about the Corps’ current operations and the group relishes learning how missions develop over time.
He said looking back on how the Corps, and then Huntsville Division, operated in the 1960s, 70s and 80s when the group was providing the leadership, there are two areas where he sees big differences in how things are now as opposed to how things were then.
“The business perspective was only beginning to emerge when I retired,” Everitt said.
“Huntsville Division had become the Corps ‘test bed’ for new ideas and practices already. Not long before I retired, there was an experiment to find out if the private sector would be willing to invest in a military installation’s infrastructure at their own expense and expect to recover costs and make a profit from the measured savings to the government,” he said.
“This was more a business proposition than it was engineering and the experiment has turned into a successful program.”
Everitt said he’s impressed with Huntsville Center’s ability to conduct its daily activities with an eye toward business considerations.
“I can remember hearing how much trouble it caused project managers in particular because of all the data they were responsible for managing. But now it appears this is more of a second nature and the result is a change in how work is perceived throughout the organization. It is more like how they think in the private sector. That perspective will help keep Huntsville Center prosperous and competitive.”
Everitt said the other area he sees Huntsville Center has changed is the way contracts can be written one place and used in another.
“This was also emerging when I retired when what we called Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contracts were beginning to be popular,” he said.
“But we observed in our visit that Huntsville Center freely shares contract capacity with Corps districts. The thought I had was that because of the changes in contracting perspective, the Corps is more a ‘One Corps’ now than it was when I retired,” Everitt said.
“This was something I had worked on personally during my career—a ‘One Corps’ perspective—but it never occurred to me that an instrument for this would be sharing contract capacity.”
Ruch said the group’s visit to Huntsville Center was one of the best events of the year.
“It tells you a lot about the Corps in that people want to come back. It’s one of those things they don’t have to do—they could just get together—but they choose to tie in a visit with the Corps. They love the people they worked with and I hope that’s something we can continue in the Corps,” Ruch said.
“This visit was truly a great investment of time. When you consider that this group gets together annually and is still this interested in the Corps it shows you what a truly special place the Corps has been to work over time.”