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Posted 4/23/2014

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By Tony Gunn, Jr.
St. Louis District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Employees of the St. Louis District U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have deployed around the nation in support of natural disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, the 2011 Mississippi River flood and Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. But often the need for the nation’s engineers takes them overseas for a new experience.

The Corps currently has eight employees deployed to Afghanistan who are using their knowledge to perform duties in different territories. Among these eight, there are engineers, project managers, a technical and policy manager, and an operations manager who apply their talents in support of the Army and the nation.

“The Corps is doing work in Afghanistan building and repairing things such as schools, police stations, and military bases,” said Jake Scanlon, chief of the St. Louis District’s Readiness Branch. “Agencies in Afghanistan need experienced personnel with the Corps to come oversee work that's being completed by contractors.”

The experts who are deployed are very experienced at what they do, Scanlon said. Most of the tasks they deal with while they’re deployed are tasks they handle day-to-day while state-side.  The Corps supports and assists its deployees to make sure they’re safe and qualified.

“There are specific needs for deployments to Overseas Contingency Operations, and the Corps supports those needs with eligible, qualified personnel,” said Scanlon. “All qualified personnel are trained in safety measures to be used while overseas.”

The Corps employees also get a valuable learning opportunity. They encounter different situations even if they are performing the same task as previous deployments. This makes them better prepared for the next project.

“Working as a project engineer in construction in Afghanistan gave me lots of construction experience in a short period of time,” said Bryan Dirks, a civil engineer in the Corps’ St. Louis District. “The work is very fast paced in Afghanistan, and exposed me to many situations you would not typically experience working in construction in the U.S.”

The experience Corps employees gain serving overseas can also give them a competitive edge. Having deployment experience is valued amongst the Corps, and other organizations.

“The biggest impact to my career, through the deployments, is it really taught me how to handle stressful and adverse situations,” said Jay Fowler, chief of Construction Branch in the St. Louis District. “It gave me new insight on working together in a team environment to accomplish the mission despite all of the difficulties that you come across.”

Corps deployment can be a great experience, but it’s not for everyone; it’s a challenge. Even workers who have deployed repeatedly should expect new challenges.

“I recently returned from my third OCO deployment.  The challenges encountered on this deployment were different than in my past two deployments,” said Mike Kessler, a project manager in the Corps’ St. Louis District. “Nonetheless, the experience was still valuable. I learned a lot, and I look forward to the opportunity to deploy again.”

Overall, the unique experience gained from deployment will certainly enhance their skills. Deployment is temporary, but it leaves a lasting impact.