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Climate Change and USACE

January 6th, 2010

The weather here in Washington, DC is down-right cold, and we only recently saw the record snowfall of a few weeks ago melt enough that we could reasonably get around.  But what we’ve been experiencing is nothing compared to, say, Minnesota or Wisconsin. There was a news report the other day that said the low temperature in one part of Minnesota was so low (-37), that it would have to heat up 69 degrees just to not be below freezing. That’s just crazy cold. In other parts of the world, though, glaciers are melting at a record pace and drought still has people in California under water conservation orders.

 Needless to say, all this extreme weather poses an opportunity to talk about what we are doing at USACE with regard to climate change, in our role as the nation’s environmental engineers.  Gen. Casey, Army Chief of Staff, has said that we are in what he calls “an era of persistent conflict.” Part of that is because of climate change and how it can be a game-changer, creating “haves and “have-nots” around the world. 

I am a member of a United Nations committee called the “High-level Panel on Water and Disasters.”  Last year I presented our report in Istanbul, Turkey.  It was a phenomenal conference.  We came to the conclusion that we need to do much better planning – on a worldwide scale.  We have to ask ourselves – what will our response be? What might the early warnings be?  What would be the evacuation plans?  What would be those measures that an individual can take? What about local and state governments? Federal?  And I’m not just talking about the U.S. – we all need to be asking these questions, all around the world. 

Know that we are planning for all these contingencies, and more than that – we are putting the full capabilities of our Engineer Research and Development Center to work.  We are currently involved in several water studies about conservation and reuse, and we are always working on sustainable practices and technologies. In fact, at Fort Irwin in California, we are currently working on the Department of Defense’s largest solar energy project.

We also collaborated with the U.S. Geological Survey, the Bureau of Reclamation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to write “Climate Change and Water Resources Management:  A Federal Perspective,” released last February, that assessed approaches to climate variability and change in water resources management, on which future agency policies, methods, and processes will be based.  And this past summer, we issued a new policy, “Incorporating Sea-Level Change Considerations in Civil Works Programs,” that instructs our project managers to be prepared to implement flexible planning and engineering adaptations that account for a range of possible changes.
 
The bottom line is – we are planning and preparing for – and doing everything we can to prevent – issues related to climate change.  It’s a very real concern that could have very real consequences all over the world, and we’re on it.

Environment/Sustainability, Research and Development , , ,

So much to be thankful for…

December 21st, 2009

Well, the holidays upon us, and with that, all the last minute shopping for gifts, groceries and party supplies. For many, this year’s festivities will be more humble than years past, because so many people are cutting back due to the economy. And although there are many people in America who are struggling this year, I recently came across a story from one of our teammates in Afghanistan that just reminded me of how much we have to be thankful for, and how spoiled we really are. It’s so easy to take things for granted, because we are so blessed to live in this great nation.

I hope that you take a moment to check out this story by clicking here – it’s about some of our dedicated servicemembers and civilians serving overseas who are part of a group called “Volunteer Community Relations” (VCR), a command-directed outreach program that provides clothing, blankets, school and other supplies to Kabul’s poor and displaced, and Afghan refugees who are returning from Pakistan. VCR distributed 900 blankets and more than 500 bags filled with toys and school supplies to 300 families in need on the day of this story.  Here are some of the photos to give you a taste:

Volunteers distribute blankets to needy Afghan refugee families. The blankets were made by widows of Afghanistan National Police members. The Volunteer Community Relations program purchased them with proceeds from a donation to help the widows with their small business. (USACE photo by Hank Heusinkveld)

Volunteers distribute blankets to needy Afghan refugee families. The blankets were made by widows of Afghanistan National Police members. The Volunteer Community Relations program purchased them with proceeds from a donation to help the widows with their small business. (USACE photo by Hank Heusinkveld)

Young Afghan girls, excited by the arrival of their American guests, run towards a line where theyll find bags of toys. (USACE photo by Hank Heusinkveld)

Young Afghan girls, excited by the arrival of their American guests, run towards a line where they'll find bags of toys. (USACE photo by Hank Heusinkveld)

It’s a great little holiday (or any day) pick-me-up.  I hope that your holidays are filled with all the blessings that can only be found by giving of yourself to others. Be safe out there and have a great holiday and a very happy New Year!

Afghanistan, Miscellaneous "neat stuff" , ,

A New Era in Iraq

October 26th, 2009
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On Friday, we inactivated our division headquarters in Iraq, the Gulf Region Division, which I’ve mentioned in this blog several times. This is good news! It means we’ve come a long way, and that we’re that much closer to being able to leave the country much better than we found it.

Maj. Gen Michael Eyre (left) and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Mitch Prater (center) prepare to case the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division colors during an inactivation ceremony at Al Faw Palace, Baghdad, Iraq.

Maj. Gen Michael Eyre (left) and Cmd. Sgt. Maj. Mitch Prater (center) prepare to case the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Gulf Region Division colors during an inactivation ceremony at Al Faw Palace, Baghdad, Iraq.

From the day the division stood up on January 25, 2004, our selfless, dedicated team of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Civilians and contractors has been helping to rebuild a war-torn nation that had few essential services.  Today, GRD has completed more than 5,200 projects that are providing electricity, clean water, transportation, police and fire stations, medical care, educational opportunities and – most importantly – hope, to the people of Iraq. 

I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has deployed in support of our mission in Iraq, past and present – AND their Families – I am so unbelievably proud of your service – and your accomplishments!

We are not finished in Iraq – in fact – we still have two district offices – the Gulf Region District and Gulf Region South district – which have a lot of work to do to finish up our efforts there and complete our remaining projects. But, the division inactivation brings us one step closer to closing this chapter, and opening another – one that we hope will include a life-long, positive, diplomatic relationship between our two great nations. 

In addition to the inactivation of GRD today, yesterday we dedicated the USACE compound on Camp Victory, Iraq – now officially designated “Camp Wolfe” in honor of Navy Cmdr. Duane Wolfe. Wolfe was the officer-in-charge of the Al-Anbar Area Office, who was killed when an improvised explosive device (IED) struck the vehicle he was riding in outside of Fallujah, Iraq, earlier this year.  The designation ceremony was broadcast live via the internet to Wolfe’s family and friends in Los Osos, CA. Two other friends of GRD were killed in that attack, Terry Barnich, the deputy director of U.S. State Department’s Iraqi Transition and Assistance Office, and a USACE employee from the Jacksonville District – Dr. Maged Hussein, who was serving as director of the Office of Water Resources, Public Works and the Environment at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.

Cindi Wolfe, wife of Cmdr. Duane Wolfe, speaks to the guests via the internet at the ceremony to rename the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers compound on Camp Victory in honor of her husband.

Cindi Wolfe, wife of Cmdr. Duane Wolfe, speaks to the guests via the internet at the ceremony to rename the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers compound on Camp Victory in honor of her husband.

We have come a long way in Iraq – but at great sacrifice. Today, as we look forward to a bright future for Iraq, those people who remain deployed in service of this great nation – and their Families – are very much in my prayers.

Contingency Operations, International and Interagency Services, Iraq , , , ,

Supporting Our Wounded Warriors

October 16th, 2009

I am unbelievably proud of the Army’s commitment to taking care of our Wounded Warriors. As the father of a Wounded Warrior – and a friend to many more, I know it’s critical that we always remember, support and encourage these brave men and women, and honor their sacrifice.
 
There are a couple of different ways that we get to do that here at USACE. For one, we open our doors to Warriors in Transition who are still under treatment, so that they can work and still contribute to the mission, without being too far from their medical appointments. We’ve had a couple of terrific Soldiers come through headquarters.  They remind you how remarkable our Soldiers really are, and how much spirit – how much grit – they’ve got. We are also actively hiring wounded warriors who are transitioning out of an active duty role into civilian life.

This is a rock-climbing wall at Walter Reed Medical Center's Military Advanced Training Center, a facility we built in 2007 with world-class technology designed to help amputees returning from combat

This is a rock-climbing wall at Walter Reed Medical Center's Military Advanced Training Center, a facility we built in 2007 with world-class technology designed to help amputees returning from combat

Another way we try to help is something that we’re getting better and better at every day: awarding contracts to small businesses owned by Service Disabled Veterans (SDVs). As we just crossed into the new fiscal year, we’re now getting all the final numbers for fiscal 2009, and I am proud to say we broke our FY08 record of $543 million in contracts to SDVs,  by awarding $741 million this year.  A new pool and academy record!!  Not a bad jump, I’d say.
 
That $741 million represents about 2.81% of our total contract dollars – which is huge for us.   We’re bound and determined to crack the 3% mark for next year.

Contracting, Employment, Small Business , , , , , ,

One Project at a Time…

September 25th, 2009
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A couple of weeks ago, I posted about some of the progress we’re making with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (see “The Stimulus“). 
 
As a follow up to that, I wanted to share this newsclip that shows the money is being spent – wisely – and in some unbelievably important ways.
 
We are not just creating jobs, but repairing infrastructure in a nation that the American Society of Civil Engineers scores with a D-. Translation: we need a lot of this kind of work to reduce risk for our families and homes, and to secure our nation.
 
Check it out – click the link below, then scroll down the left side to “Tuttle Creek Dam Project” or search for “Tuttle Creek” in the search function.
 
Click here to see the story.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Corps Projects, Locks and Dams , , ,

Are You Ready or Are You READY?

September 11th, 2009
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Here at USACE, we fulfill a vital mission in our response to a variety of emergencies. We spend a lot of time, money and effort preparing, so that we are ready to act when people find themselves in harm’s way.

What is true for our organization in planning for disasters, applies personally to everyone. Now is the time to plan for the unimaginable. Planning protects what you hold dear and reduces the potential for devastating losses.

September is National Preparedness Month, a nationwide effort sponsored by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s READY Campaign in partnership with Citizen Corps. We are taking part in this nationwide effort to encourage individuals, families and communities to prepare for emergencies… so I wanted to use this forum to encourage you to do the same.

This year, National Preparedness Month is focusing on changing perceptions about emergency preparedness, and will help Americans understand what it truly means to be READY. Preparedness goes beyond fire alarms, smoke detectors, dead-bolt locks and extra food in the pantry. Being READY includes: getting an emergency supply kit; making a family emergency plan; being informed about emergencies and their appropriate responses; and getting involved in community efforts such as Citizen Corps.

There are simple steps you can take to better prepare yourself and your family. I encourage you to take a look at the family emergency plan template and emergency supply kit checklist available at www.ready.gov and for more information. I also encourage you to visit www.citizencorps.gov to explore ways that you can get involved in your community.

By taking a few simple steps now, each of us can make sure we are better prepared for the next emergency or disaster.

Emergency Response , , , , ,

The Stimulus

August 21st, 2009
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We continue to focus on executing our role in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act – also known as the “Stimulus Bill.”  That’s one of the major elements of the ‘unprecedented’ workload I wrote about a few weeks ago, with $4.6 billion appropriated to us for Civil Works, another $2.9 billion in Military Programs, and $.8 billion more in our International and Interagency Services mission (providing technical assistance to non-Department of Defense (DoD) federal agencies, state and local governments, tribal nations, etc.).

Now that we’ve had a few months to get our arms around it, we’re really putting that money to good use as intended in the legislation.  It’s great for jobs and the economy, and it’s really great for the nation’s infrastructure.
 
We’ve already obligated 23 percent of the money for Civil Works projects, more than $1 billion!  That’s going to fund some much-needed projects around the nation, like dredging to deepen navigation channels, critically needed operation and maintenance, and important environmental projects.
 
On the Military Programs side of the house, we’ve obligated $221 million to begin to address a wide range of projects that will help to ensure that our servicemembers and their families are provided with the quality facilities, housing and care that they so richly deserve. And so far, our total International and Interagency Support Program obligations to date total $23.5 million.
 
So you can see, we’re getting that stimulus money out there! These obligation numbers are increasing with every week – at a very fast pace!  By the end of the year, we expect to have 2/3rds of our ARRA funds awarded.
 
We’re moving quickly to get this money into the hands of the people who will create jobs, but we’re also moving efficiently to ensure that we make the best use of the taxpayer dollars we’ve been entrusted with in the Recovery Act. We’re “getting ‘er done” right!

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Contracting , ,

A Diamond in the Rough; Celebrating 75 Years

July 28th, 2009

This week, I’m in Nebraska, honoring the 75th anniversary of our district office in Omaha. That’s pretty remarkable – 75 years. That’s the traditional “diamond” anniversary.
 
Next week, I’ll mark 36 years with my bride, and I sure hope we make it to 75! I remember my 50th birthday, we were getting ready to go out.  I looked in the mirror and  pulled a “Fonzi” (from the Happy Days TV show) – took out my comb and put it away without using it- like my hair looked perfect already.  I turned to her and said, “I just turned 50, do I look it?”
 
She said, “You used to.” That still cracks me up. 
 
So this anniversary has me thinking about how much things change through the years. The Omaha District was originally established in 1934 as part of what was then known as “Missouri River Division” with a straightforward mission of navigation on the main stem of the Missouri, and nothing else. 

My, have times changed!  Now they do a little bit of everything… dams, levees, flood-fighting, military construction, environmental clean-up… and the list goes on. 
 
Here’s a link to a story about some of the really neat things the Omaha District has done through the years – check it out.
 
It all boils down to people, though – and Omaha has some GREAT people. Since 2001, more than 100 employees of that small district office have volunteered for service in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and elsewhere. That’s America’s Heartland, right there.
 
People are like diamonds – you find out what they’re really made of when you put them under great pressure. The people who’ve made the Omaha District successful these past 75 years are diamonds in my book with all 4 C’s – my own 4 C’s: Character, commitment, Competency  and Chemistry!
 
Congrats, Omaha District!

Civil Works, Corps Projects, Locks and Dams, Navigation , , ,

Hold the Line! The Cavalry is Coming!

July 17th, 2009
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I just got back from a great trip to Afghanistan, and I just wanted to share with you some of the amazing things we’re doing there, under some unbelievably challenging circumstances. 

This was a new facility we're building at Kandahar Air Field to in and out-process the onslaught of people expected in the Kandahar area as the Coalition mission in Afghanistan ramps up

This was a new facility we're building at Kandahar Air Field to in and out-process the onslaught of people expected in the Kandahar area as the Coalition mission in Afghanistan ramps up

It was 108 degrees with dust and wind galore in Kandahar, where we are getting ready to launch a new district office to help manage the incredibly challenging workload there. Afghanistan Engineer District (AED) South will provide some much needed relief to our office in the north, which is bursting at the seams with people and work. 
AED’s workload has increased more than a $1 billion in the last year, and is expected to increase another $2 billion plus next year. So I kept telling them “Hold the line! The Cavalry is coming!” because relief is on the way.

Our big priorities there are all about helping set the country up for a secure and stable future. Most of our work is building facilities for the Afghan National Security Forces, and to support the soldiers and marines heading into country with the recent increase in manning.

We're building lots of new "hooches" or "CHUs," which stands for Compartmentalized Housing Unit, to make the hundreds of employees at AED South feel more at home

We're building lots of new "hooches" or "CHUs," which stands for Compartmentalized Housing Unit, to make the hundreds of employees at AED South feel more at home

That’s everything from barracks and helipads, to recreation facilities and office space.  But last year, we created a Water and Infrastructure Branch at AED to help bring the Corps of Engineers’ expertise on water to Afghanistan, and it seems like that couldn’t have come at a better time.

I attended the first-ever water conference held in Afghanistan – with all of the appropriate ministers who oversee water and energy, and everyone acknowledged that Afghanistan needs a national level water resource management plan. I also had an opportunity to meet with Ambassador Eikenberry while I was there. He told me that everywhere he goes, Afghans report to him that their highest priority is clean water. Well, we’re going to help them get there.

As always on these trips, the highlight for me is getting a chance to hang out with the unsung heroes, the hundreds of AED employees who voluntarily came from all over the world to leave Afghanistan better than they found it.  This time, I also got to visit the 4th and 19th Engineer Battalions as well as the Navy’s 25NCR – and let me just tell ya – these guys are heroes, driving over IEDs a couple of times a week and getting right back into the fight. Amazing. They inspire me – and I hope they inspire you, too. Keep them in your thoughts and prayers, will ya?

This sign just cracks me up

This sign just cracks me up

I also got to participate in the change of command at AED. Col. Michael McCormick is now the commander, leading all of these passionate folks to success

I also got to participate in the change of command at AED. Col. Michael McCormick is now the commander, leading all of these passionate folks to success

Afghanistan, Contingency Operations, International and Interagency Services , , ,

Back in Business

July 15th, 2009
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I’ve had a few techno issues lately that knocked out my comments link– but it’s working again! I apologize to those wanting to comment on my blogs. I look forward to hearing from you!

Miscellaneous "neat stuff" ,