Kudos to USACE

by Juan Thomas
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“Don’t cry because it’s over; smile because it happened” – Dr. Seuss

Earlier today, I wrote about how excited I am about starting a new position at the U.S. Department of the Interior. This coming Monday, I am set to start my career there as a Building Management Specialist. As I’m walking into the door of one great opportunity, I’m walking out of the door of another one. My time at the Charleston District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officially wraps up at the end of the pay period on Saturday. My last day in office is tomorrow with my final regular day off being on Friday.

It’s bittersweet to be leaving the Corps. I’ve had a lot of great fun serving as an Area Facility Operations Specialist. Though the U.S. Army Reserve’s 81st Regional Support Command Department of Public Works didn’t make it easy to manage their Army Reserve Centers and auxiliary facilities, I still enjoyed the job. I got a chance to work in 27 sites in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. I learned a little bit more about facility management that I otherwise wouldn’t have learned under the concept on an active military installation.

After 3 years, I feel as if I compiled some great success. I developed a $205000 fire alarm replacement project in my first 3 months on the job though it didn’t come to life until last fall. But 4 of my facilities—Opelika, Montgomery, Anniston, Milton—are better for it. Over my 3 years, I conducted 141 assessments for the Installation Status Reports and 78 of them were addressed by the 81st…a lot better than I could have ever hoped for all things considered. I input, processed, and managed 537 work requests—including 91 emergency items—and maintained a 94% on-time completion rate within the 60-day window.

I drove 21817 miles during my trips for official government business—or TDYs, as we call them. I covered a lot of ground in Alabama from the Anniston area facilities to the Montgomery facilities to Tuskegee to Opp to Dothan to Fort Rucker. I covered a lot of ground along the Florida Panhandle from the Panama City sites to Hurlburt Field to Milton to the Pensacola site at Naval Air Station Pensacola Corry Station. I even had the quick run across the state line at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. I logged a lot of miles in the air too…the twice-a-year trips to Columbia for meetings at Fort Jackson and the trainings down in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area. Working this position definitely was a boon in the per diem department and it didn’t hurt that I ascended to the Platinum tier of the Enterprise Plus rental car program and the Diamond tier in the Hilton Honors hotel lodging program.

More than anything that I accomplished on the road trips that keep me away from home up to 20 days a month at times was the friendships I made at my primary office at the Robert Mardre Army Reserve Center in Opelika. From my first day on July 15, 2013, I was welcomed with open arms by the reservists that worked in the building. They even gave me a really nice office, keys to the building, and a cable hookup. I really enjoyed my camaraderie with them. I could laugh with them and joke around and even learn a little about what they did for the Army Reserve.

As I am leaving the Corps and the Department of Defense for greener pastures in the Department of the Interior, there are a lot of people I need to thank for making this experience with USACE tolerable:

THE USACE HEADQUARTERS PEOPLE. First and foremost, I have to thank Rhonda Bath. She was the one who gave me a chance. She offered me the GS-11 position straight out of the Air Force and here I am. My supervisor, Stanley Brown, was wonderful. I learned a lot from the weekly calls with him. I can’t forget Ella Sweazy. She may very well be the best human resources person I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.

THE REGION E FACILITIES CREW. It starts with the Regional Facility Operations Specialist, Frank Rose. We didn’t exactly see eye-to-eye initially but I think we both really wanted the same thing: better buildings for the area. I’d like to think that we accomplished some great projects together. Woodie Newmans is one of the best guys I’ve ever worked with. I learned a lot from him about how to do this job and he made those visits down to the Panhandle more tolerable. Douglas “Jim” Bufford was a joy to work with. Unlike Frank and Woodie, Jim was a fellow USACE employee. He didn’t take $#!+ off anybody and he implored me to carry the same attitude when it came to dealing with the tough reservists.

THE 81ST RSC DPW PEOPLE. I didn’t get to mingle with them often but the administrative staff at the RSC Headquarters was wonderful. Tierney Nelson was great at making sure all of my travel vouchers got processed quickly. My dude Myine Nelson always had the line to the chill spot whenever I dropped into Columbia and he always provided great field support. Briseth “Breezy” Neal was great too. Whenever I had an issue with the CMMS, she fixed it for me.

THE MARDRE CREW. All of the people that worked in the building were great people. From Jonathan Osbourne to Raymond Hill to Eric Shepard to LaTonya Rogers to Martavia Boston, they all made the days fun. I can’t forget Sharon Thompson-Taylor. She literally gave me a cushy office and welcomed me with open arms into the building family and not as some red-headed stepchild or a spy from USACE. I wanted to always show my appreciation to her by trying to upgrade the quality of life for the building. We got the new fire alarm system, a new roof and garage doors on the maintenance shop, and brand new entry doors. I wish I could’ve done more…like get an entirely new building but the 81st RSC handcuffed me.

LASHUNDA POWELL. Ahh man, where would I be without my work sister? Of everybody at the Mardre, I was closest to LaShunda—or SGT Powell, as I called her—and we had a fantastic friendship. In fact, it was somewhat reminiscent of my friendship with Lisandra Jones. We were always able to talk freely with each other and it was always a pleasure. She definitely helped me pass a lot of boring days with stories about our lives on opposite ends of Alabama and the craziness that happened in her unit.

And so, the era of my 1st Federal civil service position ends tomorrow. As I wrote, it’s bittersweet but I’m a lot better now than I was 3 years ago and I have to thank USACE for that. Now, I move forward. I’ll go do great things at Interior but I won’t forget my experience here.

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