Each year, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deploys thousands of people to provide technical engineering expertise and promote capacity development at home and abroad as part of the federal government’s unified national response to disasters and emergencies. The Corps of Engineers also delivers critical engineering support to the joint force in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other global operations through our military and civilian workforce, as shown by over 12,000 civilians who have voluntarily deployed supporting the nation’s efforts in the Middle East. Over the past six months, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District has deployed over 25 people across the globe. Here are some of their stories.
Brennon Claus, Buffalo District Financial Management Specialist, deployed from Oct. 17 to 31, 2018 in support of Hurricane Michael recovery efforts as a Temporary Roofing Quality Assurance Specialist in the Panama City area of Florida. This was his first deployment for disaster relief.
“I was part of the Blue Roof program assisting eligible homeowners with temporary roof repairs,” said Claus. “The Federal Emergency Management Agency tasked the Corps of Engineers with providing temporary coverings made of blue plastic sheeting to help reduce further damage to property until permanent repairs are made. I inspected houses to see if they were suitable for a temporary roof.”
Claus deployed with several members of the Buffalo District and met Army Corps of Engineers personnel from across the country in many fields of expertise.
“Everyone shared their perspective and knowledge with me. I really appreciated that as a new member,” said Claus. “It’s clear we’re all working toward the same goal, and the Corps of Engineers does a great job adapting each day to help the people devastated by Hurricane Michael.”
“My most notable memory from deploying was while assessing a female Veteran’s roof for damage,” he said. “The Veteran had taken her mom in after the storm, and her mom was so worried about how nothing was going right that particular day. I saw the disappointment and look of defeat on her face. After talking for a few minutes, she mentioned her daughter had just purchased a chainsaw to remove debris around the property, but the chainsaw wouldn’t work. Having quite a bit of experience with chainsaws, I got it running in a few minutes. The mom was ecstatic and I knew this was the one moment of positivity she needed to get through the day. When I spoke with her daughter confirming a temporary roof installation and that I was able to get the saw fixed, she was extremely grateful.”
“Experiences like this made me push myself to assess as many houses as I could each day,” Claus said. “I would absolutely deploy again.”
Joshua Feldmann, Buffalo District Chief of Operations, deployed from Sept. 13 to 25, 2018 in support of Hurricane Florence recovery in Raleigh, North Carolina as an Infrastructure Assessment Planning and Response Team Action Officer. Feldmann was one of 13 people from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Buffalo office to deploy to Florida after the storm. He's been on the infrastructure assessment team for eight years and has been deployed to a number of areas ravaged by hurricanes.
Hurricane Florence brought historic rains, storm surges, and floods to the eastern and central part of the state, and Feldmann witnessed sights of extraordinary destruction.
"Trees were snapped in half in much of the forested areas. It looked like a forest full of toothpicks," he said.
“Our team was there for three weeks completing assessments on critical infrastructure, like police and fire stations, schools, and hospitals. In all, we surveyed 635 buildings,” Feldmann said. “As Action Officer, I primarily coordinated with the Emergency Support Function #3 team leader, assistant team leaders, FEMA recovery managers, and state infrastructure personnel.”
“The teamwork among organizations was outstanding,” he said. “The Environmental Protection Agency was able to effectively work with the state developing reporting metrics for wastewater systems in real time during the event. Mutual aid organizations for the water sector also did a phenomenal job during this response. These mutual aid networks, including NCWaterWARN and the NC Rural Water Association, provided water and wastewater line repair staff, generators, fuel, and other forms of requested aid through their members.”
Casey Brzozowiec, Buffalo District Contract Specialist, deployed from Oct. 19 to Dec. 2 as a Contract Specialist in support of Hurricane Michael recovery efforts in Florida.
“For the first part of my deployment from October 19 to November 11, I was assigned to the Hurricane Michael Recovery Field Office in Destin, Florida,” said Brzozowiec. “I was engaged in the USACE Advanced Contracting Initiative for temporary roofing, also known as the ‘Blue-Roof’ mission.”
During the Blue Roof mission, Brzozowiec worked directly with contractors to help justify a relaxation of contractually required production rates of daily Blue-Roof installations. The severity of the damages left by Hurricane Michael resulted in an unanticipated magnitude of necessary structural roof repairs that were required before the Blue-Roof tarps could be installed.
“Historical data of Hurricane Irma was used in our analysis,” Brzozowiec said. “While the number of homes that required Blue-Roof tarps were significantly lower for Hurricane Michael than what was required in Hurricane Irma, the necessary structural repair materials of plywood and lumber being used for Hurricane Michael was used at a rate several orders of magnitude greater than required for Hurricane Irma.”
“In addition to helping restore the roofs of these impacted homes, the structural repairs helped ensure the safety of the roofers out in the field,” he said. “I also participated in field visits to perform ‘labor interviews’ with roofers in the field. I reviewed salaries and work schedules of the roofers, and this data was used in the final audit of payroll financial data.”
Brzozowiec also supported the USACE Advanced Contracting Initiative Debris Removal mission by aiding the management of the Debris Removal ACI contract.
“I documented the necessary Determinations and Findings correspondence for modifications to the contract that resulted from discussions between the Hurricane Michael Emergency Support Function staff and FEMA,” Brzozowiec said.
For the second part of his deployment from Nov. 12 to Dec. 2, Brzozowiec was assigned to the Blue-Roof Planning Response Team and served as a Roofing Data Technician.
“I worked at the Hurricane Michael Task Force Call Center at the Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District in Jacksonville, Florida,” he said. “I processed telephonic applications for Rights of Entry that were required of home owners to obtain a Blue-Roof. Additionally, I managed the day-to-day programmatic issues of schedule, quality, and legal ramifications inherent to the execution of the Blue-Roof program.”
Gayle Geiger, Buffalo District Purchasing Agent, deployed twice to Puerto Rico as a Contract Specialist in support of Hurricane Maria recovery efforts from Nov. 15, 2017 to March 30, 2018 and again from Sept. 21 to Oct. 22, 2018.
“On my first deployment, I was the Night Shift Contract Specialist for the Temporary Power Team and I worked with the USACE District Planning and Response Teams from Pittsburgh, Memphis, Tulsa, Savannah, and Albuquerque,” said Geiger. “My duties involved coordinating generator installation and de-installation, keeping track of generator locations, and completing written work orders for the contractor. At one point we had to manage over 1,000 generators in the field.”
On her second deployment, Geiger was the Day Shift Contract Specialist for the Temporary Power Team.
“On the second deployment, I worked with FEMA closing down the mission and my duties involved completing written work orders for the contractor such as repairing generators, completing environmental jobs, and emergency repairs,” Geiger said. “I found the transition between power teams could be quite challenging, but once everyone settled in it was much better. I truly enjoyed getting to know people from other organizations and working with them.”
“What I remember most from my deployments was flying into San Juan and seeing all of the destruction. Every day at work, I was glad to see something new with lights. It felt great to help people under any circumstances,” she said.
“One of the girls on the night shift was in a car accident,” said Geiger. “She called me and asked me to come help her. She was scared and needed me. She gave me the best directions she could, and I found her, helped her with the police report, took pictures, and took her to the airport for a new rental car. She said I was her savior. Helping her was an awesome feeling.”
“I learned so much from my deployment, I don’t think I could list it all,” she said. “I learned so much about what other USACE districts do. I learned enough Spanish to get me by. I learned how to survive being sent to a place 2,000 miles from home, and not knowing anyone. I learned how to work with strangers, how to give advice, and how to teach.”
“At first, I just wanted the experience, but now I know how rewarding it is to help people in need,” Geiger said. “I would absolutely deploy again.”
Michael Smith, Buffalo District Regulatory Biologist, deployed in support of Operation Inherent Resolve at Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq from Oct. 15, 2017 to Oct. 15, 2018. Smith worked as an Environmental Advisor for USACE-Task Force Essayons of the Transatlantic Division supporting the operation to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
“I helped the base comply with the United States Central Command Contingency Environmental Standards to protect the base population and the environment,” Smith said. “This mainly had to do with storage of hazardous materials and waste, solid waste, and the handling of waste water. It involved working with the Base Operating Support Integrator office, which basically runs the base, and other military units and contractors to provide recommendations on how they can come into compliance with the regulations.”
The main coalition forces on the base were U.S., Danish, U.K., French, and Norwegian, and the Iraqi Air Force operated the overall base. The U.S. occupied approximately three square miles of the base.
“I saw soldiers from Lithuania, Estonia, Spain, and the Netherlands. There was mainly U.S. Army, but the Marines, Air Force, and even some Navy were present,” he said. “All the coalition soldiers carried rifles or hand guns with them at all times due to the Force Protection Condition Charlie status at the base. FPCON Charlie describes a situation when a global terrorist attack has occurred or when intelligence reports that there is local terrorist activity imminent.”
“We had regular exercises where we would get an announcement over the loudspeaker system of ‘INCOMING, INCOMING, INCOMING!’ and we were supposed to hit the ground face down,” Smith said. “After a bit we would get the instruction to ‘TAKE COVER, TAKE COVER, TAKE COVER!’ and we went to the closest bunker wearing our bullet-proof vest and helmet. About four or five times during the year it wasn’t an exercise, but as far as we could tell there was no attack or it was thwarted somehow. There was a large blimp-like balloon called a Persistent Threat Detection System that could detect any movement around the base from a long distance, so I felt fairly safe.”
“We had several USO shows,” he said. “One was on Christmas Day and wrestling superstars, actors, comedians, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, Jr., came to the base. He gave a rousing speech to the troops about defeating the Islamic State which got them all riled up with lots of ‘hooahs’ being shouted.”
“Overall, it was a great experience. I will always remember my time in Iraq. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested,” Smith said.
Our people are our most valuable resource, and without them we could not successfully assist others, wherever and whenever they need help. Buffalo District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a whole are prepared and ready to respond to natural and man-made disasters and overseas contingencies. We are the lead agency responding with public works and engineering support for long-term infrastructure recovery, and when disasters strike, USACE teams and resources are mobilized from across the country to assist our local districts and offices to deliver our missions.