VICKSBURG, Miss. ⸺ Although the vast majority of employees with the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) are Department of Defense civilians, the select few U.S. Army Soldiers assigned to the ERDC are making a significant impact during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since March 2020, Soldiers from across the ERDC have deployed around the country to aid in the fight against the disease, many mobilizing to “hotspots” to confront the unique challenges of fighting an unseen enemy.
“It was important for ERDC’s Soldiers to be given the opportunity to help their nation,” said Col. Teresa A. Schlosser, ERDC commander. “So, we immediately began sending them out to help the affected USACE districts and divisions when we saw the need.”
The U.S. Army defines leadership as the activity of influencing people by providing purpose, direction and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization. An ideal Army leader serves as a role model through strong intellect, physical presence, professional competence and moral character. During the COVID-19 crisis, the men and women assigned to the ERDC undeniably demonstrated these qualities.
First Lt. Eoghan M. Matthews had just begun his assignment at the ERDC’s Cold Regions Research and Engineering Laboratory in Hanover, New Hampshire, when the pandemic broke. He was immediately sent to New York City to assist the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) New York District with construction of several alternate care facilities, or ACFs.
“USACE teamwork has been incredible,” he said. “I arrived to a team that was already decisively engaged and was able to rapidly put me to use. Not being familiar with a conventional district, I got a crash course in the way that they operate.”
During his deployment, Matthews contributed to the successful delivery of four ACFs that served healthcare professionals and more than a thousand patients in the New York Metropolitan Region.
“Working in a crisis like this is incredibly exhilarating,” Matthews said. “The urgency and the drive is fantastic — it’s great being part of the solution. Going into a situation like this and making things safer for the country is exactly what I signed up for.”
ERDC’s Construction Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) in Champaign, Illinois, had two Soldiers deploy to assist the USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division (LRD) and the Chicago District.
Chief Warrant Officer 5 Corey K. Hill, a CERL associate technical director, served as project integrator and planner for the McCormick Place ACF project in Chicago. The effort included coordinating construction support with state and city officials, McCormick Place staff, medical professionals and construction teams in order to outline requirements and finalize the project’s design, which was completed well under the estimated cost. The undertaking was LRD’s top priority, and Hill was recognized by USACE senior leaders for his achievements.
CERL’s Capt. Carolyn N. Ortiz-Merced recently served as the battle captain in the Emergency Operations Center with the Chicago District. Her job consisted of managing operations, gathering information from each of the five district projects for daily reporting and facilitating the district commander’s daily command meetings. Her efforts directly contributed to the information LRD provided to USACE leadership, as well as the updates given to federal, state and local partners.
Although ERDC’s Financial Management Officer Capt. Taylor D. Traversa stayed close to home by deploying with the USACE Mississippi Valley Division, headquartered in Vicksburg, Mississippi, he experienced the nationwide impact of USACE first hand.
“USACE responded so quickly to the emerging threat of COVID-19 — which is unlike anything the nation has ever dealt with,” he said. “I am amazed at their ability to balance a pandemic response, while still handling flooding throughout the Mississippi Valley.”
“When I joined the Army, I never imagined I would be working in an emergency operations center responding to a pandemic,” said Traversa. “This experience has taught me that USACE is filled with incredibly selfless individuals who sacrifice greatly to help protect the nation from all manner of threats.”
For the ERDC’s Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory’s Capt. Patrick M. Border, working with the USACE South Pacific Division had its own challenges. “USACE South Pacific Division supported the Federal Emergency Management Agency, state and tribal governments in the fight against COVID-19,” said Border. “Our site assessments identified potential locations for care facilities, and we constructed the best candidates. Most of our sites focused on high densities of COVID-19 patients or on very remote areas with limited hospital coverage.”
“Despite this being a ‘new’ type of disaster as opposed to extreme weather events, the emergency processes stood up well,” he said. “The dedication and expertise of our military and civilian teammates really stands out after weeks of extended hours with no days off. I’d absolutely want to work for USACE and be part of emergency responses after my active duty service.”