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Posted 10/4/2016

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By Andrew Kornacki
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers


The U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division, Ft. Drum, NY has a reputation for being a unit focused on finding a way to get the job done.  A reputation very similar to the U.S Army Corps of Engineers’ carriers to deliver vital public and military engineering services, partnering in peace and war to strengthen our Nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.

On the Great Lakes, the fundamentals of these two mission have combined, as COL Christopher Drew, LTC Adam Czekanski, and LTC Denis Sugrue are now in command the Corps of Engineers Chicago, Buffalo, and Detroit districts, respectively. Each has served with the 10th Mountain Division, and can link success with the Corps of Engineers directly with experiences they have had with the 10th Mountain Divisions’ units and soldiers with whom which they have served with.    

LTC Czekanski recalls his experiences with the 10th Mountain Division from 1999 to 2002, where he developed the skills to build trust and learned to depend on his soldiers: 

“My time with the 10th Mountain Division had a profound impact on my development as a leader.  As a Sapper Platoon Leader in a light unit, you have the dual responsibility of being a leader for your platoon, but also of being the Task Force Engineer (senior engineer advisor) for an Infantry Battalion Task Force.  This experience taught me the importance of being both tactically proficient and technically competent to earn the trust and respect of the maneuver commander.  My role reinforced the need to be both assertive and confident in advocating for the well-being and proper employment of my soldiers while working as part of a maneuver task force.  During this experience I learned a great deal from my non-commissioned officers by understanding the value of seeking and incorporating their input when making decisions.” 

Communicating, informed decision making, and understanding people are the very fabric of what constitutes a strong leader. The Corps of Engineers has the most capable individuals doing extraordinary work, and accomplishing the mission would not be possible without them.   

Serving two tours of duty, first from 1993 to 1996 and then again from 2005 to 2009, COL Drew learned quickly how vital people are to accomplishing the mission: 

“Any soldier's first unit of assignment is critical for their development and I was very fortunate to have served in an outstanding unit that had outstanding leaders. One of the key lesson's I learned was tied to being in a Light Infantry Division. We did not have a lot of equipment or vehicles; my first platoon had one HMMWV with a trailer and the remainder of the equipment we had to carry. What I learned was that real solution is based on people.  Having the right people, with the right training at the right place. Resources and equipment can make it easier, but it will never replace good people. Even today my philosophy is ‘Take care of your people and they will take care of the mission!’" 

The common mission of the three Corps of Engineers Great Lakes Districts this mission extends to the lower watershed of the Great Lakes, and can include tackling ecosystem restoration projects, handling regulatory issues, maintaining safe and reliable navigation throughout the Great Lakes Navigation System, and securing the Nation’s infrastructure.   

The Corps of Engineers’ mission would seem daunting to many leaders, but LTC Sugrue’s time with the 10th Mountain from 2003 to 2007 prepared him task.  One challenge in particular where as a leader LTC Sugrue had to motivate his soldiers, adapt to situations, and overcome obstacles to accomplish the mission:   

“There was an interesting engineering challenge when we began to expand our presence into Nuristan Province, Afghanistan in late 2006. A mudslide blocked the Landay Sin River causing the only available road to be flooded under five feet of water. We mobilized heavy equipment to drain the reservoir, but were limited to a D5 dozer and hydraulic shovel because ‎the road was only six feet wide in several places, with a cliff on one side and the river on the other. For two weeks we dug, futilely. Ultimately excavation didn't work, and we later blasted a bypass road into the cliff, finishing construction in three months. That was a dynamic and exciting time to be working in Afghanistan.” 

COL Drew, LTC Czekanski, and LTC Sugrue each wear the unit patch of the 10th Mountain Division on the right arm of their uniform, signifying their time with the Division during tours of duty in combat.  It is symbol of their commitment to protect our Nation in a time of war, a commitment they continue today serving with the Corps of Engineers during a time of peace.

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