News: Buffalo District: Join the Army, see the world
By Josh Frost
Environmental team lead, Buffalo District
BUFFALO, N.Y. - I grew up in Western New York, not that far from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District office where I work as a biologist in the Regulatory Branch.
I earned a bachelor’s in environmental science from Alfred University, and a master’s in the same field at Indiana University. But to tell you the truth, I’d never been much west of Bloomington, Ind., until I started work for the Defense Logistics Agency Program, which is led by the Fort Worth District. Our teams made up of personnel drawn from across USACE are visiting DLA sites worldwide to assess real property inventory, environmental conditions, fuels assets inventory and perform facilities condition assessments on all assets. The goal is to help the agency produce auditable financial statements to improve accountability and comply with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990.
It’s been an eye-opener. Take my trip to Alaska.
My team was working at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, where our local contacts had mentioned there was wildlife in the area. During our off-duty hours, we looked for wildlife, but did not see anything. One day, while we were driving from one asset to another, we passed a dirt road off to the right. A team member noticed a moose in the road. We stopped, turned around, and sure enough, there was a female with her a calf. We were able to snap a few photos before they lumbered off. Wouldn’t you know, right on the base itself, moose!
We often joke around here that you join the Army to see the world. Though I don’t wear a uniform, I have had the opportunity to travel all over the place. My first trip for the program was to Norfolk, Va., in October 2011. Since then, I’ve been to Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Virginia, Idaho, North Carolina, Alabama and Honduras. That’s not a complete list. My job requires I travel a trip a month, and it’s difficult to keep track of where I’ve been. It’s great to be able to see places like Idaho, Alaska, and Hawaii, which are places I’d never had the opportunity to visit in the past.
The work is fast-paced. I’m typically the environmental team lead for site visits. I’m responsible for making sure the team sees all the assets at a given site. Our team has to get in and out of these places pretty efficiently. We are required generate, review and upload reports in a timely manner. We have to interact with real property and condition assessment folks, to ensure we have captured all the assets. In addition, the team lead has to ensure that all team members are evaluating assets appropriately. The team aids in training new staff, perform data collection quality assurance in the field, and review Environmental Condition of Property reports written by teammates. ECP reports are reviewed to ensure we’ve documented all the environmental deficiencies pertinent to DLA assets and properly synthesized installation environmental documents needed to support the ECP report. Once team lead review is complete, it is passed on for final quality assurance/quality control.
The DLA Program uses a lot of people from different districts, all meeting together at a far-off place to work. The structure is a benefit and a challenge. It’s a benefit in that you get to interact with a lot of people with varied expertise and experience. Sometimes it’s a challenge when it takes a little time to assess the team dynamics and establish a work flow. During the trips we work hard to ensure all participants are working together to proficiently complete the task at hand.
Data/document collection at the sites has been surprisingly manageable. The DLA Program typically sends the installations a PowerPoint presentation outlining our mission. Despite our efforts, occasionally, the pre-site coordination information stagnates at installation department heads. When you arrive on site, front-line installation personnel may not understand our visit. In those instances we have to spend some time describing the program and developing a level of comfort with the installation’s environmental staff so we can accomplish our task. We try to be as accommodating as possible for the installation’s personnel, understanding that they all have their regular jobs to do, in addition to working with us. Sometimes it requires us to perform interviews, or collect documents prior to or following the site visits. Our flexibility certainly goes a long way in working with these folks and aids in the completion of a timely and quality product.
I believe the installations’ willingness to cooperate with the environmental teams is the direct result of pre-trip coordination efforts. I give credit to those who initially identify and reach out to the installation POCs prior to our arrival at the site. The ability of Fort Worth District’s Mike Falcone to call on installation contacts he has worked with in the past helps smooth the way. Usually, the installations are forthcoming with information once they understand our mission to document on-site conditions and provide recommendations.
In the Buffalo District, there are about 20 of us participating in the DLA Program performing environmental and facility condition assessment. We’re grateful and excited that Buffalo has taken a pretty big role in the program. From Buffalo’s perspective, we appreciate being pulled into this initiative and want to continue to support it however we can.