News: Corps project manager sets future conditions in Afghanistan
Story by Jenn Miller
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Over the course of four years, Robert Medlock has traveled to two separate combat zones to help set future conditions for local communities through his management of construction projects for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Medlock, a 10-year veteran of Jacksonville District, just returned from his second deployment with the Corps in February and is now incorporating new skill sets he acquired while overseas into his management of Everglades restoration projects in the district’s Ecosystem Branch.
“As project manager, my main duties are to manage the team,” said Medlock. “I like to describe it as a conductor of a symphony. Everybody has their specific roles and everybody is proficient at what they do, so my job is to make sure the baritone sax comes in when he is supposed to come in and cuts out when he is supposed to cut out; make sure the piccolo gets into the act at the right pitch; and the violin sounds as smooth as she can. And that together, we make beautiful music.”
Medlock deployed to Iraq with the Corps in 2009 and re-deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan this past year. Although his deployments took place in two different countries during two different timeframes, the scope of his work remained strikingly similar.
“We were trying to get the local citizens to be prepared to step in and take over operation and maintenance of these facilities and new infrastructure,” said Medlock.
While in Afghanistan, Medlock managed approximately 40 different construction projects that ranged in cost from $100,000 to about $5 million. These projects included building water towers to provide water to cities, towns, police stations and Afghan military bases. They also included renovations of police stations, volunteer centers and reconstructing buildings that were falling apart and needed to be put back together with new construction methodologies.
“Some things they didn’t have until we got there and started putting these facilities in the ground,” said Medlock. “It would be much like America’s transition through its different historical time periods, such as the Depression, Industrial Revolution and Information Age, and how we transition through these periods and see a change. We actually helped bring that about because of all of the new technologies and new opportunities that we have been creating through our construction projects and our presence.”
In addition to providing new technology and infrastructure to Afghanistan, these construction projects also benefited the local economy by providing jobs, since a majority of the construction contracts were awarded to local contractors.
While the projects Medlock managed during his deployment will provide lasting results for the Afghan people, his time spent overseas has also left him with a heightened ability to adapt.
“As a project manager, my job is difficult because I am responsible, but don’t have authority. I have to get work done through other people’s efforts,” Medlock said. “While in Afghanistan, I had to do the same exact thing, but I had a language barrier as well as a customs barrier.”
Now back at work with Jacksonville District, Medlock has resumed his role in managing some of the district’s Everglades restoration projects, which are part of the Corps’ single largest ecosystem restoration effort.
“As soon as Robert returned from Afghanistan, he hit the ground running,” said Jeff Couch, Okeechobee Section Chief within the Ecosystem Branch. “He is a dedicated professional and his ability to transition so easily back into his responsibilities at the district speaks volumes of his character. He is able to handle whatever is sent his way and is a valuable asset to the Everglades restoration team.”
While Medlock does not have another deployment scheduled right now, he encourages others to take advantage of the deployment opportunities the Corps has to offer.
“I would encourage any Corps employee that is eligible and willing to deploy,” said Medlock. “Deployments give you a greater respect for the blessings you have, the work you’re involved in and the organization you work for. You really get to see the bigger picture and you get to see how people appreciate the Corps of Engineers and what we do.”