Editor’s note: Army cadets Melissa Hersey and Patrick Richardson recently finished up a summer stint at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District’s Stuttgart Resident Office as part of the 2015 Cadet District Engineer Program.
In addition to learning about the rigors and rewards of Army engineer life, the pair supported completion of the Stuttgart elementary and high school construction project near Panzer Kaserne in Boeblingen. The new Department of Defense Education Activity-Europe complex will open for the start of the upcoming school year.
Richardson is a civil engineering major from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, while Hersey attends the University of Dayton, where she’s an ROTC cadet pursuing a master’s degree in engineering management. In Stuttgart, the future lieutenants worked on furniture inspections and final project closeout items for the nearly finished campuses.
Here are the first-person accounts of what they experienced at Europe District:
CADET MELISSA HERSEY, UNIVERSITY OF DAYTON
My time as an intern for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Stuttgart is one that I will not soon forget. The experiences and lessons I’ve taken from this internship will not only help me the rest of my time as an ROTC cadet but also continue to influence my professional career.
Resident Engineer Darrick Godfrey, project engineers Jen Regel and Will Adcock, and the rest of the USACE team on the Stuttgart project provided guidance and mentorship while also giving me the opportunity to lead my section of the project. They effectively provided the mission’s task and purpose, then allowed Patrick and I to manage our section under their supervision.
Gen. Harold K. Johnson, who served as Army chief of staff from 1964 to 1968, once said, “Communications, or the ability to inform people what you expect of them in understandable terms and the ability to transmit to them your interest in them, is the key to successful leadership.”
The most important lesson I take from this experience is that communication is key no matter what you are doing.
Working internationally, the language barrier is only one factor that can make communication more difficult. This project was complicated not only through translation, but also by varying safety regulations and building-construction codes between the U.S. and German contractors. Through meetings and engaging in walk-throughs with both, I believe I’ve gained a better understanding of how I might manage those differences if put in a similar situation in the future.
Every country might have a different way of doing things, but you must find common ground with your counterpart to ensure the job is completed successfully and efficiently. I believe I can use this approach in my future Army officer career not only internationally, but also working with our fellow service branches. The criticality of effective communication is only balanced in importance by active listening. If even one aspect of communication is left out or not clearly stated, the project could be delayed or put on hold.
While in Germany, I was a quality assurance specialist for USACE. The project I was assigned covered more than 4,000 pieces of furniture being installed in the new elementary and high school buildings. This entailed inventory of the furniture in each room and checking it for deficiencies that might have occurred during the manufacturing, assembly or transportation of items.
Patrick and I created an organized spreadsheet to document any deficiency on a piece of furniture so it could be easily found and evaluated. We worked collectively with SiteSource and FENS furniture companies to ensure all deficiencies were properly annotated and addressed by the responsible agency. We also communicated with the contractors and worked together to develop a corrective-action plan. As the construction project neared completion, Patrick and I conducted a final walk-through with Huntsville District to address outstanding deficiencies or concerns.
While working on this assignment, I have learned the importance of attention to detail in every aspect of a project. This skill will not only benefit my education during the completion of my master’s program but also my future career as an Army officer.
The opportunity to travel overseas for the internship provided me the chance to improve my cultural understanding of Europe. I was able to travel to many areas within Germany, France and Austria — where I learned the differences in society and general day-to-day customs as related to the United States.
I also had the opportunity to share a meal with a German Soldier and his family, where I learned even more about their culture. These experiences will greatly improve my ability to work with and understand civilians and Soldiers who come from different regions of the world.
Overall, this experience allowed me to grow professionally and personally in ways I never imagined. The benefit could not be replicated in a classroom environment. Communication and attention to detail are just two key items I will take away from this USACE internship.
I hope to take everything I learned here and apply it not only to my professional life but my everyday life as well.
CADET PATRICK RICHARDSON, WEST POINT
My experience as a cadet intern at Europe District’s Stuttgart Resident Office was very rewarding for my educational and professional development. Many things I observed and learned were related to the contractor-customer relationship and complex intricacies of this interaction. This knowledge helped prepare me for continuing in the field of engineering and project management.
I arrived on the Stuttgart High School and Stuttgart Elementary School construction site toward the final stages of the project. Working with ROTC Cadet Melissa Hersey, my assigned task was to inspect and take inventory of all the mobile furniture that had been delivered and continued to arrive on site.
Together, over a period of two weeks, we inspected thousands of varied furniture pieces, recording and marking each deficiency in a master log that was updated as we progressed and issues were resolved or discovered. We developed a detailed knowledge of the assigned furniture and building layout and were available to answer questions about these topics.
As I walked through the school repeatedly, I was also able to observe the overall construction progress. Workers from the general contractor and many subcontractors were all working on different pieces of the project, from building the sports complex behind the school with heavy equipment to applying window decals and installing Smart Boards inside the classrooms. It was a clear exhibit of all the moving pieces that must be coordinated to complete a construction project.
I was also witness to some issues and disagreements that come with contract construction, especially dual-occupancy projects. The general contractor was behind schedule and continuing to work on the structure after the furniture had arrived and been assembled. This led to heavy concrete dust spread throughout the school, including on the newly installed and cleaned furniture.
Disagreement then arose on what caused the dust and whose responsibility it was to clean the furniture. Working through a language barrier, USACE and the contractor had to resolve the issue. This gave me more exposure to the complex relationship between the two parties, as well as the added difficulty of working with foreign partners.
My time in Stuttgart with the Corps of Engineers was a very positive experience that served to develop my understanding of engineering and construction management. I was given responsibility and the chance to be a part of the daily work while observing the overall operations that were being accomplished to complete the project.
I would like to thank the Stuttgart Resident Office and Europe District for giving me this great opportunity and learning experience, and I hope to return to Germany again someday and work with the Corps of Engineers.