Do you have what it takes to be a Corps of Engineers Statesperson?

As one of Portland District’s primary missions, hydroelectric power is a common topic of discussion among the general public.  Are you prepared to answer their questions about where their power comes from?  (Photo of John Day Lock and Dam by Robert Van der borg, Corps of Engineers retiree)

As one of Portland District’s primary missions, hydroelectric power is a common topic of discussion among the general public. Are you prepared to answer their questions about where their power comes from? (Photo of John Day Lock and Dam by Robert Van der borg, Corps of Engineers retiree)

 

By Matt Rabe, Public Affairs Office

You’ve overheard those conversations. You know, the ones about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Maybe you’ve been approached by someone because they knew you work for (or retired from) the Corps.

Did you know enough to relate to what they were saying or asking? Were their facts or assumptions correct? Did you know more about the topic than they did? What did you say? Did you say anything?

Construction projects often will motivate questions from an interested public, such as the Westmoreland restoration project completed in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood. This was all part of a project to restore a large segment of Crystal Springs Creek and provide habitat for ESA-listed species. (Photo by Travis Davidson, Engineering and Construction Division)

Construction projects often will motivate questions from an interested public, such as the Westmoreland restoration project completed in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood. This was all part of a project to restore a large segment of Crystal Springs Creek and provide habitat for ESA-listed species. (Photo by Travis Davidson, Engineering and Construction Division)

For me, anytime I hear someone talking about fishing from jetties along the Oregon Coast, I immediately engage and let them know about the dangers of such activities. The debates between my uncle and I are legend in my family.

Deciding to engage a stranger in conversation can be challenging. It can be especially difficult if the topic is unfamiliar to you, their tone is aggressive or the topic is controversial. One of the roles of the Public Affairs Office is to help employees (and retirees) understand the mission and activities of the Corps.

There are several reasons for this, but a knowledgeable workforce can enable employees to serve as ambassadors or statespersons in the community.

The Corps is duty-bound to keep the public informed of its activities. There are several formal methods we use to accomplish this task: news media engagements, a public website, social media (such as Facebook and Twitter) and working with park rangers who meet with the public on a daily basis. But there are informal ways the Corps keeps the public informed and one is through its workforce.

But that informal workforce conduit only works if the employees are knowledgeable and willing to engage. Are you?

Retiree Dave Beach, former operations project manager for Channels and Harbors Project is one such person. “Whenever my ear picks up a mention of any Corps-related activity, I chime in as appropriate… with enthusiasm. When appropriate, I also straighten out folks on our role and that of Congress … oftentimes very misunderstood!”

Another retiree who stays engaged with the District is Col. (retired) Terry Connell who commanded the District from 1979 to 1982.

“I do seek to remain very much a part of the ‘Corps Family,’ which I strongly believe continues on into retirement,” Connell said. “I share in the interest of supporting our Corps missions and accomplishments with friends and others in the community, and seeking for people to better know and understand the values and returns that are realized.”

webCorps statespersons don’t need to know everything about everything. A general understanding of the agency’s mission is good start. For example, the Corps is part of the United States Army. It is a water resource developmentagency. Its people maintain dams built to reduce flooding and produce hydroelectric power. The Corps doesn’t operate all dams and it cannot stop all flooding. And, we are still managing sediment from the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens.

“Water management and its inherent supply aspect are invaluable resources provided by the Corps. And emergency preparedness and response, as in the case of Mt. St. Helens and the many storm and flood events prove to be extremely beneficial,” Connell added.

You can learn about Portland District by reading Corps’pondent or by visiting its website to access current information and links to other Corps districts and resources. (Corps of Engineers images)

You can learn about Portland District by reading Corps’pondent or by visiting its website to access current information and links to other Corps districts and resources. (Corps of Engineers images)

The Corps also has a worldwide mission to support Soldiers in other countries and provide international civil works support, when requested, through the U.S. State Department.The key to any conversation is the ability to separate fact from fiction, and knowing where to get accurate information.

I’ve already mentioned a few sources of information, namely the District’s public website. The Public Affairs Office, working with project managers and business line experts, has amassed a collection of information, videos and public process actions from the Portland District. From this website, you can also tap into information from other Districts or the headquarters office.

And, when we learn the evening news will feature District activities – especially if the story is controversial – we send out our understanding of the situation to employees via email. We can’t always do this, but it is another means to ensure you have the information you need to understand the facts. What other tools would be beneficial to you?

District leadership wants you to be proud of your employment with the Corps and the valuable missions we are entrusted to execute. Portland District commander Col. Jose Aguilar is very quick to point out that the more than 1,200 District employees enjoy a great reputation because of the great legacy left by the thousands of people who came before us. And, that we have a responsibility to carry that legacy forward, ever contributing to the story. To paraphrase the commander, we are writing that next chapter today. How will it read?