‘Taking care of people’ is not just a regional Corps of Engineers motto – it is part of the fabric of the Louisville District.
To help field sites feel more connected to the district office, Deputy Commander Lt. Col. Kevin Lewis kicked off a new initiative—a monthly roadshow visiting project sites to increase communication, identify systemic issues and recognize exceptional staff.
For the kickoff March 4-6, Lewis, along with staff from the district’s Public Affairs and Equal Employment Opportunity offices, visited all five Miami River Area Lakes including C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir, Caesar Creek, West Fork, Brookville and William Harsha lakes and Markland Locks and Dam.
“My intent is to get out here and see you all face-to-face and see how you’re doing,” said Lewis during his first stop at C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir in Springfield, Ohio. “Taking care of people focuses on readiness and resiliency and that we’re not just paying lip service,” said Lewis. “That’s why I’m here—to help take care of any issues. If it’s wrong I can try to fix it. Let’s make it right.”
The forum allowed employees to openly share project and personnel challenges they are facing as well as recent achievements like the highly successful campground volunteers program at Caesar Creek Lake that may be replicated at other lakes.
Throughout the roadshow one common theme emerged—Louisville District employees take pride in their work.
“The staff is top notch,” said Jay Vanhoose, area manager of the Miami River Area lakes. “We have really good people who want to do a great job. Everybody is trying to put forth 100 percent,” he said during the deputy’s stop at Caesar Creek Lake.
Vanhoose, speaking of the maintenance crews who work hard 365 days a year performing dam operations, inspections, facility repairs and everything else necessary to keep the projects pristine, “they help make the area look good – some of the best in the area and in the Corps.”
Maintenance mechanic Scott Harper has worked at Brookville Lake for only a year and a half but is happy to say it's the best job he has ever had.
“I say it's the best job on the planet,” said Harper. “I've said that since I got here. I have had construction jobs and sales jobs in the past, and here I have found something that I really enjoy.”
That pride was evident in all employees across the Miami River Area.
Norm Raisch, West Fork Lake maintenance worker, is known as “the energizer bunny that never stops,” according to Stephanie Ison, lake manager. Even though Raisch is eligible for retirement he said, “I just don’t have any desire to quit – I enjoy it too much.”
His colleague, Ja Franek, maintenance lead at West Fork Lake, who has spent 13 years working for the Corps in the Miami River Area echoed the sentiment.
“I really enjoy the aspect of helping control this lake and our water levels to keep the public safe downstream,” said Franek. “That's our mission and why we are here so I take a lot of pride in that,” he said during the deputy’s visit to the project site.
Likewise, lake rangers agree and are thankful for jobs which provide lots of opportunities to interact with the public, develop interpretative programs and promote water safety.
“You get to meet amazing people and do many different types of duties that I never ever thought I would get to do as a ranger and park manager,” said Dave Johnstone, park manager at William H. Harsha in Batavia, Ohio.
Jessica Zimmer, natural resource specialist at Caesar Creek Lake agrees.
“I'm able to do what I love,” she said. “Every day is different. We get to work with the public and educate them on nature and what the Corps does as an agency so it doesn't ever feel like work.”
Vanhoose added that “the amount of interpretive programs and educational programs the rangers manage at Caesar Creek is remarkable – often hosting up to 100-200 kids per day for five months out of the year.”
Just north of Caesar Creek lies C.J. Brown Dam and Reservoir in Springfield where Brian Menker, natural resources specialist, has served as a ranger for the last 20 years.
“I really enjoy our regular visitors that come out here,” said Menker. “Being able to see people use these facilities that have grown and improved over the last two decades makes it all worth it.”
After visiting five lakes, the roadshow journey concluded at Markland Locks and Dam, where Lewis gathered with seasoned maintenance workers and lock operators.
Shawn Riley, mechanic and diver at the locks and dam, said his teammates are the main reason he is happy to come to work every day.
“The people are what makes me proud to work here,” Riley said. “We’re a family more so than we are co-workers.”
Lewis appreciated the camaraderie and thanked employees for their hard work and dedication. He encouraged staff members once again to communicate upwards about roadblocks preventing them from accomplishing the mission.
“I want to hear about issues where I can interject and help find a resolution,” said Lewis, summing up that everything we do should be about recognizing our people, refining our processes and realizing our potential.