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Effective mentoring ensures bright future at Markland, Green River locks

Louisville District Commander Col. Antoinette Gant visited three navigation locks and dams July 24-25, 2019, recognizing team members and hearing about the successes and challenges faced at each site. Gant first stopped at Markland Locks and Dam on the Ohio River at Warsaw, Kentucky, and spent the next day touring the facilities at Locks and Dams 1 and 2 on the Green River in Kentucky.

“I want to make sure that we are supporting you and that you have all the resources you need to get your work done. We’ve got to be taking care of you all,” said Gant to the team at Markland. 

There she recognized Randy Stewart and Brennan Bishop, two seasonal laborers, who have worked countless hours in unfavorable conditions removing years of accumulated debris and mud from one of the dam’s tainter gates. 

The demanding pace at project sites—working 365 days a year, 24 hours a day to ensure that the river is open to navigation traffic—creates close-knit crews.
“It is very evident that you guys aren’t just co-workers,” said Gant. “You are all family. I felt it as soon as we sat down to eat lunch together today.” 

“You are right 100 percent,” agreed Lock and Dam Repairman Bill Meeks, who will soon move away from the area. Meeks has served as a diver and dive supervisor at Markland for more than seven years and received a commander’s coin from Gant for his service to the project. “It is family here and as [leaving] gets closer, it’s very sad.” 

Running these vital projects requires an all-hands approach where mentorship and hands-on training for new employees becomes key. Junior employees praised the training and support they receive from their senior colleagues.

Oscar Cordero, who joined the Markland team two months ago, says the crew takes care of him. “They make me feel like I belong,” he said. “They’ve been wonderful.” 

One such mentor is equipment mechanic leader, Allen Craigmyle, the self-proclaimed oldest employee at a navigation project in the Louisville District.

“I’ve trained them all,” he said, recounting his 30 year career at Markland. “They have all just been great to work with. I’m blessed and thankful to have met so many people who helped me grow in different ways. This is where I started and where I have stayed.” 

Craigmyle says he wouldn’t trade his job for anything. “How many people can come to a beautiful place like this to work?” 

During Gant’s visit he even took the time to coach her on how to guide the project’s workboat, the Motor Vessel Brookport, through the lock chambers. 

“I definitely have a good instructor here,” Col. Gant said as she cruised the workboat through the 1,200 foot chamber. 

The commander reminded personnel at all three sites about the importance of onboarding and mentoring our new employees, key elements of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division’s Workforce Readiness Program. 

The teams at the Green River navigation projects are focused on building the bench – ensuring that there is no loss of institutional knowledge as long-time employees retire. 

“We can pass on knowledge to these younger folks before the older guys go,” said Jason Gentry, lock and dam operator at Green River Lock and Dam No. 2. 

Mike Horsley, lockmaster over both Green River projects echoed that sentiment. “To have one person who can strip it down, clean it and then teach the new person to put it all back is so valuable,” said Horsley, discussing the steps required to ensure projects are operational after high-water events. 

Gant applauded their efforts. “One thing about it – you guys certainly have done it right with onboarding,” she said at Green River Lock No. 1. 

“I’m really proud of the people who work for me,” said Horsley. “I want to train these new guys up so they are the envy of others who may want to steal them away to their project sites,” said Horsley. 

Gant further encouraged new employees such as Jackson Brett, laborer, who joined the team at Green River No. 2 in May after serving in the Marines for four years.

“It sounds as if you’re eager to learn so definitely keep that spirit,” Gant said. “Don’t sell yourself short and, if an opportunity comes along, take it.”

“Mentorship is happening here,” Gant said. “It’s very, very obvious.” 

“I ask you to continue to be proactive with the training and mentoring of these employees to make sure we have the expertise onboard,” she said. “You all are one big happy family. You take care of each other out here and that is truly what having a ready and resilient workforce is all about.”