PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh District commander is a man on a mission: to visit all 41 facilities by the end of October.
At each facility, Col. Adam Czekanski plans to meet face-to-face with as many of his 700-plus U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employees as possible.
“From day one, it was my top priority to go see all the locations where our employees work,” Czekanski said.
The facilities – which include 16 flood-control reservoirs, 23 locks-and-dam sites, a warehouse on Neville Island, and the main office – are spread far and wide across the district’s 26,000-square-mile footprint, with reach into five states.
“For me to actually get on the ground and see with my own eyes and meet employees and hear from them personally, that helps me to better understand the issues they have, and the challenges they overcome each and every day,” he said.
The Pittsburgh District goes beyond the City of Bridges and extends through western Pennsylvania into Ohio, West Virginia, Maryland and Czekanski’s home state of New York. Amidst this constant driving, Czekanski also temporarily deployed to Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, where several of his employees volunteered to help in the relief efforts.
In a time of increased virtual meetings, Czekanski said meeting staff through a computer screen is not enough. He wants to get to know his people personally to best understand their needs and support them.
“As the commander, I have a vested interest to make sure our employees have the resources they need to accomplish their missions,” he said.
Czekanski assumed command at the end of July. During his two-plus months on the job so far, he visited most of the 41 locations. He said he is inspired to see the district accomplish a unified mission, especially because it involves such a diverse group of specialties.
“Everyone has a role. Everyone has an important job,” Czekanski said. “In the big picture, it’s important to understand that we exist to carry out important work for our nation, and everyone’s got an important role to play in that.”
The district’s core mission is complex and multifaceted. At the forefront, the district helps prevent catastrophic flood damages thanks to its strategic reservoirs. Also critical is its support to inland navigation through a system of locks and dams. The Pittsburgh District also provides federal relief during natural disasters, supports water infrastructure, protects environmental resources, offers engineering and technical services, and provides recreational opportunities on its federal lands.
This mission would not be possible without a diverse workforce of engineers, lock operators, park rangers, resource managers, biologists, water management experts, mechanics, administrators, logisticians, lawyers, accountants, divers, and yes, even a handful of Soldiers, like Czekanski himself.
During his site visits, Czekanski said he wants to take time to know his people personally. He recognizes employees who have achieved excellence by presenting them with his commander’s coin. Photography plays a major role in Czekanski’s visits, especially when he hands his phone off to someone to capture humorous moments.
In one photo, Czekanski pretends to push a button clearly marked with a “Do Not Touch” sign. In another, he used a rake to challenge a park ranger to a jousting match. Elsewhere, he lifts two enormous wrenches in the air, each one so big that they look cartoonish. He jokes that the wrenches became his new weapon of choice.
“Every reservoir is so different, and our staff puts out so much effort at each facility,” said Emily Potter, the resource manager at Conemaugh River Lake, one of the flood-control reservoirs managed by Pittsburgh. “Visiting us gives him a first-hand knowledge of the specific problems we face. It makes it a lot easier for us to work through our bigger issues and receive support, because he’s been here.”
Traveling throughout the district isn’t the only driving Czekanski has been doing. His wife and children still live in New York where he previously served as the Buffalo District commander, which adds to his commute so he can spend time with family. Between his personal and work travels, he has racked up more mileage in two months than most Pittsburgh commuters might see in half a year.
As emails and virtual meetings increase in a constantly growing digital world, nothing replaces visiting people and making real eye-contact in person, he said.
“Instead of hearing about people’s needs during briefings, I’ve been there. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I’ve heard it from our employees directly. It gives me a better appreciation and a better understanding to make better decisions,” Czekanski said.