The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Pittsburgh District welcomed a new commander with the symbolic passing of the engineer flag during a ceremony at the Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh, Aug. 4, 2023.
“I’m very excited about coming to the Pittsburgh District,” said Col. Nicholas Melin, the new commander for the district. “This was my number one choice and desire to come to such an impactful district with a massive civil works program.”
Melin took responsibility for the district from Col. Adam Czekanski, who was in command since July 2021.
“I’m joining a winning team. It’s important to trust and empower the professionals working in the district,” said Melin. “They have deep experience and success in delivering enormous projects for the nation.”
As an Army organization, the district rotates military commanders every few years. However, most of the employees are civilians.
The Change of Command ceremony commemorates the departing commander passing authority and responsibility to the incoming commander, symbolizing the continuation of leadership and unit identity. The ceremonial passing of the unit colors from the departing commander to the incoming commander physically represents the transfer of authority.
“There’s no better job as an officer than being a commander,” Czekanski said while reflecting on his time with the Pittsburgh District. “It’s been a great two years in Pittsburgh. For me, this job is especially unique because I’m not just leaving command. It is also the last job in my Army career.”
The event included a retirement ceremony for Czekanski, who was joined by friends and family to celebrate his 25-year military career.
Czekanski is a native Buffalo, New Yorker, and plans on returning there with his family.
“I had the honor of commanding truly great people who give their best for the betterment of our district,” said Czekanski. “As a commander, I’m thankful for my role in bringing people together for a common goal and earning the trust of those we serve. I’m excited to see the district continue its standard of excellence under new leadership.”
Maj. Gen. William Graham, deputy commanding general for Civil Works and Emergency Operations, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Headquarters, presided over the ceremony.
“Pittsburgh District sets the standard in the corps for dedication, innovation, and professional excellence. Simply put, if I want a project done right, I send the work to Pittsburgh,” said Graham. “Nick [Melin] is a seasoned professional, a very talented engineer, and well-suited to pick up where Adam [Czekanski] left off.”
Melin is a registered Professional Engineer in Missouri and is a West Point graduate with 23 years of service as an engineering officer. Before coming to the Pittsburgh District, Melin worked at the Pentagon for the Chief of Staff of the Army and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Melin said that working for the Pentagon helped him appreciate the larger picture of how the U.S. Army works to serve the nation, including in its civil works capacity.
“I understand how the district fits in the larger mission of the Corps of Engineers and how we serve the nation,” said Melin. “The bottom line is we support the vision of delivering quality projects on time and under budget.”
Melin considers his three combat deployments to Afghanistan as valuable periods throughout his military service. However, he said there is a different type of reward in providing civil service to a city like Pittsburgh.
“I’m excited by the opportunity to serve and help Americans where they live,” Melin said.
More than 5.5 million residents live within the district’s region.
“We help face some of their biggest challenges, whether that’s flood-risk management, sustaining commerce along the three rivers, or restoring aquatic ecosystems across our region,” said Melin.
As commander and district engineer, Melin leads more than 700 employees who specialize in myriad disciplines such as resource management, water quality, civil engineering, permitting regulations, and more to support the region’s infrastructure and environment.
“I love engineering work, so I am interested in and love the work we’re doing,” Melin said.
The district’s 26,000 square miles include portions of western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, northern West Virginia, southwestern New York, and western Maryland. It supports commercial navigation on the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers by operating and maintaining 23 locks and dams across 328 miles of navigable waterways.
Melin comes to the district during a critical transition period, as a significant construction project on one river is about to wrap up while a new project on another river is ready to start.
“We are at an interesting point right now,” said Melin. “The lower Monongahela area is coming to a successful conclusion, and we have another massive set of projects for the nation on the upper Ohio, which we’re just beginning.”
In addition to navigation, Pittsburgh’s flood damage-reduction mission includes 16 multi-purpose reservoirs that have prevented an estimated $866 million in flood damages in 2022 alone. The district’s footprint includes more than 80 local flood-protection projects, which have prevented more than $5.3 billion in flood damages in their lifetime.
Among his military awards and decorations, Melin has received the Bronze Star Medal, the Defense Superior Service Medal, the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Combat Action Badge, the Ranger and Sapper tabs, the Parachutist Badge and six Overseas Service Bars.