Fort Worth District Chief of Water Resources Jerry Cotter was named the 2015 Ronald J. Ruffennach Communicator of the Year.
This top award is named in honor of the late Ronald J. Ruffennach, who was the Chief of the Fort Worth District Public Affairs Office and considered one of the best to ever work in that career field. It recognizes a member of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outside of the Public Affairs career field for outstanding contributions in communicating USACE missions and programs.
As the Chief of Water Resources, Cotter is responsible for managing and executing one of the Fort Worth District’s top priorities – water resources. Those responsibilities extended to ‘round the clock’ operations during the Texas Spring Floods of 2015. He led his team to provide timely modeling and real-time analysis of the flood situation, while simultaneously acting as a liaison keeping emergency managers, community leaders, Congressional members and other key stakeholders updated on the District’s flood fight operations in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and throughout the state of Texas.
Cotter was already recognized as one of the top liaison engineers to our stakeholders, and his outstanding work as the primary subject-matter-expert before, during and after the Spring floods earned him the same accolades as a top spokesperson with local, regional, national and international media. These achievements were also recognized this Fall when Jerry received Fort Worth District’s ‘Golden Mike Award’.
“It takes a special and highly talented professional to be able to successfully run major operations for a flood fight the magnitude of what we encountered this past Spring, while simultaneously serving as the subject-matter expert and spokesperson to meet the needs of media outlets who run on 24-hour news cycles. Jerry is that person and his ability to communicate often technical information about water supply and flood operations is just one of the many reasons he deserves this top communicator award,” said Col. Calvin C. Hudson II, commander, Fort Worth District.
In 1942, along with his family, seven year-old Jimmy D. Baggett left his hometown, near Vernon, Texas with a population of about 50 to the City of Fort Worth that boasted a population of close to 200,000.
“My dad changed from being a gas station attendant for the 50 people in our township during early 1942 in order to work at the Bomber plant (in Fort Worth) which has been through several name changes to now being known as Lockheed Martin,” said Baggett, who was born on January 11, 1935.
According to the 81 year-old native Texan, the biggest change was going from foot transportation to public or automobile conveyance.
As a youngster architecture and engineering was far from his thoughts. Although a huge sports enthusiast he loved reading and with early guidance from his teachers his desire for learning was shaped. “I was extremely interested in sports activities and I enjoyed reading,” said Baggett. “In fact my first grade teacher emphasized reading, the writing and the arithmetic elements and those are things I enjoy doing still.”
After his high school graduation Baggett had not decided on what direction he would choose for a career but he knew he would attend college. With limited funds at his disposal, he chose a field and attended a state school. He would graduate with a degree in Architecture from Texas Technological College in Lubbock.
It would be at Texas Tech. where Baggett would make another life decision. He enrolled in the Reserve Officer training Program, ultimately selecting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as his unit of assignment.
“I chose the Corps of Engineers because I liked the curriculum, I liked the activities. Said Baggett. “I liked the fact that it provided for the means whereby the Army could March and move.”
After graduation, the newly commissioned U.S. Army Reserve second lieutenant had to wait six months before his actual entry into the military. With architectural degree in hand, the recent graduate went to the Fort Worth District on June 12, 1956, to inquire about temporary positions due to his pending active duty commitment later that year in October.
“I came in on a Friday and asked if he had any positions of a temporary nature,” said Baggett. He was placed in a rotational architectural program that allowed for him to meet his military obligations and remain employed as a civilian as well.
As the current District Assistant Chief of Engineering and Construction Division, Baggett recalls his first position was in the Architectural Section of the Engineering Division within the District. His early projects included writing architectural specification and plans for several buildings on Camp Gary, a former Air Force base in San Marcos, Texas that was transferred to the Army and used as a training facility.
As Baggett settled into his position with the Corps in the Architectural Section and performing his rotations, he was approached by Charles Myron, Chief of Hydrology about a possible rotation with his section. He agreed to take the training and do a rotation with the Hydrology section. The choice would provide Baggett with his most memorable projects of his career.
“At the time I liked the hydrology and civil works aspects of what the Corps was doing, so I did the training and took a position with the section as a GS-11,” said Baggett. “I got to work on Canyon, Lewisville, Grapevine and Lavon dams. It was a busy time many of the multi-purpose lakes were under study. I thoroughly enjoyed building structures that would provide flood protection, water supply and recreation for their communities.”
With a career spanning from the mid-1950s to today Baggett has seen his share of technological changes. In today’s world of gee-whiz computing devices, electronic gadgets and work reducing applications Baggett recalls one of the biggest technological impacts to his career. It wasn’t the laptop, nor the internet, not even wireless technology…it was the calculator.
“One of the most impactful advances was in 1958 when we went from using the slide rule and adding machines to the (Marchant) calculator. It became the tool of the day,” said Baggett. “And as time went on we were able to computerize and today we can do things at multiple times the speed we did things in 1958.”
Looking back over six decades of service spent with one entity, the Fort Worth District’s sole octogenarian remembers each era having their own special significance and historic events with both personal and professional impacts.
There were many interesting events in almost every era. We had the loss of a president (John F. Kennedy) and the resignation of a president (Richard M. Nixon) both of which had impact on our country and Corps directly,” said Baggett.
Sixty years full of challenges and changes in technology, management and Corps operations have kept Baggett busy. But, beyond the dams, structures and vast number of projects he has had played roles in, it’s the people that he has encountered that have meant the most in his career. Many of the relationships he established throughout the years began with the Department of the Army Intern program.
After becoming a section chief he started getting DA Interns as part of their normal rotations. For the last 40 years he has supervised, taught and mentored more than 100 interns giving them insight about their roles and the importance of the Corps.
“I remember many of the interns I have helped, Brian Giacomozzi, who is now the chief of the Engineering and Construction Division and Terry Nolen who became the chief of the Design Branch and eventually went on to work at the Southwestern Division,” said Baggett.
Giacomozzi went through the DA Intern program in 1989 at Fort Hood, Texas, after completing the program he went to the Europe District but returned as the Area Engineer in San Antonio in 2003.
“Jimmy was our supervisor, he managed our rotations and provided mentorship for all of us,” said Giacomozzi. “When I returned to the District as an Area Engineer and needed help, I knew I could call on Jimmy for assistance. With Jimmy you get a mentor for life.”
Baggett has taken great pride in imparting his knowledge to all and believes the keys to a successful career with the Corps and beyond are timeliness and attention to detail.
“My advice to anyone would be, to be timely even to be early. Devote a full day of activity and concentrate on what you need to do and make certain that you do it thoroughly and complete every task to its finite requirement,” said Baggett.
He not only taught and mentored Corps employees, he spent a portion of his 30-year Army reserve career teaching soldiers attached to the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College and the Air War College.
The Father of two and grandfather of seven retired from the Army Reserve as a Colonel in 1986. But for Baggett managing family life with civilian and military careers at the same time came rather easy.
According to him, he focused on his corps job during the work day and on the nights, weekends and annual reserve training he concentrated on his duties. The rest of his time was completely dedicated to his family.
“When not working or on reserve duty, I focused on my family life. I was able to enjoy my family, engage in sports activities and pursue education. No matter work, military or family I was able to keep them separate and devote maximum effort to each in their time,” said Baggett.
On June 14, Baggett was recognized for his six decades of service during the District’s Engineer Day Awards ceremony. He was praised for his longevity and dedicated service to the District and the nation, but he is ever looking forward and plans to continue working as long as possible.
Baggett said he enjoys getting up about 4:30 in the morning, having breakfast putting things in order and going to the office and working 8 or more hours depending on the day’s requirements.
“I have been thoroughly satisfied with my work here and plan to continue to work and play golf,” said Baggett, who has also recently taken up oil painting. “At 81 years old you ought to start something new.”