The Southwestern Division senior leadership and staff met in Little Rock for our Regional Governance Week as well as a shortened version of a Command Week. The meeting served as a great opportunity to meet and communicate face to face on issues that are important to our Division, as well as discuss our path forward.
I’d like take a few minutes to introduce myself to the Southwestern Division team, especially to those that I haven’t had a chance to meet. My first three weeks as your new Division Commander have been an exciting and educational. My wife and I are just about settled in Dallas and very proud to be part of Southwestern Division, most likely for the next three years. I want to thank all those I have met for the warm reception and making us feel welcome. I’m eager to meet the rest of you as soon as possible!
During my first couple of weeks, I have focused on learning our regional programs and issues by receiving very informative briefings from the division staff. I met with some regional and national stakeholders from across our broad spectrum of missions. I started my circulation at the Fort Worth District Headquarters followed by site visits to key projects. In the Fort Worth District, I encountered a professional, dedicated workforce tackling some tough, demanding programs. It’s clear to me that one of our most strategic projects, the Fort Bliss Hospital, is being executed by an exceptionally capable team and will be completed with contributions from across the Division and industry partners. I know there is equally impressive work in Tulsa, Galveston and Little Rock, which I plan to see soon. I also made a stealth visit to Denison Dam / Lake Texoma where I got some perspective of an example of our Hydropower and Recreation missions. I look forward to learning more about these missions.
I firmly believe that districts are the heart and soul of the Army Corps of Engineers. Districts are where projects are delivered. Districts are where the Corps connects directly with the public we serve. I know, because I have been a District commander, a couple of times. From June 2015 to July 2016, I commanded the Transatlantic Afghanistan District, headquartered at Bagram Airfield, and from September 2012 to May 2015, I commanded the New York District, headquartered in New York City. I spent the last year working as the USACE Chief of Staff in Washington DC where I had a unique perspective on the challenges facing USACE across the enterprise. With my past five years in USACE, I have gained a tremendous appreciation for the quality and dedication of our Civilian Workforce. I’m sure Southwestern Division is equally, if not more, capable and willing to step up for the toughest challenges.
Since it’s Hurricane Season, I’m thinking about emergency response and preparedness. Based on my experience in New York after Hurricane Sandy, I learned early on that you need to make friends before a Disaster. I had a chance to meet our new National FEMA Administrator (Brock Long), our FEMA Region 6 Administrator (Tony Robinson) and the State Emergency Management Directors from OK, AR, TX, LA, and NM. All were exceptionally complimentary of their partnerships with USACE. Hopefully we won’t have to respond to a disaster, but let’s be prepared.
Over the Fourth of July weekend, I learned of three public fatalities at SWD recreational areas. I know your teams deal with this all too often, but the need for emphasis of SAFETY with those that visit our sites became real to me very quick. Let’s keep echoing the call “Life Jackets Worn, Nobody Mourns.”
In the next 30 days, I plan to complete my orientation with visits to parts of Little Rock, Galveston, and Tulsa Districts. We have a pretty amazing Division, lakes, forests, rivers and a coast! I’m looking forward to meeting you to hear firsthand about the important contributions you make to our Southwestern region and our nation.
Thanks for all the hard work and dedication that provide every day. Stay safe.
Paul E. Owen, P.E.
Colonel, US Army Corps of Engineers
Commander, Southwestern Division