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Interview With Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commanding General and Chief of Engineers

 

Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite is the U.S. Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Previously, he established the Army Talent Management Task Force and served as its first director. In this role, Semonite was responsible for reforming the way the Army acquires, develops, employs, and retains a talented workforce. Prior to these duties, he was the commanding general for Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan, responsible for the building of the Afghan army and police facilities through management of a $13 billion budget to support a 352,000-person force. Semonite is a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy and a registered professional engineer in Vermont and Virginia.

You’ve had quite a bit of experience with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), in various roles, over the course of your career. How do you feel about coming back as the 54th chief of engineers?

Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite: First, let me tell you what an honor and a pleasure it is to be back at the headquarters, now as the 54th chief of engineers. My wife, Connie, and I are excited about this opportunity and grateful to the Army for letting us continue to serve for another four years on such a great team. We are proud to be associated with such talented and committed professionals.

Engineers have been solving our nation’s toughest challenges since before America was a nation.

I think my career shows a pretty good balance between the military side of the engineers and the civil works side, which I think helps me a great deal in this position as it gives me a broad perspective to work from. Both the Military Programs and the Civil Works programs we have in place are very important to helping us support national security, transform civil works, and help reduce disaster risks in support of Americans and American interests.

olmsted-locks

Lt. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commander, tours the Olmsted Locks and Dam project in Olmsted, Illinois, June 7, 2016. The Louisville District was about 75 percent complete with the dam using “in the wet” technology and a navigable pass construction technique. USACE photo by Leon Roberts

As the commanding general for the North Atlantic Division and the South Atlantic Division, and then a deputy commanding general for the headquarters, I feel confident that I’ve been exposed to many of the operational and strategic challenges that lie ahead of me as the 54th chief. I am convinced that the value and power of the Corps is not in the facilities and waterways we build and maintain; it is not measured in concrete and steel or miles of combat routes cleared, but measured by the passion in the hearts of our engineer force. Our commitment is to be ready to solve the nation’s most complex engineering challenges … to improve our readiness to be Army Strong, and to expand our technical capability to be Building Strong!

What are some of USACE’s most recent accomplishments that you’d like to highlight?

Engineers have been solving our nation’s toughest challenges since before America was a nation. The engineer regiment, which now includes more than 90,000 active-duty, Reserve, and National Guard engineer Soldiers along with the more than 32,000 civilian personnel within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, was founded on June 16, 1775, just two days after the Army was established. We built early forts for defense and roads for commerce. We developed waterways for navigation and trade, dams and levees to reduce loss of life and property due to flooding, and we even identified and preserved natural resources for the enjoyment of the American people long before the founding of the National Park Service.

I was able to witness a lot of forward progress from 2006 to 2014 during my time as the division commander for the North Atlantic and South Atlantic divisions and as a deputy commanding general for the headquarters. Our divisions and districts are staffed with incredibly talented leaders and people who perform very difficult work in using limited resources to meet overwhelming mission requirements. Whether it’s constructing high-quality military facilities for Soldiers and their families to live safely and comfortably, or researching and developing technologies to tackle the toughest challenges our nation and military face, or the hundreds more missions the engineer team accomplishes, I appreciate all that we do to deliver innovative and sustainable public infrastructure solutions. We are one disciplined, loyal team. People are vital to our organization, and it is their pride and commitment to excellence that sustains the Corps.

Louisiana Flood Response

Historic rainfall over the southeast in mid-August [2016] resulted in significant flash flooding in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi. On 14 Aug, President [Barack] Obama declared a major disaster for the state of Louisiana. We are providing flood response assistance to the state under our Public Law 84-99 authorities and supporting the broader federal response through FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] under the Stafford Act. Maj. Gen. Mike Wehr, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, and Col. Mike Clancy, commander of the New Orleans District, personally met with Gov. [John Bel] Edwards and Congressman [Garret] Graves to discuss their priorities and explain USACE capabilities. USACE is postured to provide sustained assistance to Louisiana and FEMA Region VI response efforts. The major focus is on the potential debris removal mission, technical assistance on local levee structural integrity, and potential real estate support for temporary housing. At this time, 50 USACE expeditionary technical experts are providing direct support at the State Emergency Operations Center, the FEMA Joint Field Office, and other nodes.

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