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Interview With Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers commanding general and chief of engineers

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick became the 53rd Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on May 22, 2012. The son of an Army master sergeant, he graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1978. He holds master’s degrees in both civil engineering and mechanical engineering from Stanford University, and is a graduate of the U.S. Army War College.

Before USACE, Bostick served as deputy chief of staff of G-1, Personnel, U.S. Army, responsible for developing, managing, and executing manpower and personnel plans, programs, and policies for the Army.

Previous assignments include commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command; director of the Directorate of Military Programs in USACE with duty as commander, Gulf Region Division during Operation Iraqi Freedom; and assistant division commander (maneuver), later assistant division commander (support), for the 1st Cavalry Division deploying during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He served as executive officer to the chief of engineers, executive officer to the Army chief of staff, and deputy director of operations for the National Military Command Center, J-3, the Joint Staff in the Pentagon from May 2001 to August 2002, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Bostick was also an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at West Point and was a White House fellow serving as a special assistant to the secretary of Veterans Affairs.

It is a part of our military culture to be quiet professionals. That humility is part of our character and I think it’s an important part of who we are. But it’s also important to stay in touch with the rest of the Army and the American people.

As the USACE commanding general, he is responsible for more than 36,500 civilian employees and 700 military personnel. These men and women provide project management and construction support to 250 Army and Air Force installations in more than 130 countries around the world, and construction, operation, and maintenance of much of the nation’s water resources infrastructure. USACE has a key role in support to overseas contingency operations (OCO), with thousands of civilians and Soldiers having deployed to support reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bostick is also responsible for USACE’s diverse missions, which include hundreds of environmental projects; the regulatory permit program to protect, restore, and enhance thousands of acres of wetlands; and the emergency response mission to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) after a disaster, whether natural or man-made. As the chief of engineers, Army staff principal, Bostick advises the Army on engineering matters and serves as the Army’s topographer and the proponent for real estate and other related engineering programs.

 

Jan Tegler: Lt. Gen. Bostick, it’s been just over a year since you assumed command of USACE. What insights have you gained into the organization over that time?

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick: I’d first like to say that we are blessed with great people. In my view, success in any organization starts with [its] people. In the Corps, we have some of the brightest, most professional and dedicated people operating across a broad spectrum of expertise. They’re experts in their areas and there’s almost no mission where someone can ask us for expertise that I cannot find. I’ve been very impressed with our people. Our people are at the heart of our ability to solve the nation’s greatest challenges.

Hurricane Sandy

Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, U.S. Army chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, examines progress made at the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel Nov. 10, 2012, where a team of combined forces successfully removed the water left by Hurricane Sandy under a mission assignment by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The combined task force pumped more than 470 million gallons under the FEMA dewatering mission assignment. U.S. Army photo by Mary Markos

I’ve spent most of my career on the operational side of the Army and understand what it takes for organizational success in times of crisis. In my short time in command of USACE, we’ve faced multiple crises to include Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy, and the drought on the Mississippi. In every instance where we’ve deployed soldiers and civilians in response to crisis, this organization has excelled in the execution of its operational mission.

As the head of personnel [deputy chief of staff, G-1, Personnel], I often spoke of the 1.2 million soldiers that have deployed into harm’s way in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What we often don’t mention is that there have been over 30,000 civilian deployments from all over the U.S. and 11,000 of those deployments have come from the Corps of Engineers. It’s very impressive to see what our people are capable of doing.

Our employees are proud to serve in this organization and many on our team have been here many years, giving us an incredible depth of experience. Our surveys also reflect the fact that they’re very happy with the work they do. Part of that is because of the culture of the organization. Another part is the mission of service to our nation and the appreciation that the American public and military show for what they’ve done.

 

Are other U.S. Army commands aware of the operation capability that USACE has or do they not quite grasp it?

I think the answer is that there are still many commands that don’t understand our capabilities. We are working very hard on our strategic communications and our strategic engagement. You may have seen the recent USA Today article, 88 pages dedicated to the full Corps portfolio. We sent copies to everyone from the president to key leaders in Congress to state governors, all of the four-star general officers, and the secretary of defense and other cabinet secretaries as well as anyone who may touch the Corps of Engineers and those who are simply interested.

In my short time in command of USACE, we’ve faced multiple crises to include Hurricane Isaac, Superstorm Sandy, and the drought on the Mississippi. In every instance where we’ve deployed Soldiers and civilians in response to crisis, this organization has excelled in the execution of its operational mission.

I’ve met with most of the combatant commanders. We’ve had each of our divisions aligned for many years with the combatant commands just as other Army elements are regionally aligned. For example, our North Atlantic Division is aligned with EUCOM [European Command] and AFRICOM [Africa Command]. Brig. Gen. Kent Savre and the division team there have worked very closely with those commands.

Each combatant command has LNOs [liaison officers] in their organizations and we provide recurring updates to the combatant commands. The most recent update was to Adm. Sam Locklear in PACOM [Pacific Command] to let him know what the Pacific Ocean Division is doing in his area of operations and about other opportunities we might have to work together.

We’re very proud of the great work our civilians and soldiers have done in Afghanistan and Iraq. When I returned from Iraq in 2005, I was assigned as the head recruiter [commanding general of U.S. Army Recruiting Command], so I was in every state and sometimes multiple states in the same day. I spoke frequently at universities and high schools. There was a lot of reflection in terms of what was happening in these conflicts. Youngsters and their parents were trying to decide whether enlisting in the Army or becoming an officer in the Army was the right thing for them.

Being able to educate them about what the Corps had done and was doing, and what our military had done was an eye-opener for many of them. The response I generally received was, ‘Why don’t we hear about all of these great things?’ It’s incumbent upon all of us to go out and deliver the good news. That’s what we’re trying to do from the Corps’ perspective.

It is a part of our military culture to be quiet professionals. That humility is part of our character and I think it’s an important part of who we are. But it’s also important to stay in touch with the rest of the Army and the American people.

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Jan Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...