DVIDS – News – Pittsburgh District Commander Reflects on First Year in Command

PITTSBURGH — Col. Adam Czekanski has commanded the Pittsburgh District of the US Army Corps of Engineers for just over a year.

Looking back on the past year, he reflects on the accomplishments of the district staff who manage the 23 locks and navigation dams, 16 multi-purpose flood damage reduction reservoirs, 80 local flood reduction projects, the teams of engineering and construction and hundreds of support staff. .

Czekanski is from Buffalo, New York, and he graciously took the time to answer a few questions about his first year leading the largest district in the Army Corps of Engineers.

District of Pittsburgh: What’s your favorite Pittsburgh dish and why is it so much better than Buffalo wings?

Col Czekanski:
I’m not sure I can buy into a Pittsburgh food win over the vaunted Buffalo wings, but I’ve discovered a few worthy opponents during my year at Steel City. A good sandwich from a local chain with fries and coleslaw is appreciated not to exceed once a quarter. Excellent sandwich, but you don’t feel very good about yourself immediately after eating it! Some other favorites were: tacos from a downtown restaurant, pierogi samplers; arepas from a Venezuelan street food restaurant; golumpki from a Polish grocery store; frittata sandwich from a charming little kitchen; and a shake from a milkshake shop. I welcome any suggestions for other fine Pittsburgh dishes I should try.

PD: Although you’re a blue-blooded Buffalo fan, you’ve been very gracious in cheering on Pittsburgh teams and cheering on your staff through some painful athletic losses over the past year. What hope can you offer the Yinzer Nation as we prepare for a Steelers season without our former Hall of Fame quarterback for the first time in nearly two decades?

CC: All I can tell you is that there are absolutely no guarantees in the NFL when you don’t have a franchise quarterback. I grew up as a Bills fan during the Jim Kelly days and was blessed with a playoff run every year and four straight Super Bowl appearances. Despite the heartbreaking pain of watching them lose four straight years in the big game, life was deceptively good with a team that was very competitive every year. Unfortunately, shortly after Jim Kelly’s retirement, the Bills began their irrelevant 17-year playoff series that consumed most of my military career. I shoot for Mitch Trubisky, Kenny Pickett and the Steelers in general, but AFC North looks solid! My advice would be to build your DVR catalog of past Steelers Super Bowl and playoff highlights to take some of the sting out of it when times get tough this season.

PD: How was your first year in Pittsburgh and how are you acclimatizing to the area?

CC: It was a great first year with the Pittsburgh District! One of my top priorities over the past year has been to understand the projects and works that make up our district’s portfolio. In doing so, I gained a great appreciation for what our employees must do on a daily basis to successfully accomplish our many missions. Our more than 700 employees are geographically dispersed in 41 locations spread across our 26,000 square miles district. Traveling to each of these locations during my first 90 days and making frequent follow-up visits has helped me appreciate the challenges our employees face and overcome on a daily basis. People are what make any organization successful, and I have been very impressed with the talent, resourcefulness and work ethic of our employees.

PD: You often take playful photos and selfies when visiting field or project sites. Why is it important to keep a lively sense of humor as a military commander?

CC: Command is the best job in the military for an officer, and I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity. One of my goals when I joined our district last year was to have fun, and I tried to make it a point to enjoy every moment of that experience. I want people to know that I’m just a regular guy and they can relax when I’m visiting. No reason not to keep things light!

PD: The US Army Corps of Engineers is different from most military organizations because of its mission and its personnel. What is it like to serve as an army commander in charge of a mostly civilian workforce?

CC: I have great respect for the high caliber of employees in our Pittsburgh District. We have exceptionally talented people, and I have been very impressed with the professionalism, commitment and ingenuity of our teammates on a daily basis. I learned long ago on my first assignment at USACE that I’m never the smartest person in the room, and that’s okay because I don’t need to be! Good to work with such talented people who are not afraid to solve difficult problems and find a way to accomplish the task/mission. This reassurance allows me to place great trust in our managers and employees on a daily basis.

PD: Your wife and children still live in Buffalo while your district office is in Pittsburgh. How did you manage to keep your family life healthy and prosperous while meeting the constant demands of a commander?

CC: It hasn’t been easy, but I think we’ve done a good job this first year. I start most of the time by texting everyone to wish them a good day, good luck for an exam, encouragement for a game/meeting, etc., then we talk to each other every evening on the phone. I try to telework one day a week if my schedule allows it, in order to have three days with them if possible. We originally intended for my family to come to Pittsburgh to spend one weekend a month here, but that was quickly dropped along with sports and other commitments. However, they enjoyed their stay in Pittsburgh on the weekends they came down…although forcing them to participate in the 3-mile Heritage Run on a hot Saturday morning last month may have slowed my efforts even further!

PD: The District of Pittsburgh will receive much-needed IIJA funding (nearly $1 billion for the Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery Locks and Dams) as part of the Upper Ohio River Navigation Project. Could you explain what this funding means in terms of rebuilding our infrastructure and maintaining navigation for the region and what to expect regarding the next stages of construction?

CC: We are delighted with the funding received for the Upper Ohio Navigation Project. Securing funding for any project sets the conditions for effective execution. This is even more critical for large-scale “mega” projects such as the Upper Ohio Navigation Project, where reliable financing enables efficient delivery of the project years earlier than with piecemeal financing, as has was the case for the Lower Monongahela project. Emsworth, Dashields, and Montgomery are the oldest and smallest locks on the Ohio River. Removing the smaller auxiliary chamber from each of these facilities and replacing them with one identical to the existing larger main chamber will improve reliability and increase lockage capacity on the upper Ohio River system. These improvements complement the already profitable and environmentally friendly nature of trade on our inland waterways. We expect to complete the design of Montgomery Lock in the fall of 2023, with contract award expected in the spring of 2024. The design developed for Montgomery Lock will serve as the basis for the design of the new locks of Emsworth and Dashields.

PD: Looking to the future, what are some of your other goals and initiatives specific to the Pittsburgh area?

CC: Our efforts to accelerate the Upper Ohio Navigation Project are occurring as we simultaneously complete our work with the Lower Monongahela Navigation Project. This project includes the completion of the closed dam at Braddock which took place in 2004, the construction of a new main chamber at Charleroi scheduled for summer 2024, and the subsequent removal of the lock and dam at Elizabeth once work in Charleroi completed. Completion of these works will improve the efficiency of maritime trade in the lower 60 miles of the Monongahela River. We also actively monitor and analyze potential risks to all navigation facilities in our portfolio and address these risks as they arise. This includes minor and major maintenance, rehabilitations and actively seeking creative options to meet the needs of aging infrastructure on the Allegheny River. The significant decline in commercial traffic on the Allegheny is creating funding challenges to maintain our critical infrastructure in support of the remaining industry and a vibrant boating community. We work with a wide range of stakeholders to identify opportunities to successfully address these challenges.

PD: Thank you for your time, sir! We wish you a happy new year at the controls, and more!

Date taken: 08.08.2022
Date posted: 08.08.2022 09:59
Story ID: 426754

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