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Posted 9/19/2011

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By Jasmine Chopra-Delgadillo
San Francisco District Public Affairs


SAN FRANCISCO-- Purpose, direction and motivation- most crave it, but how do most get it? Some glean it from the “School of Hard Knocks,” others from a life-changing event. Some garner it from a deep personal reserve and others from divine inspiration.

For members of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, purpose, direction and motivation was honed through participation in the South Pacific Division’s Regional Leadership Development Program, also known as RLDP III.

Seventeen employees from every district within the South Pacific Division as well as personnel from Division, graduated Sept. 15 from the year-long Regional Leadership Development Program which is aimed at developing leaders who accomplish missions and continuously improve teams within the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Through RLDP III, participants gained a firm understanding of the Corps’ culture, its values and fundamental business principles. Through researching, writing, mentorship, travel, retreats and projects, graduates gained an understanding of regional-level operations, national-level business processes and, along the way, they expanded their power to influence their organizations.

“You are graduating from this program at a unique time filled with specific challenges,” said Col. Mike Wehr, commander of the South Pacific Division, referring to economic environments that threaten growth. “All of you will be called upon to deliver solutions and we cannot afford to find solutions only from the top down.”

For most, the experience was like going to graduate school while working full-time in terms of the time, effort and discipline required to complete the program. Participants continued to work on their normal job functions while contributing anywhere from 200 to 500 personal hours to RLDP III assignments.

Among the major work-product produced by the graduates were two separate projects. Traditionally each year, RLDP III participants together produce one major team project, but this year’s passionate participants felt strongly about researching and advocating vastly different topics. So the class opted to produce two separate ones. One project focused on methods to improve morale, welfare and recreation for employees and their families and the other project focused on best practices in customer relations and communication in the Interagency and International Services business line.

“This program made me realize I am part of something important, filled with so many opportunities for myself and others,” said Alyson Strickland, a park ranger with the Sacramento District. “I feel empowered to establish a strong sense of cooperative teamwork because I have learned many tactics for creating a harmonious environment.”

For others, like Dina Aman, a project engineer with the Los Angeles District, participation in the program could not have come at a better time.

Aman oversees construction of Department of Veterans Affairs’ clinics, nursing homes and infrastructure upgrades and said assuming responsibilities of such projects was a challenge.
“My position instantly put me in a visible leadership position which is something I was not accustomed to,” said Aman. “I had to take hold of projects in an environment and culture I knew very little about and I had to deliver.”

Aman credited RLDP III with helping her meet the challenges of her high visibility role and added that working for the benefit of Veterans is a source of pride for her.

RLDP III reignited her passion to serve customers in a way that boosted customers’ confidence in the Corps, Aman said.

For Joshua Carpenter, an Albuquerque District regulatory specialist, RLDP III exposed him to Corps functions he doesn’t perform.

“You can know that something exists, but until you confront it and experience it, you cannot internalize it and make it part of your life experience. RLDP III exposed me to the management side of things that I’m not normally aware of.”

He added RLDP III reinforced his belief in trusting people to do their jobs and helped him hone the skill of selecting the right person for the right job to facilitate teams that deliver, Carpenter said.

Laurie Suda, chief of the environmental section of the Planning Branch for San Francisco District, who is already a graduate of the prestigious Naval War College and a dozen other leadership courses, said he still gained many insights from his participation in RLDP III.

“This was probably the best practical leadership training I’ve had in the 42 years I’ve been with the Army,” said Suda.

Participants ranged in ages from people in their late twenties to people in their early sixties and represented varied job functions and pay grades from GS-09 to GS-13, highlighting the Corps’ commitment to building leaders at every level within the agency.

“I’m grateful to work for an organization that is willing to invest so much in its employees and future leaders,” said Kimberly Carsell, a biological sciences study manager who left the private sector to begin her career with the Corps two years ago. “This program gave me the tools to stand up to self-doubt, participate instead of shy away from conflict (and) move from a “doer” to a leader.”

Upon receiving their “diplomas,” each graduate was given a post-utilization assignment, a project for the benefit of the workforce or its customers that must be completed within one year. The long-range intent of the program is for graduates to be highly adaptive to change; cultivators of effective teams that are capable of delivering successful projects.