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After 7 months in Iraq, colonel takes ERDC reins

Jenny MacKenzie, from left, hugs Janell Rowan as Sharon Hanks greets Col. James R. Rowan in a receiving line at the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center Wednesday.(Jon Giffin The Vicksburg Post)

[3/11/04]Col. James R. Rowan on Wednesday took the reins he was handed seven months ago.

While stationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., Rowan asked for and got the job of commander of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center. He arrived at Waterways Experiment Station in Vicksburg in July 26, and in weeks, he was in Iraq as deputy theater engineer for Combined Joint Task Force Seven. His duties overseas included coordinating work on U.S. base camps, airfields and other facilities, as well as securing and destroying captured Iraqi ammunition and managing work on Iraqi schools, roads and other infrastructure.

He returned to ERDC Feb. 7.

At the formal ceremony during which Rowan officially assumed command of WES and the other laboratories that make up ERDC, Maj. Gen. Robert Griffin, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said the new commander brought a unique perspective to the job as the military leader at ERDC. This is Rowan’s first noncombat role.

“He speaks the language of the soldier,” Griffin said, adding that Rowan can serve as a translator between the soldier in the field and the research world at ERDC.

“This assignment is different from any I’ve had to date,” Rowan said. “I have been an engineer officer for almost 25 years, but all my previous assignments have been of a military type. This is my first opportunity to serve with the Corps and my first chance to be part of a research organization.”

He said he had been an ERDC customer for years and received help with many projects in the United States and posts around the world.

He said his time in Iraq showed him the importance of stateside experts.

“I don’t think there was a single day … that we did not reach back to (WES) or other Corps resources in order to get a realtime solution to problems or issues we had,” he said.

The last commander, Col. John W. Morris III, left the Halls Ferry Road installation last summer when he retired. Filling the post in the interim was Joe Roberto, a civilian administrator whose title is deputy to the commander

Before being named ERDC’s fourth commander since it was formed in 1998, Rowan commanded the 1st Engineer Brigade at Fort Leonard Wood. He also was director of training at the Army Engineer School, chief of military engineering and typography for the U.S. Army in Europe, commanded the 54th Engineer Battalion in Bamburg, Germany, and commanded the 16th Engineer Battalion in Tuzla, Bosnia. He was an instructor and assistant professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at the U.S. Military Academy.

He is a graduate of West Point and received master’s degrees in operations research and systems from Georgia Tech and military science from the Army Command and General Staff College. He is also a graduate of the Army War College.

He is a native of Cleveland, Ohio, and is married to the former Janell Self of Leesville, La. They have two daughters.