Look to future, new ERDC chief Johnston says|[07/26/08]

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 26, 2008

In his 28 years of applying his engineering knowledge in times of war and natural disasters, Col. Gary E. Johnston considers superiors at each stop to be great mentors.

However, as the 50-year-old Rayville, La., native – whose parents still live there – spoke Friday following his assuming command of the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center, his reminisces about family revealed the sources of his greatest inspiration.

“My greatest mentor is sitting up front,” Johnston said, referring to his wife, Susan.

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Summing up his approach to the job of leading fellow soldiers on a mission, Johnston drew on childhood memories of looking back through the woods on a squirrel hunt with his father, who offered words of wisdom.

“If you’re always looking over your shoulder, you’ll never see where you’re going,” Johnston recalled. “If you look at your past, think of what’s important to you, and you place your capabilities into the future, that’s what this organization is about. It’s trying to advance technology to serve people.”

As ERDC’s sixth commander since its creation in 1999, Johnston will be responsible for all ERDC installations and will oversee all its support elements, including assisting the ERDC directors in planning and execution, identifying soldier requirements and acting as a liaison to Corps districts, military installations, and the Army’s Engineer Regiment.

Johnston is replacing Col. Richard B. Jenkins, now the defense coordination officer for FEMA Region 10, where he is responsible for all Department of Defense activities related to disaster response and exercises in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

Johnston comes off a tour as the Operations Officer for Task Force Hope, part of the Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division, assisting hurricane protection projects in New Orleans. Before that, Johnston executed $3.1 billion in construction support programs as commander of the Corps’ Gulf Region Division’s South District in Iraq.

Johnston was commander of the Corps’ Chicago District from 2003 to 2006 and served as the Division commander’s representative on various Great Lakes Boards of the International Joint Commission.

Commissioned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 1980, Johnston’s academic degrees include a bachelor’s in civil engineering from Louisiana Tech University and a master’s in structural engineering from University of Maryland and strategic studies from the Air War College. Upon completing his master’s, he served a utilization tour in Vicksburg when it was known officially as U.S. Army Engineer Waterways Experiment Station. The facility became part of a consolidation of the Corps’ research and development activities in 1999, renamed and referenced by the ERDC acronym.

Also, Johnston taught various topics to British Army troops at the Royal School of Military Engineers.

His awards include the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Joint Service Achievement Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Airborne Badge and Ranger Tab.

Johnson, the father of two daughters, Alana and Katherine, maintained a warm reception Friday from about 50 in attendance at the Coastal and Hydraulic Laboratory Auditorium.

On the pressures of his first address at ERDC, Johnston said what he was told by Public Affairs Officer Wayne Stroupe put him at ease.

“I asked him to give me some notes,” Johnston said. “He said, ‘Be brief, be brilliant, be gone.'”

ERDC is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ distributed research and development command, consisting of seven laboratories in four states, with more than 2,300 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities and an annual research program exceeding $1 billion. It supports the Department of Defense and other agencies in military and civilian projects. The Vicksburg facility is home to the ERDC commander.

ERDC was named the Army’s Large R&D Organization of the Year in 2007.