Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 16, 2009

District get new bosses

Two of the three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installations in Vicksburg welcomed new commanders in separate ceremonies Tuesday.

Col. Jeffrey Eckstein was handed the Command Flag as the 51st commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, at the Vicksburg Convention Center. Dr. Jeffery Holland was given the Director’s Seal from retiring Director Dr. James Houston at the Engineer and Research Development Center.

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Eckstein, an Inverness, Fla.-native and 1985 graduate of the U.S. Military Academy who also holds a master’s degree from the University of Washington, declared himself ready to lead the Vicksburg District’s nearly 1,100 civilian and military employees.

“I’m ready to come off the bench now and start to deliver our mission,” Eckstein said. “It’s a tremendous honor, and I am humbled to be here to serve you.”

Eckstein succeeds Col. Michael C. Wehr, commander since 2007 and the first in nearly 15 years to serve just two years instead of the customary three. Changes in district command usually take place in June. Wehr’s shorter-than-usual command resulted from his reassignment to the NATO Training Mission-Afghanistan.

In taking the top spot at ERDC, Holland will replace the first and only director of the center in its current form. Houston was named director in May 2000, and in 2006 was additionally named director of research and development, as well as chief scientist. Houston began his career with the Vicksburg research facility in 1972 as a research hydraulic engineer, and for a decade, beginning in 1986, directed the Coastal Engineering Research Center. He later served as director of the ERDC Coastal and Hydraulics Laboratory.

“It’s been a great 39 years,” said Houston, who added he will return to ERDC the day after his Jan. 1 retirement as an unpaid director emeritus. “I hope to contribute to ERDC and the Corps of Engineers and the Army for another 39 years.”

Holland, who’s been deputy director of ERDC since November 2006, also will become research and development director and chief scientist when he takes over for Houston. As ERDC director, Holland will manage more than 2,500 employees, $1.2 billion in facilities and an annual program budget exceeding $1.5 billion.

What is now ERDC was created in 1928 as Waterways Experiment Station. It provides research services to the Army and other service branches in both military and civilian projects. Holland will be responsible for developing policy and providing oversight for all Corps research, in addition to advising Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, Corps commander, on all matters of science and technology.

“Dr. Holland will be a better director than I have been,” Houston said. “I’m really happy for ERDC … to hand off this directorship into capable hands as I retire. Of course, I’ll still be around to enjoy giving him a hard time.”

ERDC’s nearly 700-acre campus on Halls Ferry Road is home to administration and support plus four of the labs — Environmental, Coastal and Hydraulics, Information Technology and Geotechnical and Structures. Other ERDC labs are in Champaign, Ill.; Hanover, N.H.; and Alexandria, Va.

“I can’t imagine wanting to lead an organization that is not like this one,” said Holland. “This is more than a privilege, this is a joy to get to do this.”

Holland holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from Western Kentucky University, a master’s in environmental and water resources engineering from Vanderbilt University and a doctorate in civil engineering from Colorado State University. Before becoming deputy director, he served as director of the Information Technology Lab, and also previously served as technical director for HydroEnvironmental Modeling and Simulation in the Coastal and Hydraulics Lab.

Before being installed as District commander, Eckstein served as the G-7, Reconstruction Officer, for Multi-National Division North when the 25th Infantry Division deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, later serving as the division’s chief of staff. Most recently, Eckstein was the Senior Adviser for Infrastructure at the Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania. His wife, Lt. Col. Adrienne Eckstein, is assigned as the professor of military science at Dickinson College, in Carlisle.

A registered professional engineer in Florida and Virginia, Eckstein’s stateside work includes construction projects with the Corps’ Seattle District and cleanup efforts following Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Lt. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, commander of the Combined Security Transition Command that will train Afghan police and military forces, personally selected Wehr to join the unit for a year, said Brig. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, commander of the Mississippi Valley Division, during the hourlong change of command ceremony moved indoors from the Cairo Gunboat and Museum due to bad weather.

“(Wehr) was asked for by name,” Walsh said. “That’s a prestigious action.”

His next assignment wouldn’t have been possible without the experience as Vicksburg District commander, Wehr said.

“It’s not really sunk in yet, the fact I’m leaving my command. It goes way too fast,” Wehr said, tying his tenure as District commander to his new assignment training Afghans to maintain self-sustaining forces. “There’s no way I’d be qualified to do that unless I’d served in the District.”

One mission to transfer to Eckstein is the ViPER response team of engineers assisting the New Orleans District and the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority with various aspects of designing levees in Plaquemines Parish, which forms the mouth of the Mississippi at its tip.

Eckstein said he hopes to achieve a “transparent, collaborative relationship” with officials there as part of the Vicksburg District’s involvement — a loose acronym for Vicksburg Priority Engineer Response — adding he has already visited New Orleans twice in advance of his command.

Established in 1873, the Vicksburg District encompasses 68,000 square miles in Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas, with a $220 million annual water resources program. Seven major river basins are under the District’s auspices — the Mississippi, Red, Ouachita, Pearl and the Yazoo.

Districts such as Vicksburg and others in St. Paul, Minn.; Rock Island, Ill.; St. Louis; Memphis; and New Orleans compose the Mississippi Valley Division, the third Corps entity based in Vicksburg, and plan and oversee work assigned by the Mississippi River and Tributaries Project. District commanders report to the division commander, a position held by Walsh since February 2008.

ERDC has been named the Army Research Lab of the Year for the past three consecutive years, and five of the past eight years. The Vicksburg District has been named the top district in the Corps of Engineers in a recent survey of customers, Walsh said.


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