News Stories

Wilmington District Employees Share Experiences During Deployments

Published Feb. 16, 2018

    When Hurricanes Irma and Maria hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the call went out throughout the Wilmington District for volunteers to help support emergency operations.  The response from those who want to deploy has always been positive from Wilmington District employees, and more than enough experienced people signed up to offer support.  For some, it was their first time to deploy.

   The following Wilmington District employees share their experiences of deploying and what they gained from it.           

 Tonja Dreke, USVI, Contract Specialist, 20 Oct. – 16 Nov. 2017

 Why did you deploy?  I appreciate the connection between what I do and how that benefits the military and the public. When a natural disaster strikes it's only natural for anyone to desire to help. The fact that I work for an agency that gets tasked at such a time to aid is a great source of pride for me. My previous deployment experience, although quite different, allowed me the ability to put measures in place at home to deploy quicker and my family is able to react more rapidly. There is also a much more immediate satisfaction in performing my job in a contingency type environment. The interaction with the people of St. Croix was absolutely amazing. Even with the 2 people I came across who complained, they did so in such a manner that I was moved to want to help in any way I could. Really those two people simply wanted an ear and given what they had been through that was the least I could do. Everyone there was simply grateful for the USACE presence and help. I previously deployed under ACC with the 9-25th as a Contract Specialist to Kabul, Afghanistan for 6 months. Again a very different but fulfilling mission and feeling of satisfaction. The ability to deploy as a civilian is part of why I love my job.

 What did you get out of the deployment?

I have learned a lot about how USACE helps FEMA during Natural Disasters, how USACE teams are formed and interact. I am grateful for the opportunity to have helped the team support the USVI mission response and to have met and worked with some amazing people! I have gained knowledge and experience that will be a great help if ever the need arises again. This mission has challenged my knowledge base, forced creative solutions in less than desirable environments at times with people who's goals were also just to help no matter how long it too. That's quite amazing!


 Trevor Lancaster, USVI, GIS Specialist, 23 Sept. – 2 Nov. 2017

 Why did you deploy? 

I enjoy the pace and purpose of Emergency Management support, especially from previous deployments including Mississippi Flood Fighting GIS support and Afghanistan Engineer District-North GIS Support. During this deployment I was the GIS Specialist for the Recovery Field Office.  I supported Temporary Roofing, Debris, Infrastructure Assessment, Critical Public Facilities, and Temporary Emergency Power missions with geospatial data, geospatial analysis, and cartographic products. The US Virgin Islands posed unique challenges due to the lack of internet connectivity and traditional addressing. We were able to implement some unique solutions to overcome these challenges and I believe the Corps of Engineers and FEMA all learned a great deal from the response and recovery missions in the Caribbean this hurricane season.  The scale and scope of the Federal Response in declared disasters is impressive, especially from a geospatial perspective. The quantity and quality of geospatial data being collected across all responding agencies is tremendous. For a single GIS product or analysis we could utilize post-storm NOAA Aerial Imagery, United States Geological Survey (USGS) Disaster Charter Satellite Imagery, FEMA damage assessments, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) basemap data, and Civil Air Patrol oblique photography. It was very fulfilling using my technical skills and experience to help those truly in need.

 What did you get out of the deployment?

The deployment was an outstanding learning experience. I learned a great deal about the National Response Framework, FEMA, and the USACE Enterprise. I also met some outstanding fellow responders from across the country whose skill and professionalism were a great representation of the US Army of Corps of Engineers.


Sandara Lowe, SAW EOC, Administrative Support/CEFMS, 17 Sept. - 18 Oct. 2017, SAW EOC

 Why did you deploy?  I deployed for a couple reasons.  First, it was an opportunity to make some extra money.  My son was getting married in November, so I seized the opportunity.  Also, I wanted to be part of something grand and this was an awesome opportunity for our District.  I had no idea how grand it would be! This was my second deployment.  The first was at the tail end of a mission and was quite slow.  I would say this is was far different than anything I had ever done.

 What did you get out of the deployment?  I gained so much! The group we had in Emergency Operations Center worked like a well-oiled machine for the most part.  It took the entire group to make it flow and the communication was great. We became a team of people who relied on each other and shared information and truly worked to keep the machine that was EOC operating. And then there was year-end clear out and we did it all over again with new funding! I gained friends, face-to-face interactions with departments and people I wouldn't normally interact with.  Also, a clearer understanding of departments I work with from the field office.  It was a sincerely rewarding experience and I can say I am hooked! I felt appreciated and I appreciated the opportunity to serve.


Lisa Landis, USVI, Emergency Management Specialist, 24 Sept. – 25 Nov. 2017 

 Why did you deploy? As an Emergency Management Specialist for almost seven years, this was my first BIG event and first real deployment. It was an amalgam of emotional experiences, from exciting to scary, defeated to exuberantly proud.  It was one of the best overall experiences I’ve ever had and I will forever remember the awesome local folks and all the first responders I had the privilege to work beside. I worked with logistics supply personnel, both Corps and FEMA, to procure the supplies and materials we needed to set up the RFO and execute FEMA mission assignments. With no power and spotty internet connectivity, finding vendors who could “swipe my card” were hard to come by.  I spent most of the first several weeks networking and meeting the locals, looking for any way to purchase the supply list that was growing. The locals were extraordinary and were so very helpful. I made more than just business contacts on that island, I made friends that I’m still in contact with today.  I purchased for both St. Croix and St. Thomas and in doing so had another exciting first experience; I had the opportunity to tour all three islands from a Black Hawk helicopter.  That was awesome, yielded some pretty incredible pictures, and was a great story for my family! 

What did you get out of the deployment?  This deployment gave me a huge sense of pride, in myself and my ability to connect with people and get the job done. It gave me hope for humankind.  The community spirit I found in the residents on St. Croix was beautiful.  Those folks were as resilient as the island itself.  When I arrived St. Croix was a big, brown mass in the middle of blue water.  Six days later the island began to heal itself, as did those amazing people. I can’t wait to return…on vacation!