News Stories

COL Sam Colella helps make a difference with New Orleans District

Published Feb. 14, 2007

   Chances are fairly high that USACE Army officers will deploy from their districts for duty in either Iraq or Afghanistan to help with reconstruction efforts.  This means Army Reserve engineer officers are being activated for missions elsewhere to fill the gaps.  The Wilmington District’s Sam Colella is one of them.  In mid-December he put on his uniform, became Colonel Sam Colella and headed straight to New Orleans to become a member of Task Force Hope and help rebuild the city.  

   “It’s really an odd combination of the job I do in Wilmington as Chief of Project Management with Chief of Programs Management there,” he said during a brief visit back in Wilmington.  “That’s really what Task Force Hope is there for.  The majority of that office is programs management, running a 5.7 billion-dollar program.  So combining those responsibilities is very challenging.  I’m hiring people and recruiting people in positions within Task Force Hope that have been designated as three to five-year terms.  I’m also managing the Engineer Link taskers.” 

   COL Sam Colella is no stranger to deployment.  In 2003 his Pennsylvania Army Reserve unit deployed to Kosovo for six months.  He finds that his deployment to the New Orleans District leaves him little time to think about extraneous things other than the mission at hand. 

   “It’s very similar to Corps members in uniform when they get deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan or other areas.  We’re a seven-day a week operation working 12-15 hours a day.  There’s no shortage of work.  Lots of people, lots of support.  It’s different from being in a military outfit, but I think it’s very comparable.” 

   Colella said that what’s making life challenging is that the New Orleans District has “probably lost more than 20 percent of its workforce.”  He said there are numerous vacancies that need to be filled, and he’s working hard to help recruit people to come to the city. 

   “We’re scrambling to recruit people to come to New Orleans on a semi-permanent basis, and the New Orleans District is working hard to attract people to come there on a permanent basis.  Our hands are full trying to manage that.”

   Colella said that he’s using all the leadership skills that he’s learned in his career to help boost morale in the New Orleans District. 

   “There’s still a lot of negative press about the Corps and other government agencies.  That makes the atmosphere a little difficult trying to deal with customers and sponsors who sometimes don’t have a lot of trust.  We’re working hard to rebuild credibility.  It will take a while, but I’m sure we’ll recover.”

   Colella said that when you’re in New Orleans you have to take the good with the bad.  He’s been all over the city and calls it a “mixed bag.”

   “Some parts of the city still look like a war zone with stoplights that are still not working and the roads are in horrendously bad shape, but other parts look great.”

   Despite the overall negative issues, Colella feels that the volunteer force working to rebuild the city is unwavering in its mission to rebuild.   

   “People are going down there because of their volunteer spirit.  We have a group of people who want to make a difference.” 

   Colella expects to return to the Wilmington District in mid-march or April.  The position he’s filling will be designated a one-year active duty slot and he’s hoping to find another Army reservist to take the reins.  He also encourages those who’ve never deployed before to give it a shot.

   “It’s not an easy job.  I’ve done more programming work that I’ve ever done in my life.  You’ll learn more in two months than you’ve ever learned before in your career.”