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Wilmington District Change of Command Ceremony

Published July 11, 2014

USACE Wilmington District holds Change of Command Ceremony

   WILMINGTON, N.C. - More than 300 Soldiers, Civilians, Family members, federal, state and local officials gathered July 11 at the battleship USS North Carolina for the Wilmington District’s Change of Command Ceremony.

   Col. Steven A. Baker relinquished command to Col. Kevin P. Landers, Sr. in the ceremony marking the end of Baker’s three-year command.

   Maj. Gen. Todd T. Semonite, Deputy Commanding General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, presided over the ceremony.

   Semonite praised Baker for his competence and leadership.

   “Steve has been a leader, a champion, a mentor, a coach and a friend – he has taken you through tough times with unprecedented success.  Now, he must leave."

   “And, just as I passed the flag from Colonel Baker to Colonel Landers, your loyalty must also pass from one to another.”

   "The Corps of Engineers takes pride in attaining its vision of engineering solutions for the nation’s toughest challenges, and Steve Baker has helped the North Carolina and southern Virginia region through some tough challenges," Semonite said citing a number of district accomplishments under Baker’s leadership, including support to the warfighter through deployments of district personnel to Afghanistan and Iraq and significantly “stepping up” support to special forces at Fort Bragg.

   “Since Fiscal Year 2011, Wilmington District has executed 110 SRM (facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization) projects at $91 million and 21 MILCON projects at $418 million for its customers at Fort Bragg and MOTSU (Military Ocean Terminal Sunny Point),” Semonite said.

  Fiscal Year 13 was one of the busiest for Joint Special Forces Command (JSOC), and the Wilmington District stepped up to the plate earning high accolades from U.S. Army Special Forces Command and JSOC, according to Semonite.

   “Your MVP performance was based on professionalism, team work, focus and positive attitude,” Semonite quoted from a letter written by JSOC Financial Management Director Dick Hayford in a note to former South Atlantic Division Commander Brigadier General Ed Jackson, Jr. about the District’s efforts under Baker’s leadership.

   "The last year has been a tough one, and Steve took you through some major challenges:  sequestration, an 8-month continuing resolution, gaps in funding, increased oversight and a workforce furlough."

   Under Baker’s leadership, the Wilmington District secured and executed supplemental funds for the restoration of damages from several named storms, including Super Storm Sandy, the general said.

   Super Storm Sandy was devastating to the region, Semonite said.  HQ USACE played a key role in storm response efforts.  The Corps needed a senior leader at Corps headquarters to direct operations, Semonite said.  “We needed someone who could be calm under stress.  I personally hand-picked Steve Baker to be the Corp’s operations officer for Super Storm Sandy; he worked in the operations center moving capabilities into and out of the Northeast during this devastating time for the region.”

   “Steve led a key effort in gaining the first ever 'environmental justice waiver' from the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Civil Works for the Princeville Flood Management Report . . . the Chief’s (USACE Commander) Report for Neuse River Ecosystem Restoration, Surf City/Topsail Coastal Storm Damage Reduction and West Onslow Re-evaluation Report,” Semonite said.

   Another significant District accomplishment under Baker’s leadership was the four-year Memorandum of Agreement with the state of North Carolina that allows the Corps to accept state funds to dredge in 22 shallow-draft navigation channels and inlets that are vital to North Carolina and its people.

    “The template the District created was the first of its kind in the nation, and has been used in other states and other Corps districts to better leverage federal and state funds to focus dredging efforts in channels that need it the most,” Semonite said.

   Innovation such as this is needed if we want to continue to build partnerships and look for new funding methods during fiscally uncertain times, Semonite said. 

    These are tough times to be a commander, Semonite said, citing the delicate balance between taking care of people with a constrained federal budget. 

    “Taking care of your people during these times of a constrained budget will be your toughest challenge,” Semonite told incoming commander Col. Kevin P. Landers, Sr.  “Projects come and go, but the changes and challenges of the federal budget and workforce remain.”

     Baker thanked the community leaders, partners, stakeholders and the District staff for their support during his tenure.  He likened the District to the little engine that could, going from a small civil works District to a more balanced one that includes military construction and interagency support.  “Chug, chug a chug,” he quoted.  “I think I can. I think I can.” 

   “The District improved its culture, hired the next generation of leaders, and took on the challenges,” Baker said.  “These new hires will leave a legacy that lives on long after I am gone.”

   Also, under Baker’s leadership, the District increased its military workforce during his tenure, aggressively pursuing Wounded Warriors, specifically, the use of Operation Warfighter, hiring three Soldiers to support District operations at Fort Bragg, and implementing the use of the Personnel Force Innovation Program (PFI), providing the District with flexibility in filling critical manpower positions in DoD working capital activities by providing highly skilled Reservists on a reimbursable and fee-for-service basis.  The District has employed nine service members since 2011 by using this hiring strategy.

   Baker said the Army has a strange sense of humor. 

  “I am getting ready to sleep in the bed that I have made,” he said.  “I am about to become your customer.”  Baker will soon become the new USASOC engineer and a customer of the Wilmington District.

     Wilmington District’s 54th Commander, Col. Kevin P. Landers, Sr., told the crowd gathered for the ceremony that his charge for his speech was “to be brief, be brilliant, and most importantly, be gone.”

    Landers acknowledged his parents “who have not missed a graduation or ceremony since 1988,” and credited them for providing him with the foundation needed to be where he is today. 

   “The foundation, work ethic and moral underpinning of Jim and Becky Landers are the reason I stand in front of you today,” he said.

  He credited his wife Melody for keeping him grounded and playing the Command Sergeant Major role when he needs a little motivation.  “In our short seven-year marriage she has weathered two deployments, participated in the casualty notification process and led from the shadows without any complaint.”

   Landers talked about teamwork and the interdependence employees have on one another. 

   “It is that very essence of teamwork associated with an organization that keeps me clamoring to continue to put on a uniform day in and day out,” he said.  Quoting Helen Keller, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

    Landers referred to a historical vignette penned in 1984 by former Wilmington District Engineer Col. Wayne Hansen who wrote, “Our study of the past shows the interdependence of all levels of government. Without cooperation of federal, state and local agencies, Corps of Engineers projects could neither begin nor continue to completion.”

   “I look forward to the challenges that lie ahead, but more importantly I look forward to those very partners that Colonel Hanson referred to 30 years ago as he captured the legacy of this great District.”

  Landers assumed command of Wilmington District following a tour as a U.S. Army National Security Fellow at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.  The Long Island, New York native is married to the former Melody Morrison Wilson from Grantsville, West Virginia.  They have four children; Kevin, Jr., 23, Megan, 21, Amanda, 19, and Justin, 17.