From typewriters to tranquility: Longtime USACE employee retires from Europe District
December 3, 2012
WIESBADEN, Germany -- Around the Amelia Earhart Center, some consider Ash Batavia a Zen master for his calm demeanor and uncanny grasp of "inner peace and stillness," as he puts it.
One morning years ago, he spotted a then-U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District commander walking past his old office on the eighth floor. Suddenly, the colonel came inside and took a seat beside the desk, without uttering a word. Batavia was mystified.
"I was a little uneasy with him not saying anything," Batavia recalled. "I thought, 'Did I do something? Did I screw up something?'"
After a few more seconds of awkward silence, Batavia gave in.
"I said, 'Sir, it's a great privilege you came in to sit down and see me. Can I do something for you?'" he said.
"No," replied the district boss, who continued just staring at him.
Finally, the commander relented and offered up his reason for the impromptu, hushed visit: "I was walking by your office going back to (my) office, and I felt peace here on your door. I said, 'Let me go in and just sit down then.'"
"That was tremendous," Batavia added. "This made my whole day."
The India native seemed to have that effect on colleagues throughout his 37-year career with Europe District's Installation Support Branch. His work with the Army goes back to 1971, when he took a job as a procurement assistant on a post in Frankfurt.
He spent the past 20 years as the district's Directorate of Public Works Job Order Contracting program manager. Batavia performed auditing functions and conducted all training, including the JOC Basic Course, JOC software instruction, Contracting Officer Representative Course and Architect-Engineer Negotiations Course. He also created, organized and facilitated the JOC Managers Workshop, which brings together leaders from USACE, Installation Management Command-Europe and the garrisons to discuss issues and make program decisions.
Batavia officially retired Friday and was honored during Europe District's quarterly town hall meeting in the Taunus Movie Theater at Hainerberg Shopping Center.
"Ash is such an institution within Europe District," said Col. Peter Helmlinger, the organization's commander. "He's so well-respected. Ash was a gentleman and gracious to the end, and he will be missed."
Installation Support Branch chief Steve Roberts first met Batavia a quarter-century ago and began working with him in 1994.
"He has been the face of the Corps for JOC with IMCOM and the garrisons throughout Europe," Roberts said. "He made certain the requirements of the JOC program were being followed, that persons involved had received proper training, oversight was been performed and monthly reporting was collected. … But he was always available for consolation and guidance to personnel in the Corps and at the DPWs.
"Ash has a great interest in spirituality and philosophy and frequently engaged others in thoughtful discussions in which they learned things about themselves."
As he prepared to step away, Batavia felt a deep sense of appreciation, contentment and humility, he said.
"It's gratitude for having the privilege and honor of working for a top-notch organization that is Europe District; gratitude for working with an extraordinary group of professionals and the friendships held and support received from my co-workers and superiors," he added. "When you work so many years for an organization, you identify with it. You become a part of that organization. It becomes a part of your life. … When it's about to go away, there is a certain degree of loss, a feeling of loss and melancholy.
"I enjoyed doing what I did. When you enjoy something, any monetary benefits you may get by promotion, that's not all that predominant then. … Dealing with people (and) doing presentations is something that comes very natural to me."
But early on, that serenity and tranquil composure Batavia holds so dear -- and projects to others -- didn't come so easy.
Growing up in his homeland, he said, friends teased him for being "dull." Even as a young adult, the path to his own evolution and spiritual journey wasn't clear in the beginning.
"The essence of me is stillness and inner peace. … It's a certain amount of equilibrium," he said. "But it took me many years of contemplation to realize I had something that others are always looking for, and some never find it in all their lives. Once I realized what I had, I was able to dwell deeper into it."
In 1975, Batavia's first year with USACE, the district was a division. The work flow was quite different back then as well, he said.
For instance, his office had 35 people sharing one typewriter. Across the old Europe Division headquarters in Frankfurt, there was a single printing machine servicing 1,200 people, and it cranked out those old copies with the purple ink you could smell.
"What might take two days to get done back then now takes about five minutes," Batavia said. "The pace of things was slower then. Overall, the people seemed happier. Now, there's no patience and they want instant gratification."
Roberts said the two used to teach the JOC course together at least twice a year, him the technical part and Batavia on the contractual side. They even took it to Italy and Kuwait.
"He organized and provided JOC training to everyone involved in the program across Europe," Roberts said. "He always kept the training fresh and up-to-date so that returning students found the training beneficial, entertaining and interesting. This also established the contacts he nourished with them all. This has allowed them to approach him with sensitive questions and for them to trust him when he reviewed their files -- that he was actually there to help."
A handful of times over the decades, Batavia said he was offered promotions -- both internally and from outside agencies -- that would've brought more money and advancement opportunities. On each occasion, he needed only a few minutes to politely decline.
"A few dollars more in my pocket probably would not have made me happier," he said. "I was happy doing what I wanted. That doesn't mean I didn't have aspirations. I was happy -- there was no need for me to change anything. Happiness is priceless.
"No matter what we do in our life, whatever profession we have, it all leads to one goal. Eventually, you're looking for that inner peace and stillness. … It doesn't matter whether you have success or failure, you give your best. That's all you can do. Your happiness is not dependent on the results of what you do. It's there. No person, no situation, no circumstance can ever take it away from you. It's yours to keep. And that's all I think mankind is after. I was able to find that, and that's a wonderful blessing."
In retirement, Batavia said he wants to do presentations and write books on philosophy while engaging in charity work. He and wife Jenny plan to launch an animal shelter and rescue mission at their home in Rheinland-Pfalz.