By Amanda Cruz
Environmental assessor
Detroit District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

DETROIT - Found on site. Roll up. Representative. Capitalized. Organizational. Break out. All of these terms have one meaning in plain English, but a separate meaning when applied to Defense Logistics Agency real property assignments.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is supporting the DLA's efforts to comply with the Chief Financial Officers Act of 1990, which requires auditable financial statements to improve accountability. This effort includes site visits at DLA facilities worldwide to assess environmental and facility conditions and to inventory real property.

The DLA Program has created a language all its own full of acronyms and codes. After working in the program for awhile, you begin to think in these DLA terms and they become your new language. Only after training someone new to the program do you realize exactly how much you have picked up piecemeal over time in the program. As I am with the environmental team, it takes in-depth knowledge of the program to "break out" what environmental concerns apply to the DLA versus environmental concerns present at the base.

My involvement in the program started in March 2011 at a site visit to Warren Depot, Ohio. As the DLA Program closely resembled work I did in private industry - environmental liability assessments associated with multinational corporation mergers and acquisitions - I quickly became nearly full time on the DLA Program. Since that date, I have been able to visit 56 bases, in 16 states, and complete five OCONUS missions (Guantanamo Bay, Hawaii/Wake Island/Marshall Islands, Italy, Greenland and Japan).

Team sizes vary from mission to mission, as do the challenges between missions. The constant theme I've observed in the field is the absolute importance of communication at every step. In Cuba this was illustrated in the physical communication barriers we had to overcome. We had no form of field communication (cell phones or walk-talkies). In addition there are practical communication complications, which the coordinators face trying to keep 20 to 30 people following in the same direction. With the DLA Program's own language and home support from the Fort Worth District, we have found a way to work through the communication hurdles for successful mission execution.

Field conditions can be challenging: remote locations, wildlife hazards, security protocols and access restrictions. Within a one month I went from arctic blizzards in Greenland (with polar bear and rabid fox concerns) to jungle heat in Japan (with tunnels filled with bats, wild boars and possible habu snakes). Although challenging, the travel is life changing. I have been able to experience portions of our planet, for instance doing snow angels on the polar ice cap, which would have been inaccessible had I not been involved in the program.

The ability to support our troops while learning first-hand about the military culture and process is very valuable. During these visits, observation of mechanisms utilized by other disciplines to effectively accomplish the mission encouraged cross-training. This experience led to my involvement in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection assignment performing facility condition assessment work when the agency needed assistance in my home district.

My undergraduate study was completed at Michigan State University with a degree in marine biology with an emphasis in tropical ecosystem restoration. I earned a master's degree from Wayne State University in biology with an emphasis in environmental health and toxicology. Prior to coming to USACE I worked for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under the Superfund Division, and for an engineering consulting firm performing base remediation and environmental work for industrial clients.

My background along with the new DLA language proved very useful in our February mission to Kwajalein, where we had a team of four persons and a two-day visit to assess a bulk fuel farm and wharf fueling operations. Although the whirlwind site visit was brief, it was one of the most memorable assignments on the program.

The history of the Marshall Islands during World War II was awe-inspiring. Our team worked diligently from the moment we stepped off the plane. But in the evening, once project work was complete, I was still able to snorkel the reefs with the local dive master and incorporate my passion as a scuba diver and marine enthusiast.

The upcoming trip for the DLA Program to Diego Garcia will be a highlight of my career, as once again I will be able to effectively utilize education, industrial experience and DLA Program-specific skills with a small team for an effective mission. The experience one gains from DLA Program involvement is both personally and professionally enriching.